If anyone had told me the Cubs' 5-1 loss to the White Sox Saturday afternoon was essentially over after the first three batters, I might have skipped sitting out there in the rain for the rest of the day.
Well, no, of course I wouldn't have. But the Cubs really had no chance to win after Jon Lester gave up solid hits to the first three hitters he faced, Adam Eaton (double), Tyler Saladino (triple) and Jose Abreu (single). The Sox had a 2-0 lead by then and it looked like Lester was headed for a disaster.
But after that he settled down, allowing only one baserunner for the next five innings, a single by Tyler Flowers, and Flowers was erased on a slick double play turned by Starlin Castro and Addison Russell. For many games, that might have given a pitcher's team a chance to come back.
Not against Chris Sale, though. Sale was dominant, and I feel kind of silly saying that because that's like saying "water is wet." Sale gets some notice around baseball, and there are other pitchers who are having better years, but you could make an argument that he's the best pitcher in the game. Sure, the Cubs managed a few baserunners against him, even getting a man (Russell) to third base with only one out and Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler due up.
Bryant looked completely overmatched against Sale, who struck him out three times. Soler managed a fly ball in that inning, but went 0-for-4. The only Cub who hit for extra bases against Sale was, of all people, Jonathan Herrera, who hit a one-out double in the seventh that scored Castro, who had led off the inning with a single. So the Cubs got a consolation run off Sale, big whoop.
Actually, it would have been a big whoop if Lester hadn't started to get hit hard again in the seventh inning. The three runs he gave up in that inning were compounded by a throwing error by Bryant, who appeared to have trouble with his grip on the wet baseball in throwing to first base on a ground ball by Avisail Garcia. In ordinary circumstances, with a runner already on first base, that's a double-play ball. But the rain, which fell softly for most of the game, must have made the ball difficult to throw. Lester got out of the inning, but not until he gave up a two-run double to Flowers.
The worst thing about this game, though, wasn't losing it. It was this news:
#Cubs Montero left today's game with a jammed left thumb— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 11, 2015
#Cubs Montero to have MRI on thumb. Ross has been medically cleared if needed— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 11, 2015
If Miguel Montero is out for any significant time, the Cubs are in trouble behind the plate. David Ross has played well defensively, but can't really hit at all, and Taylor Teagarden is a Triple-A replacement. If those two have to split duties for a while, this impotent Cubs offense is in even bigger trouble than it already seems to be.
The Cubs figured to have a tough time against Sale today and Lester would have had to be nearly perfect for the Cubs to win, and he wasn't. I can accept that. But this team is simply going to have to start hitting better if they're going to hang on to the second wild-card spot, which they currently have by just one game over the Mets (although they lead the Mets by two in the loss column). The Cubs have scored more than five runs in a game just twice over their last 19 games (six against the Mets July 2, seven against the Cardinals in the first game of the July 7 doubleheader). In those 19 games they have scored 48 runs and allowed 56. They're 9-10 in those games. Treading water is OK, but with all the talk of acquiring pitching help, it's not the pitching staff that's the problem -- it's the lack of hitting.
I spoke earlier of the rain. I cannot tell you how tired I am of sitting out in rain at the ballpark, day after day after day. Yes, I know, first-world problems. Still... it has to be wearing on the players, too. Eventually, we hope we'll get some decent summer weather, which has come one or two days at a time this year and we're already in mid-July.
I'm not fond of the "salvage one game" stereotypical phrase that's used in situations the Cubs find themselves in, so instead I'll simply say it would be nice to win Sunday afternoon to go into the All-Star break on a positive note. Jake Arrieta, who has to be considered the Cubs' "ace" at this point and who has been on a great run in his last four starts, takes the mound against Jose Quintana.