There are a lot of things to comment on regarding the Cubs' 7-2 loss to the Twins, but I'm going to try to stay positive, at least to begin, so let's start with Anthony Rizzo's two solo homers.
The homers provided the only scoring for the Cubs in the game. It was Rizzo's second two-homer game of the season and ninth of his career. The ninth-inning shot, hit with two out, could have been a two-run homer as it immediately followed a play in which Dexter Fowler was called safe at first on a double-play attempt. Twins manager Paul Molitor asked for a review.
Personally, I think this was overkill -- a review? With a six-run lead and one out in the ninth inning, and your opponent has looked offensively-challenged all night?
But reviewed it was, and as it turned out, the play wasn't particularly close:
The other good thing that happened in this game was the relief work of Edwin Jackson. Jackson took over from Kyle Hendricks to start the sixth inning and threw three shutout innings, allowing a double to Eduardo Nunez and issuing one walk. Jackson was signed, before the 2013 season, in part to be an "inning-eater," which he definitively wasn't as a starter. But over the last 11 days Jackson has, three times, entered games where the Cubs were getting blown out and saved the rest of the bullpen. In those three games, one each against three different American League opponents, Jackson has combined for 8⅔ innings in which he's allowed seven hits and two runs, issued one walk and struck out seven. He's thrown a total of 124 pitches in those three outings (84 strikes).
If a modern pitcher did something like that in one game (granted that 124 pitches is very high these days for a single outing), we'd all be singing his praises. Jackson has become a true "long reliever" and is playing a useful role, which is giving the rest of the bullpen a breather. Now the other relievers enter the rest of the weekend rested.
Hendricks struggled through five innings, allowing 11 hits and seven runs (six earned). It seemed every time I looked, some Twins hitter was smashing a line drive into the left-center field gap. No one homered off Hendricks, but he gave up four doubles and a triple among the 11 hits.
And now is where I'm going to have to turn this recap into criticism of Starlin Castro. I'm not a Castro-basher and rarely have criticized to this extent, but Castro is in his sixth major-league season and has played over 800 big-league games. Incidents like Castro's in the first inning simply cannot happen. Castro made an error after three singles had loaded the bases. That allowed one run to score. Hey, errors happen. But then Castro hung his head and lost focus as the play continued and a second run scored. No further runs scored in the inning, but that doesn't set the right tone for big-league play. Castro apologized to his teammates:
#Cubs Castro: "That's bad, that's really bad. That's the kind of mistake that can't happen. It's really embarrassing. ...— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 20, 2015
More #Cubs Castro: "I apologized to my teammates. That's not supposed to happen. I don't have any excuse."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 20, 2015
Does that sound familiar?
"I want to say I'm sorry to my teammates and it will never happen again," Castro said. "I'm real embarrassed. There's no excuse for that. That can't happen in a game. That will never happen again."
That sounds great, right? Sure, but that quote is from the 2011 incident, not Friday night's. Every one of the links above contains a similar apology.
That will never happen again, Castro said. And yet it keeps happening. Over and over and over, every single year, now without exception, five years in a row. I wish I knew what was in Castro's head that makes him lose focus this often. Physical errors are understandable. They happen to every single player, no matter how good they are in the field. But lack of mental focus? That shouldn't happen to any big-league player. Ever. And certainly not as often as it happens to Castro.
What to do with Castro? I could join the "trade him" bandwagon, but frankly, the way he's hitting (almost as poorly as in his bad 2013 season) and with these kind of mental gaffes, I could see other teams backing off their desire to acquire him. For now, for better or worse, Starlin Castro is going to be the Cubs shortstop. Perhaps Joe Maddon, who frequently thinks outside the box, can come up with some ideas to help Castro keep his head in the game.
One more note on Friday's game: Kris Bryant's 14-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-4 night. Bryant hit .351/.422/.526 (20-for-57) during the streak with five doubles, a triple and a home run.
The possible good news is this: the Cubs have now been blown out by an American League opponent three times in the last 11 days. On each of the previous two occasions, they responded the next day with an even bigger blowout -- 12-3 over the Tigers and 17-0 over the Indians. Perhaps this afternoon's contest will be another such response. Jon Lester takes the mound against Trevor May in the Cubs' first early-afternoon contest since June 6, a 1:10 p.m. CT start. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.