An annoying little rainshower (again) hit Wrigley Field Thursday afternoon just after Jon Lester struck out Enrique Hernandez to begin the game.
Did the rain affect Lester? Maybe, but that shouldn't be an excuse. Lester gave up an infield single, then walked two straight hitters, loading the bases. Howie Kendrick doubled down the right-field line, scoring two runs, and everyone pretty much could have gone home right then, because that was all the runs the Dodgers would need in a 4-0 shutout over the Cubs. Lester wound up striking out the side and then when he issued another walk in the second inning, this happened:
#Cubs Lester on 2nd inning discussion with ump: "Nothing was directed at him and he went AWOL, and I don't know what was going on"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 25, 2015
Catcher David Ross got in between Fletcher and Lester to prevent his pitcher from being ejected. That brought out Joe Maddon, who got in quite a few words with Fletcher, some of which you see in the photo at the top of this post.
Lester's a tough competitor, I'll give him that. But he did not pitch well Thursday afternoon, and was spared a possibly bigger inning in the second (after giving up two runs) when Ross threw out Jimmy Rollins trying to steal third base.
Every time it appears Lester has turned the corner, as in his last two starts, he takes some steps backwards, as he did during this one. He left for pinch-hitter Miguel Montero in the fourth inning, making this his shortest outing of the year, giving up four runs, four hits and four walks. The only non-four in his pitching line was strikeouts, five of them, but I'm sure that's no consolation to Lester.
An inning before Montero subbed in for Lester and then remained in the game to catch, Kris Bryant left. Here's the reported reason:
#Cubs Bryant left the game with flu like symptoms— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 25, 2015
That, and Dexter Fowler's still-sore ankle, led to Maddon performing feats of double-switching that had three different players (Jonathan Herrera, Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell) playing second base at some point in the game, and three different center fielders (Chris Denorfia, Matt Szczur and Fowler, who looked fine in one inning out there and can probably go back to starting tomorrow).
I thought you might like to see what this looked like on my scorecard, so here it is (link opens .pdf). Don't think I've ever seen switches quite like the ones Denorfia and Coghlan made, unless it involved a pitcher playing the outfield in a long extra-inning affair, like this 1982 Cubs/Dodgers game.
Even Starlin Castro, who had been excused from the starting lineup because he was awaiting the birth of his second child, managed to play the last four innings at shortstop. Incidentally, congratulations to Starlin:
Congrats to #Cubs Starlin Castro on birth of daughter Scarlett— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 25, 2015
Scarlett Castro. I rather like that.
You'll notice that I haven't mentioned much about Cubs hitters, and that's because they were pretty much miserable failures with anyone on base. They went 1-for-6 with RISP, and might have broken through in the fourth inning in Montero's pinch-hit at-bat. With runners on first and second, Montero hit a sharp single to left. Coghlan was sent home and thrown out by 20 feet -- it was a really bad send, in my opinion. Sure, Herrera isn't a great hitter, but I'd much rather have seen him hit with the bases loaded. Maybe the Cubs could have scored there and gotten Carlos Frias out of the game a bit earlier than he was. The Cubs hitting into a pair of double plays didn't help. Lester hit into one of them, a sharply hit ball that nearly got through up the middle.
After Anthony Rizzo's double in the fifth, 14 of the final 15 Cubs were retired, the exception coming on a Denorfia double with two out in the eighth. Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers closer, who had pitched each of the last two nights, was summoned to finish things off and dispatched the Cubs 1-2-3. He's now thrown 14⅔ innings this year without issuing a walk.
The Cubs bullpen did a good job of stopping Dodgers hitters after Lester was lifted. Edwin Jackson threw 1⅔ credible innings and Yoervis Medina two shutout frames, and Medina looks pretty good so far as a middle guy who can eat up some innings. Overall Cubs relievers threw four innings and allowed two hits, striking out four. In general, the pen has been doing a good job the last few weeks, so there's that, at least.
The largest announced crowd of the year, 41,498, which included quite a large number of groups, was lulled to sleep by the Cubs offense and a game that was overall kind of a slog, interrupted only by the entertainment of trying to figure out where Maddon was going to place fielders next. Seriously, though, I'd like to see more consistency from Lester. We have seen flashes of the "ace" the Cubs paid $155 million for. But for most of this year, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have pitched better. Lester himself would certainly say that he's not where he wants to be. Here's what Maddon said about today's performance:
#Cubs Maddon on Lester: "The fastball was not going to where he wanted it to go and that was a problem"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 25, 2015
That's all fine. Let's hope Lester figures it out soon. Could he be trying too hard to "justify" his contract?
#Cubs Lester: "It just gets back down to executing pitches and maybe not trying so hard to make the perfect pitch."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 25, 2015
Maybe. He needs to be who he's been up to this year, and not try to save the entire team by himself.
So the Cubs split this series, which is kind of what most of us hoped we'd get when it began. They won the games they figured to lose (based on pitching matchups) and lost the games where the matchups appeared favorable. Because baseball.
Now the Cubs head down to St. Louis for a three-game weekend showdown with the division-leading Cardinals. Friday night, Arrieta will face John Lackey. It'll be tough, but if the Cubs can win this series (they are 2-4 vs. St. Louis so far this year), it will go a long way toward staying in contention.