Sweeping a series is never easy, but the Cubs figured to have a pretty good chance to do it in Miami, with the Marlins 4-10 under their new manager and two of the three starting pitchers for the Fish being injury replacements.
Kyle Hendricks started out this game strong, but some mistakes made in the fifth inning led to a three-run double by Marcell Ozuna and the Marlins hung on for a 5-2 win.
The Cubs nursed a 2-1 lead into that fifth inning, scoring both runs in the third on RBI doubles by Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake. Lake, starting because of what we hope is a minor ankle injury to Jorge Soler, had two doubles. This Tribune note about Lake is interesting:
Scouts from two teams also inquired during the Cubs' last trip about Lake.
Someone wants to trade for Lake? Hmmm. Lake has talent, but has never been able to consistently harness it at the major-league level. Could he be part of a larger deal closer to the trade deadline?
Anyway, in the fifth inning Marlins pitcher Brad Hand led off with a single. Dee Gordon laid down a bunt, likely not intended as a sacrifice as Gordon might be the fastest player in the league. Jonathan Herrera, playing third base with Kris Bryant in left field, threw the ball away and the runners wound up on second and third.
Clearly, with Gordon running and the bunt perfectly placed, the right thing to do would have been to eat the ball and leave the runners on first and second. Would that have made any difference to the rest of the inning? Hendricks walked Martin Prado, something he clearly didn't want to do with Giancarlo Stanton the next hitter.
But Hendricks struck Stanton out -- on a changeup, of all things -- and got Justin Bour to hit an infield popup.
Unfortunately, Ozuna hit Hendricks' first pitch into the right-field corner, clearing the bases and giving the Marlins a 4-2 lead. On the game telecast, JD suggested that sometimes pitchers in that situation "relax" a little after getting the first two outs in a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation. I'm not sure I buy that, but Hendricks did nearly get himself out of the jam. Unfortunately, "nearly" didn't win this game.
The Marlins added their fifth run on Stanton's 16th homer of the year off Zac Rosscup in the seventh. Edwin Jackson threw a scoreless eighth and threw only eight pitches. Say, think the Cubs could get those scouts who inquired about Lake interested in Jackson?
The Cubs actually had a chance in the ninth inning off Marlins closer A.J. Ramos. Starlin Castro singled and Addison Russell walked. After pinch-hitter Matt Szczur struck out, Chris Coghlan singled to right. This would have brought up Miguel Montero with the bases loaded and one out, but Russell overran second base and was thrown out by Stanton. The Cubs challenged the play in a "what have we got to lose" type of situation; it was pretty clear that Russell was out but Joe Maddon likely figured, "Why not?"
From the Tribune link above, here's what Russell said about the play:
"I'm aggressive on the base paths," Russell said. "I don't think it was stupid or dumb. ... I'm trying to get to third and put my team in a better situation to win. Next time I have to make sure I keep my head up and pick up (third-base coach) Gary Jones, and we'll keep the ball rolling."
Beyond picking up his coach, he's got to think about who's in right field. Stanton has a strong and accurate arm and the hit didn't go that far into the outfield. Being aggressive is a good trait, but you also have to play situationally smart. In my view, that wasn't.
Castro, in addition to his single, walked once and made a couple of sparkling defensive plays, including one in which he made a diving stop on a grounder by Ozuna and then threw him out from his knees:
The hit was the 900th of Castro's career. He became the 52nd player in major-league history to have 900 or more hits by his age-25 season. 21 of the other 51 are Hall of Famers, and several others will get there. Of course, Castro is likely to hit the 1000-hit mark by the end of this season, which would move him up to 23rd on this list. The most hits by anyone by the end of his age-25 season is 1,433, by Ty Cobb.
Please note that I'm not suggesting that Castro will be a Hall of Famer, only that he's accomplished something that's pretty rare by age 25.
The Cubs still do have a chance for meatloaf tonight. They can win this series with a victory behind Jon Lester, who will take the mound against the only veteran starter the Cubs will see in this set, Dan Haren.