However, I think the Cubs learned several valuable lessons from this game, to wit:
- Kyle Hendricks might still be a valuable starter in the postseason.
- Jorge Soler has apparently suffered no permanent ill effects from his oblique injury
- Tommy La Stella is quite a useful bench player.
- And, Justin Grimm might have pitched himself off the Cubs' playoff roster.
Now let's take a look at each of these points and more.
Hendricks had his best start in almost two months, though it doesn't really show in the numbers (six innings, three earned runs, just his second "quality start" since August 1). He had excellent movement on all his pitches and threw 57 strikes in 78 pitches. Hendricks retired the first 14 batters he faced before getting into trouble in the fifth. Jean Segura singled with two out, stole second and scored on a single by Luis Sardinas Okay, I thought, 1-0 shouldn't be a big problem.
It became a problem in the seventh when the first two batters got hits (a double and a single) off Hendricks to make it 2-0. Joe Maddon came to get Hendricks and Kyle left to a warm ovation.
That ovation turned into disgust in just a few minutes' worth of Grimm's pitching, which made the deficit 3-0. Grimm, who had been pretty much lights-out in his first 47 appearances this year (38⅓ innings, 23 hits, 14 walks, 53 strikeouts, 1.17 ERA), has been horrific since then. Starting with a disastrous appearance against the Reds August 31, Grimm has thrown nine innings in his last 12 appearances, giving up seven hits but 10 (!) walks. He's hit a batter and allowed two home runs and six earned runs for a 6.00 ERA in that span. (That ERA could have been worse, too. Grimm gave up five runs to the Phillies on September 10, but they were all unearned.)
Wednesday night that ERA took a drop, because while another run crossed the plate during his time on the mound (on a sacrifice fly) while he recorded two outs, the run was charged to Hendricks. More concerning are the three walks Grimm issued. He threw just eight strikes in 21 pitches and had to be removed before the inning was over. Zac Rosscup got pinch-hitter Hernan Perez to bounce into a bases-loaded force play to end the frame.
I realize that relief pitchers can go hot and cold, and Grimm certainly was excellent for four months this year (he missed April with an injury). It doesn't seem as if he's hurt now; his velocity is still good, he just doesn't have control or command of his pitches. I have to think the front office and Maddon might be considering replacing him on the playoff roster with Neil Ramirez. Ramirez did face one batter Wednesday night, who he retired on a fly to center. I'd think Maddon would like to see Ramirez in at least one or two higher-leverage appearances before making a decision.
The Cubs couldn't do a thing off Zach Davies, who was making his fifth major-league start. Davies, whose minor-league numbers were pretty pedestrian (3.55 ERA, 1.297 WHIP in 96 appearances, 86 of them starts), absolutely stifled Cubs bats. They got just two hits and a walk off him, and the second hit, an infield grounder by Javier Baez, had to be reversed on what was perhaps the quickest replay review I've ever seen:
That took only about 15 seconds for the New York folks to overturn and the Cubs had runners on first and second with two out in the second. But Addison Russell hit a lazy fly to left to end the inning. Miguel Montero's leadoff walk in the fifth provided the only other baserunner off Davies.
Soler homered with one out in the seventh. Soler's 10th homer gave the Cubs nine players in double figures in home runs this year. (That'll be it, too; no one else on the club has more than two.) By then, though, the blast made the score 3-1 and the Cubs couldn't do anything more off the Brewers' bullpen. Meanwhile, the Brewers scored one more run when Trevor Cahill issued a ninth-inning walk and Hector Rondon allowed a couple of seeing-eye singles.
The only Cubs baserunner following the Soler homer was La Stella, who led off the eighth with a pinch-single batting for Russell, but was then erased on a double play. La Stella, who remained in the game to play third base, is now 6-for-10 as a pinch-hitter this year, with two doubles, a walk and two RBI. That's a skill that could be quite valuable in the postseason.
Mad Scientist Maddon did quite a bit of switching players around in an effort to get some offense going. Three different players (Kris Bryant, Baez and La Stella) played third base and three played left field (Kyle Schwarber, Chris Coghlan and Bryant). Two each played second base (Baez and Starlin Castro), shortstop (Russell and Baez), center field (Dexter Fowler and Bryant) and catcher (Montero and Schwarber). This versatility should help the Cubs in the postseason, and all of the players mentioned in this paragraph should be on the playoff roster.
These kinds of games are going to happen from time to time, even when a playoff contender plays a bad team. Someone (like Davies) steps up for the lesser squad and does something that just stops the good team in its proverbial tracks. And it sure doesn't help when the top four hitters in your batting order go 0-for-16.
The Cubs now have to turn their attention to a better team, the one they're chasing, the Pirates. The Pirates crushed the Rockies again Wednesday night, 13-7 (they've outscored the Rox 28-13 in the three games so far in that series) and now lead the Cubs by three games for the first wild-card spot. The Bucs' win also clinched a playoff berth for them, so it will be up to the Cubs to see if they can sweep the Pirates and catch them for second place in the division this weekend.
The good news for the Cubs is that both the teams chasing them for the second wild-card spot lost Wednesday night. The Nationals were defeated by the Orioles, so their elimination number from the race is 1. And late Wednesday night, probably long after you were asleep (I sure was!), the Padres came back in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Giants 5-4 on a walkoff single by Jedd Gyorko after Craig Kimbrel had blown a save in the top of the inning by wild-pitching in a run.
Both the Giants and Nats play Thursday, the Nats at 3:05 CT, the Giants at 8:10 CT. If both teams lose again, the Cubs' magic number would be reduced to 1 and they could clinch a playoff spot by defeating the Pirates at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, when Jon Lester will face Gerrit Cole. The Pirates also play Thursday, their series finale vs. the Rockies, at 2:10 CT. Maybe Colorado can salvage one of the four-game set and help the Cubs out.
Friday's matchup ought to have Wrigley Field rocking. It was pretty quiet Wednesday night except after Soler's home run. I'd love to see the place with the energy we all felt there last weekend. Somehow I don't think that'll be a problem.