I mean... how does Javier Baez even come close to making that play? Look at the focus he keeps while grabbing the ball in mid-air, and then he fires a strong and accurate throw to first base. Give Willson Contreras -- playing his first game at first base this year -- credit, too, for the reach and the grab, and the play was ruled out on the field. Review showed that J.T. Realmuto just beat the throw.
It didn't make any difference in the game as the next hitter, Chris Johnson, was called out on strikes. But man, what a play by Baez.
The Cubs' offense had trouble getting untracked against a mediocre starter, Wei-Yin Chen, who had posted a 9.88 ERA with seven home runs allowed in his last three starts. Chen allowed just five hits and two runs in seven innings, with no walks. One of those hits was a leadoff homer by David Ross [VIDEO] in the eighth, after which Chen was removed. The homer tied the game:
#Cubs Ross did hit 6th HR in 8th. It was his 1st HR to tie game in 8th inning or later in his career— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) June 24, 2016
The Marlins had their two runs up to that point on solo homers by Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. With Pedro Strop set to throw the eighth, things were looking good.
Unfortunately, we got "bad Pedro" Thursday night. With two out and a runner on first, Strop uncorked a wild pitch, which was followed by an RBI single by Stanton. The next hitter, Realmuto, hit a sharp grounder in the direction of Baez. He got a glove on it, but it went past him down the left-field line, scoring Stanton and making the score 4-2.
The Marlins' usual closer, A.J. Ramos, was unavailable after having thrown four of the last five games, so Don Mattingly turned to David Phelps. Singles by Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr. put the tying run on base with one out.
Ross was the scheduled hitter. Here was the first indication that Anthony Rizzo, sidelined with a stiff back, was unavailable. It would have been a reasonable choice to bat Rizzo for Ross if he could have played; Rizzo could have gone in at first with moving behind the plate.
The Cubs got what appeared to be a break when Phelps balked. The runners advanced to second and third, taking things out of a double-play situation. Then Ross walked, loading the bases.
Again, with the pitcher's spot up, Rizzo would have been a good choice, but by now it was obvious he wasn't going to play. Chris Coghlan was sent up to bat for Strop. He ran the count to 2-2, fouled off a pitch that looked like ball three, and then struck out on a nasty cutter.
Ben Zobrist, who had much success against the Marlins during his career with the Rays, was next. He swung at Phelps' first offering and lofted a lazy fly ball to short center field, and the game was over.
Give the Cubs credit for the ninth-inning attempt, even though it fell short. But since Dexter Fowler has been out of the lineup, runs have been tough to come by. The Cubs did win the first two games with Dex out (the last two against the Pirates), but have scored only nine runs in four games since the Cardinals series began. I'm not saying that's only due to Fowler's absence; other hitters have been in mild slumps. The Cubs have had to rely heavily on rookies Almora and Contreras the last few days, and while those players certainly have talent, the team could use an offensive boost. They got good enough starting pitching from Jon Lester (seven innings, two runs), but have to get the bats going.
As for Contreras, he looked very much at home at first base. Check out this play on Chen's bunt attempt in the fifth:
He also made a long, running effort after a foul ball down the right-field line, on which he didn't make a catch, and then there was this grab of a high throw by Baez and a tag play, which was ruled safe on the field, but overturned on review:
Contreras has really opened eyes since his callup, even though his minor-league numbers suggested he might be able to hit well at the big-league level. He's really athletic -- began his pro career as a third baseman -- and according to this Tribune article, you might see him at even more places in the field:
Contreras, the Cubs' catcher of the future, was told he would work with coach Dave Martinez in the outfield if he's not scheduled to catch Friday night. "I'm going to be ready to play every day at any position to help the team," said Contreras, who played first in 21 minor-league games dating to 2011 and has played everyone position but shortstop and center field.
After having watched Contreras at first base, I have no doubt he could be a competent left fielder.
Speaking of left field, here's more excellent defense, this catch by Kris Bryant:
Just trying to find some positives as the Cubs are trying to right the ship from the first four-game losing streak in the regular season since almost exactly a year ago, when they lost five straight (two to the Dodgers, three to the Cardinals). They did pretty well after that, and at this point they just have to gut out the injuries.
Cubs walk watch: three in this game bring the season total to 305, or 4.3 per game. Pace: 696. At the current pace the Cubs would break the team record (650) in game 151, September 20 against the Reds at Wrigley.
The loss leaves the Red Sox and Indians as the only MLB teams this year who have not yet lost four in a row. The Cubs can start another winning streak (anytime, really, would be fine with me) Friday night in Miami. Kyle Hendricks pitches for the Cubs and Tom Koehler goes for the Marlins.