SAN FRANCISCO -- Let's start with the most controversial play in the Cubs' 1-0 loss to the Giants Sunday night, the Cubs' third loss this year by shutout and second by a 1-0 score.
Javier Baez pushed a bunt down the first-base line leading off the eighth inning and tried to dive out of the way of Brandon Belt's tag. He did so and touched first base before he was tagged, finally, by Madison Bumgarner, but was ruled out for going out of the baseline.
Here's the play [VIDEO]. A runner is allowed to try to avoid tags like this. It does appear that Baez left the baseline -- but not by much, and in such a circumstance a player is allowed to do so.
Unfortunately, this kind of play is not reviewable, which is why Joe Maddon raced out of the dugout, almost wagging a pen in umpire Dana DeMuth's face. You could tell Joe was livid, and I'll leave it to you lipreaders to suss out what he was saying. (Keep it clean, please!) I suspect DeMuth knew he made the wrong call, which is why Maddon wasn't tossed. Here are some of Maddon's postgame comments -- he still wasn't happy.
Two questions, though:
- Why couldn't Maddon have asked the umpires to confer about this, since it appeared to be about the interpretation of a rule?
- Shouldn't plays like this be reviewable?
In response to the second question, I hope the review committee adds this sort of play to the reviewable list. But that won't happen till next year at the earliest. Even the ESPN broadcast team, as you can hear on the clip above, thought it was a bad call.
Now -- though the Cubs appeared to get jobbed on that one, that's not the reason they lost this game. They lost because of Bumgarner, who they let off the hook after loading the bases with two out in the first inning. Then, Bumgarner hit the exact spot he wanted to on a 3-2 pitch to Addison Russell, who thought he had walked. So did I, from my vantage point, but if you believe the ESPN strike zone box [VIDEO], Bumgarner hit the middle of the plate right at the knees, a perfect pitcher's pitch. Bumgarner never seems to be taking much effort to make his pitches, slinging them with his easy sort-of-sidearm motion, and it winds up lulling hitters into thinking the ball's going to wind up out of the zone. It rarely does.
Beyond that, Bumgarner was helped by at least four stellar defensive plays. Brandon Crawford made a nice play on Ben Zobrist's grounder to end the third inning. Kyle Hendricks looked like he had bounced a ball through for a hit in the fifth, but Matt Duffy said "Nothing doing":
Buster Posey leaned into the Cubs dugout to catch a foul popup off the bat of Jorge Soler leading off the seventh, and then Denard Span made this terrific catch on Zobrist's long drive leading off the ninth:
So give credit to the Giants defense. It helped Bumgarner through 7⅔ innings, and then when he walked Anthony Rizzo with two out in the eighth, on came Cory Gearrin to face Kris Bryant. One pitch was all it took. Bryant was looking first-pitch fastball and got one and hit it hard -- right at Crawford.
Hendricks threw a pretty nice game, matching zeroes with Bumgarner, helped out by this nice running catch by Matt Szczur [VIDEO] on a fly ball to deep right center by Duffy to end the third inning. That would likely have scored a run, as it was with two out and a runner on first.
Bumgarner drove in the only run with a two-strike double over Soler's head after Gregor Blanco had walked to lead off the fifth. Bumgarner has, in the past, been a very good hitter: from 2014-15 he hit .252/.280/.469 with nine home runs in 143 at-bats. But this year he was just 3-for-23 entering this game with 12 strikeouts, although one of the hits was a homer. Why give him anything good to hit? Also, Soler didn't take a very good route to the ball and then the carom off the wall got by him, allowing Blanco to score.
When you're facing a pitcher as good as Bumgarner, there's usually no margin for error and there wasn't in this one. After Bumgarner's double, the Giants had just three more baserunners, two on walks and an eighth-inning single by Duffy. Credit to Travis Wood and Pedro Strop for shutting the door and keeping the game close, but the Cubs are simply going to have to generate some more offense, even though they outscored the Giants in this series 11-7.
So in this series, the Cubs win one game they figured to, lost another one they could have won, and then lost the one where they had quite an unfavorable pitching matchup -- yet in that one, they at least kept the game close. Moral victories like that don't count in the standings, but they might mean something as this team goes through a long season. They still have the best record in the major leagues and a six-game lead in the N.L. Central. Every team is going to go through a rough patch like the Cubs have recently, now with seven losses in their last 11 games after getting to a season-high 19 games over .500 at 25-6. It'll turn around eventually. This team is too good to play like this for too long, even though they have now lost on consecutive days for the first time in 2016.
My one evening this year at AT&T Park was typical. Cool breezes blew. I saw some gulls flapping around the scoreboard around game time, a reminder of the Wrigley gulls. People were friendly; I sat next to a Giants fan talking strategy to his son, who was maybe eight or nine years old. That's good, I thought; kids like that are the future of this game and that young boy was soaking everything in.
Some were billing this set as a possible NLCS preview. It's way too early to talk like that, with four months of baseball remaining, but it's clear that the Cubs and Giants look like the best teams in the league. I did pick these two teams to meet in the championship series. It'd certainly be a heck of a matchup. If Sunday's game had been a postseason contest between these two clubs, it would be an instant classic.
Cubs walk watch: only two in this game, now 205 for the season, or 4.88 per game. Pace: 791, the first time the pace has dropped under 800. 791 would still break the Cubs team record (650) and N.L. record (732) comfortably.
So it's on to St. Louis, where the Cubs have already won a series this year. They could use another series win to make this road trip somewhat palatable. Monday night's matchup: ex-Cardinal John Lackey for the Cubs, Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals.