Remember this about the 2016 Cubs: They are an excellent team that’s 39 games over .500 and headed for the postseason and likely the best record in baseball.
Even teams like that are going to have glitches from time to time, brief letdowns where they don’t play well, and the Brewers, who were rude guests at Wrigley Field, took three of four with a 3-1 win over the Cubs Sunday (after the Cubs had won the previous six Wrigley meetings between the two and 11 of the last 12 there from Milwaukee going back to last year). It’s the first series loss for the Cubs at Wrigley Field since before the All-Star break.
Failure with runners in scoring position was the culprit again. In fact, hitting with runners on base at all was the culprit in this one, because the Cubs had just three hits (out of nine total) with any runner on base in Sunday’s loss.
The only Cubs hit that was of any real use was Tommy La Stella’s pinch-double that scooted past Domingo Santana in center field and scored Javier Baez in the sixth inning. Baez had reached on a force play after Jason Heyward (who had two hits, a good sign, I’d think) singled leading off the inning.
But that was it. 0-for-10 with RISP and 11 men left on base in all, including two in the ninth inning after Baez was hit by a pitch (reviewed, ruled “call stands”) and Dexter Fowler walked with one out. With Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo due up, hopes were high for at least a tie, but no go — Brewers closer Tyler Thornburg struck them both out. (Credit to Thornburg, who’s done a really good job since he inherited their closer role after Jeremy Jeffress was traded to the Rangers.
The game turned in the second inning. Kyle Hendricks had struck out the side in the first on his usual selection of unhittable changeups. Hernan Perez led off the second with a looper that landed just out of the reach of Addison Russell. Hendricks got the next two hitters (while Perez stole second), but then ran into some trouble with .190 hitter Martin Maldonado.
What kind of trouble, you ask? This kind:
Well, those are pretty much both obvious strikes, but instead of being ahead of Maldonado 0-2, Hendricks went behind 3-0. He threw a sinker for strike one, but the next pitch would up laced up the middle for a single that made it 1-0. Another single moved Maldonado to second and then pitcher Wily Peralta, a .118 hitter coming into the game, came to the plate.
Hendricks served up a sinker and Peralta bounced it up the middle for another run.
After that Hendricks threw pretty well, allowing just two other hits. He was removed, as mentioned above, for pinch-hitter TLS after six innings, where he allowed six hits, didn’t walk anyone and struck out nine. That’s a perfectly suitable outing for Hendricks, but the Cubs couldn’t score until after he left the game. They certainly had enough baserunners to put several runs on the board against Peralta, but failed in every situation up to that one in the sixth. Hendricks even tried to help himself with a pair of singles. It was the second two-hit game of his career, but the first since 2014 for a pitcher who’s admittedly not much of a hitter (career .082 entering this game, 11-for-134, one double, 62 strikeouts).
The Brewers added a third and final run off Felix Pena in the eighth, a towering home run by Chris Carter that clanked loudly off the top of the left-field ribbon board (and left a dent there, too) and landed in the seats down the left-field line.
I don’t think this game, or this series, is predictive of anything. As I said, teams are going to go through stretches like this from time to time and for some reason, this was the Brewers’ time to dominate the Cubs. There were a couple of slick defensive plays turned by Cubs fielders in this game that are worth looking at:
- A comebacker grabbed by Joe Smith for the final out of the seventh
- A nice running grab by Russell and throw for the first out of the eighth
At this writing the Braves are leading the Nationals in a game that’s been rain-delayed for the second time. If the Braves hold on to win the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the league’s best record will drop to seven. And if you’re concerned about the Cubs’ play this weekend, consider that if that Atlanta score holds up, the Nats will have dropped two of three to the worst team in the league and a club they had a 14-2 record against before the series began. Feel better now?
The Cubs didn’t play badly in this game. They just couldn’t get the key hits with runners on base to win it. The loss completes the season series with the Brewers; the Cubs won 11, the Brewers eight, and you can see the Brewers do have some talented players who will be part of their rebuild. In a year or two I can see the Brewers being a contender.
The Reds, who are at Wrigley for three night games beginning Monday, are farther from contention, and hopefully the Cubs, who are 10-3 against them so far this year, can continue that dominance. Jason Hammel gets the ball for the 7:05 p.m. CT start on Monday. He’ll face Reds rookie righthander Tim Adleman.