Didn't we see this game on Saturday?
The situation was nearly identical: an excellent starting-pitcher outing into the seventh, this time with a lead into the eighth instead of a tie game.
Sunday night, Joe Maddon had his bullpen set up the way he and Theo & Co. had set it up: Hector Rondon in the eighth inning, Aroldis Chapman ready for the ninth. It was Hector's first outing in 12 days following reports of tricep soreness. Before the game he said he was ready to go:
Hector Rondon 100 percent ready for tonight's game— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) August 14, 2016
And then... complete failure. A line-drive single by pinch-hitter Kolten Wong was followed by a bunt that Rondon failed to field, and then Stephen Piscotty smashed a three-run homer. Truth be told, Maddon probably should have lifted Rondon for Travis Wood right there. Rondon did get Matt Carpenter to ground out, but then Brandon Moss hit another homer. Not sure why Joe let Rondon pitch to Moss, considering Moss' OPS is almost 400 points higher against righties than lefties.
All of this left a sour taste in Cubs' fans mouths, a 6-4 loss to the Cardinals that resulted in a split of the four-game series. Sure, going in we'd probably have all taken a split, but once you take the first two games, the feeling is that you want to sweep those guys and really bury them in the division race.
Further, Rondon's bad outing ruined an excellent one by John Lackey, who allowed just one run in 6⅔ innings, that on a throwing error by Ben Zobrist on what might have been an inning-ending double play in the third. This fine leaping catch into the ivy [VIDEO] by Chris Coghlan ended the inning.
The Cubs had an opportunity to really bust this one wide open in the first inning. The first three Cubs hitters reached base on a walk to Dexter Fowler and singles by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. A sacrifice fly by Zobrist made it 2-0, but Mike Leake settled down and retired the next 15 Cubs in order, nine of them on ground balls.
The Cubs made it 3-1 in the sixth when Bryant tripled into the right-center field gap and was singled in by Rizzo with one out. But Rizzo was stranded at second.
While it's true that Rondon's failure directly lost the game, they might not have needed him at all if not for an inability to score with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh. Coghlan led off with a double down the left-field line. Jason Heyward just beat a throw to leg out an infield single:
That one was really, really close. It looked like Heyward's foot touched first base just before the ball settled into Carpenter's glove. There wasn't enough evidence to overturn the "safe" call on the field.
Willson Contreras walked to load the bases.
But that was it for that inning. Pinch-hitter Matt Szczur hit the ball hard, but right at Randal Grichuk in center field. Fowler was called out on strikes and Bryant flied to right. You've really got to score a run or two in situations like that, and the Cubs didn't. Overall they were 3-for-7 with RISP Sunday night, but that failure really hurt.
The disastrous five-run eighth sucked all the energy out of Wrigley Field; for a time it got quieter than you can imagine a sellout crowd to be. But the Cubs immediately got one of the runs back when Rizzo hit Kevin Siegrist's second pitch into the right-field party patio for a solo homer [VIDEO] to make it 6-4. Two outs later, Javier Baez singled to bring the tying run to the plate, but Baez was the final Cubs baserunner of the evening. Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh struck out the side in the ninth to end it.
The homer was Rizzo's 25th, and so he and Bryant have reached that mark for the second straight year. The last time the Cubs had the same two players hit 25 or more homers in consecutive seasons was 2007-08, when Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez both did it.
The other story of this loss was Lackey's departure with two out in the seventh after he went to a 2-2 count on Grichuk:
You can see Lackey stretching out his shoulder and grimacing. Justin Grimm came in and threw strike three to Grichuk, ending the inning. Fortunately, Lackey appears to be all right (video at the link in this tweet):
The Cubs' extra off days this month have helped the rotation; the off day Monday will give Lackey five days' rest until he'll be scheduled to make another start, which should come up on Saturday against the Rockies in Denver.
One thing that was nice about Sunday evening's game was a gorgeous sunset over Wrigley Field. Perhaps you saw some video of it during ESPN's broadcast. Here are some photos I took during the game:
That doesn't make up for the loss, but it's still nice to look at.
And so, as noted, the Cubs wrap the series with the Cardinals exactly where they were when it began: 12 games ahead, with four games knocked off the schedule. With the Cardinals having played two more games than the Cubs (118 to 116), the Cardinals trail by 13 games in the loss column. It could have been better, but in the famous old words of Jack Brickhouse: "It sure could have been worse!"
However, the Cubs are certainly going to have to get better work out of the bullpen in the eighth inning or later if they are going to win postseason games.
The Cubs have their final day off for August on Monday, then play a split doubleheader Tuesday, the first game making up a rainout against the Brewers from April 27. Trevor Cahill will be activated as the team's 26th man to start Game 1 against our old friend Matt Garza, but he might not go too long:
Look for Cahill to start one game of the doubleheader Tuesday and Montgomery after him in relief— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) August 14, 2016
Cahill is coming back from a knee injury and his longest outing in his Triple-A rehab assignment was 73 pitches. I'm guessing Joe Maddon would be happy if Cahill gave him 80 or so pitches Tuesday afternoon (his most in any big-league outing this year was 55, May 8 vs. the Nationals). In Game 2 Tuesday night, Jason Hammel will face Chase Anderson.