Firsts in the 2016 season are now coming along that we don't want to see.
The Cubs are now on their first three-game losing streak of the season, and it came in the way that feels the worst: a walkoff home run when the Cubs were one strike away from sending the game into extra innings. Randal Grichuk's homer into the right-field bullpen off Adam Warren gave the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Cubs and ensured the Cubs of going home with another first, their first losing road trip of 2016.
The game was the Cubs' second walkoff defeat of the season. Potential good news: the last time they had one of those (April 8 against the Diamondbacks) they immediately ran off a five-game winning streak.
The game didn't start out poorly. In fact, John Lackey was very, very good over the first two innings, striking out five of the first six batters he faced. He finally allowed a hit to Grichuk leading off the third, and after a hit batter and a walk loaded the bases, Aledmys Diaz gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly.
But the Cubs took the lead back in the fourth on RBIs from Miguel Montero (single) and Addison Russell (force play) and in the fifth, they added a third run on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo.
The Cardinals tied it up on a two-run pinch-homer by Matt Adams in the bottom of the seventh, after Lackey had been dominant all night. The Cardinals have made a habit of that this year:
9 pinch hit HR's for Cards this season. That is nuts— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) May 24, 2016
The Cubs have only 12 pinch hits this year, no pinch homers. All the rest of the major-league teams combined, all 28 of them besides the Cubs and Cardinals, have 24 pinch homers this year. Rogers is right: that's nuts.
The Cubs had no more real threats until the ninth. Facing Trevor Rosenthal, against whom he had been 0-for-4 (all strikeouts) previously, Dexter Fowler lined a single up the middle and then took third on a single by Ben Zobrist.
Rizzo was up next with one out; all it would take would be a fly ball to give the Cubs the lead.
He popped the ball in the direction of Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, who made a diving catch. Fowler had gone on contact, so Carpenter easily doubled him off to end the inning.
I can't blame Fowler for going; it seemed as if the ball would drop, which would mean a run scoring and likely placed Zobrist in scoring position.
All you can do is tip your cap. Carpenter made a really nice play.
Still, Warren retired the first two Cardinals in the ninth easily and had two strikes on Grichuk and then... ugh. Especially since the Cubs would have had Rosenthal out of the game, and had Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon ready for extras, a real pitching advantage.
Despite going 3-for-9 with RISP, the Cubs could have scored more runs. They left 10 men on base, including the bases loaded in the fourth after the two runs scored (with Lackey at bat), and two runners on with just one out in the fifth were also stranded.
I'll put this question to all of you, as a friend of mine asked me whether I thought Rizzo was standing farther off the plate than usual. I don't think so -- but do you? Or has he altered his stance in some other way? And could that be a cause of his recent slump?
Here's video of Rizzo's RBI single. To me, it looks like he has opened his stance a bit more than normal. Would that be enough to send him into a slump?
That's not the entire cause of this losing skein, which has now reached eight of the last 12. But it certainly would help jump-start this ballclub's offense if its leader and best hitter, admittedly a streaky hitter, would get going again.
Cubs walk watch: four in this game makes 209 for the season, an average of 4.86 per game. Pace: 787.
Finally, here's further word on the Javier Baez play at first base in Sunday night's game, courtesy of Hank Schulman, Giants beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle:
Just talked to former ump, now ump supervisor Ed Montague, who explained to me exactly which rule applied on Baez call, and interpretation.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
Montague said 45-foot chalk line not in play at all. Baez created his own when he began straight line to bag. Once Belt approached ...— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
... Baez was allowed to veer 3 feet. That 3 feet began from where he was, which was well inside base line. Montague watched video and ...— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
. . . showed me stills. He estimated Baez veered 8 feet from the moment he was allowed to veer 3. Montague said call was correct, and no...— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
... Montague is not just sticking up for a brother. His job is to review ump calls for league so umps can be informed if they mess up.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
The rule in question. pic.twitter.com/e6X3KTuTiH— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) May 24, 2016
This is a perfectly reasonable explanation and I accept it. He does say that Montague "estimated" how far Baez was out of the baseline, which goes back to the idea that this is a judgment call. Another umpire might have ruled differently, but Dana DeMuth clearly felt the same way Montague did. I'm satisfied now that the right call was made.
Hey, about time the Cubs won a game, right? Jason Hammel will face Michael Wacha in game two of this three-game set Tuesday evening. Remember, it's an hour earlier, game time 6:10 CT, due to ESPN coverage.