This one was never going to be easy no matter how well Dan Haren did, and he didn't.
Haren's downfall this year has been home runs. Until Thursday, though, he had minimized the dinger damage by not walking hitters. He'd walked just three batters in his 19⅓ innings as a Cub before this afternoon, but got himself in trouble with walks in the third inning at San Francisco and Marlon Byrd made him pay. Byrd's three-run homer capped a four-run third inning and Madison Bumgarner was dominant in a 9-1 Giants win over the Cubs. It was the first road series the Cubs had lost since they were swept at St. Louis at the end of June.
It reminded me a bit of Haren matching up against Chris Sale a couple of weeks ago. The Cubs were going to have a hard time winning that day unless they could get to one of the best pitchers in the game. They didn't, and lost, and it was the same thing against Bumgarner. Bruce Bochy lifted Bumgarner after six innings and 98 pitches -- Len Kasper speculated it was to save him for potential September starts against the Dodgers -- and 12 strikeouts. The boxscore shows MadBum threw 62 strikes in 98 pitches, but a lot of those "strikes" were balls far out of the strike zone (according to CSN's pitch-trax, anyway) that Cubs hitters flailed against and missed. Bumgarner's motion, the wide, sweeping arc of his left arm, pretty much the same no matter what type of pitch he threw, had Cubs hitters off balance all afternoon.
They managed to score a run off him when Anthony Rizzo singled and Starlin Castro doubled him in, in the second inning, for a brief 1-0 lead. The Cubs had no other hits off Bumgarner for the rest of his tenure in the game, and in fact, had just one other hit, a consolation infield single by Kris Bryant in the ninth.
Haren, at least, took one for the team and settled down after the disastrous third inning and lasted until there was one out in the seventh. That helped save the bullpen for the Dodgers series; key relievers Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon will all have had two full days off before they might be needed Friday night in Los Angeles.
Zac Rosscup recorded the last two outs in the seventh, but not before some excitement. Nori Aoki sliced a ball down the left-field line that went off Chris Denorfia's glove. By the time Denorfia recovered it -- and it could have been foul, replays weren't clear -- Aoki was trying to score. A perfect relay from Denorfia to Addison Russell to Kyle Schwarber behind the plate got Aoki, and the Giants did not challenge. Replays showed that call was likely correct. Then Chris Coghlan made a full-out diving catch on a sinking line drive by Matt Duffy.
James Russell threw the eighth inning and wasn't good, allowing a grand slam to Kelby Tomlinson, Tomlinson's first big-league home run. It wasn't likely the Cubs were coming back from 5-1 down, anyway, but this has to be a bit concerning about Russell, who has now allowed 12 earned runs in his last seven appearances covering 6⅔ innings (16.20 ERA) -- yikes. That won't be helpful down the stretch.
Here's a question raised during the game that I think bears discussion:
Haren had his shot, didn't work out. Time to try an Iowa option in that 5th spot.— Cubs No-Hit Streak (@CubsNoHitStreak) August 27, 2015
The first part, I agree with. The second... not so much. The "Iowa options" are basically Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch and Tsuyoshi Wada... and I don't think any of those pitchers would be markedly better than Haren, and some would be worse. I do, however, think it might be time to give Clayton Richard another shot at starting. In seven appearances (one start) this month, Richard has a 2.51 ERA, just one walk and 11 strikeouts in 14⅓ innings, and perhaps most importantly, only one home run allowed.
As noted, Haren was a reasonable risk to take. It didn't work out. I think the Cubs have to try someone else, and Richard might be the right guy to do it. The next turn for this spot in the rotation comes up September 1 at Wrigley Field against the Reds, a perfect time to give Richard a chance. Plus, on that date the Cubs can add some pitchers to the active roster in case he gets in trouble early.
The Cubs are still 20 games over .500 and still lead the Giants by 5½ games for the second wild card. It will feel dirty, but I think we all have to root for the Cardinals to beat the Giants this weekend.
So it's on to Los Angeles. The Cubs defeated Clayton Kershaw at Wrigley Field in June, so they at least have a chance to beat him again. Jason Hammel takes the ball for the Cubs Friday night in what will be their final regular season game that starts past 9 p.m. CT this year.