Instead of a game-related introduction to the Cubs' 13-6 loss to the Reds Monday night, let me give you a little "Inside BCB."
When Russ La Croix finishes Cub Tracks or Heroes & Goats, he sends me an email to let me know it's ready. I didn't receive an email last night, so I emailed Russ to let him know I'd seen Cub Tracks in our editorial queue ready to go. He replied, "I hadn't sent an e-mail about it yet... I think I'm still a bit dumbfounded by whatever that thing was that happened at Wrigley Field on Monday. I don't think it was actually a baseball game."
"Dumbfounded." Yeah, that's about right. I'm not sure where I can possibly begin to recap this... mess, I guess is the best word... so let's start here.
Addison Russell, what were you thinking on Aroldis Chapman's ground ball?
Starlin Castro was charged with an error, his third of the game, when he dropped Russell's throw. That prolonged the inning and eventually led to three more unearned runs. That error was somewhat unfair, because...
What on Earth was Russell doing throwing to second base?
It's Aroldis Chapman running! He's a pitcher! He's having his second career at-bat and first in more than two years (the other was a strikeout)! Just throw the ball to first base and the inning is over!
That was just one of a litany of mistakes made in this bad, bad loss.
The game started somewhat normally. Dexter Fowler homered in the third, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead, which Kyle Hendricks coughed right back in the top of the fourth. It didn't help that Castro made a throwing error after catching Brandon Phillips' line drive, trying to double Joey Votto off first base. That would have ended the inning; instead, Hendricks issued a walk and gave up a single and the game was tied.
The Reds took a 3-1 lead in the fifth; Hendricks wasn't pitching badly, just laboring, and he was excused for pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia, who walked after Castro doubled leading off the bottom of the fifth. That helped jump-start a four-run inning, but here's where one of the mistakes was made. Kris Bryant had singled in the fourth run, and Anthony Rizzo inexplicably tried to take third base on a ball that wasn't hit that far into the outfield. He was thrown out to end the inning.
Yes, I understand Joe Maddon likes his players to be aggressive. But Reds pitchers were handing out hits like candy in that inning, and who knows? Maybe the Cubs score more runs and put the game away.
Still, a 5-3 lead going into the sixth with Justin Grimm on the mound seemed pretty safe. Grimm hadn't allowed a run since July 20, a string of 17 straight appearances.
It happens. Many pitchers have innings like this one, even good pitchers. Grimm had a very, very, very bad sixth, allowing four straight hits including a pair of two-run homers, the second to Adam Duvall, who had just been recalled from Triple-A before this game. Poof! 5-3 lead gone, now the Cubs trailed 7-5.
This is not an insurmountable deficit, but Cubs hitters were not doing anything off of several random Reds relievers. I mean, come on: Collin Balester? Burke Badenhop? If these guys were any good, teams would have tried to trade for them for help in their bullpens. But they retired all six batters they faced.
The Cubs finally broke through, sort of, against a better reliever, J.J. Hoover, in the eighth. Chris Coghlan doubled and one out later, Bryant walked. Tommy La Stella struck out, but the Cubs still had a chance with Castro batting.
More inexplicable. Coghlan and Bryant both took off. Chapman's in the game now, replacing Hoover. Bryant was thrown out at second to end the inning; players briefly stopped on the field as it appeared Joe Maddon might challenge the result, but no such review was requested.
Still, it's only 7-5. This team has come back from deficits like that before.
Not with the bad pitching and fielding they got in the ninth, though. Travis Wood walked the bases loaded, sandwiched around a pair of outs, and then Castro made his first error and then... well, you don't really want to hear about this, do you? Suffice to say it was the worst Cubs inning of the year, poor play in every possible way, and the Reds put a potentially winnable game for the Cubs far out of reach. It surely didn't help that Cubs pitchers walked seven Reds in this game, the most for the Cubs staff since June 16, when they walked eight in a 6-0 loss to the Indians.
I suppose it's small consolation, but in 34 appearances Aroldis Chapman has made against the Cubs, this was just the fourth time they had ever scored against him, and Russell's homer was the first ever hit by a Cub off Chapman. It would have meant more if the score had been 7-5, but at 7-5, maybe Chapman doesn't make that pitch to Russell.
There's good news to be found following this disaster, believe it or not. Since the Pirates were idle Monday, the Cubs lost just half a game to them, and the Giants lost in extras to the Dodgers, so the Cubs lose no ground to San Francisco and still lead them by 5½ games for the second wild-card spot.
And, reinforcements will be joining the Cubs for today's game, since we are now in September. Javier Baez will be one of those reinforcements (I'll have more in a separate article coming up at 9 a.m. CT). And I hope Baez will be in tonight's starting lineup at second base. They need him, for any number of reasons.
Dan Haren, who has to be on a fairly short leash to remain in the rotation, gets tonight's start against Cincinnati's Anthony DeSclafani. I trust better baseball will be played by the men wearing the blue-pinstripe uniforms. (It could hardly get worse.)