On the morning of July 9, the Cubs woke up 43-44 and 4.5 games out of first place. After the game, they would scatter around the country for the All-Star break. In what would be a major shocker, the Cubs had just the one required All-Star bid and since that was Wade Davis, no member of the previous year’s World Series champions made the team. Most of us were pretty happy about that, as the Cubs definitely looked run down and it felt like a few days off were better than attending the festivities that are involved. Especially given that if Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant had been selected, they would likely have been asked to participate in the home run hitting contest (though KB had said he likely wouldn’t even if asked).
I bought a mini ticket pack before the season and this game was included in it. Alas, it was my wife’s birthday and baseball doesn’t make the list of the top 50 or so ways she’d ordinarily like to spend her birthday, so I sold them. What a stroke of luck that turned out to be.
Jon Lester was on the mound for the Cubs and his opponent was Chad Kuhl. Kuhl wasn’t the originally scheduled starter as the scheduled starter, Jameson Taillon, was scratched from the game with flu-like symptoms. This one appeared to be something of a mismatch. A chance for the Cubs to pick up a win and hopefully move a game closer to first before they’d come back rested and look to make a run at first place. It was 85 degrees at game time, a warm but not really oppressive day as some July games can be.
Josh Harrison started the game with a single for the Pirates. Lester got a ground out to third with Harrison moving up. Andrew McCutchen drew a walk. David Freese then hit a ground ball towards Kris Bryant that maybe could have been a 5-4-3 inning ending double play. But we never got to find out. Bryant booted the ball and the bases were loaded with only one out. The next three Pirates followed with hits (single, double, single) and the score was five to nothing. Willson Contreras was charged an error on the last hit and that left a runner on second and only one out.
Lester walked Max Moroff and then Kuhl sacrificed the runners to second and third. Josh Harrison reached for the second time in the inning with a walk and that was followed by a grand slam off the bat of Francisco Cervelli. McCutchen added a home run of his own and just like that it was 10-0 and Jon was done for the day. Fangraphs starts the game with each team having a 50% chance of winning. By the time Jon Lester left the mound in the top of the first, the Cubs had just a 2% chance of winning. That’s a WPA of (-.480). It’s hard for a starting pitcher to register much higher than that and indeed, this is the last starting pitcher you will see on either list.
Mike Montgomery came in and allowed a single and a walk to the first two batters he faced before finally recording the third out. The Pirates sent 15 men to the plate in the first, 10 scored. One of the three outs was a sacrifice bunt by the pitcher. Super ugly. The Cubs went on to lose 14-3 and fell 5.5 games behind the Brewers.
For those who want to look back at the box score from this one, I’ll attach the fangraphs WPA scores for that day.
Jon Lester was the first Cub in the baseball-reference era to allow 10 runs and not complete the first inning. It was the first time the Cubs allowed 10 or more runs in the first inning since 1998. The lone bright spot on the day was a three for three day for Victor Caratini. The Cubs entered the All Star break having lost eight of 12.
I’ll run just one quote today, as this summed up what a lot of people were thinking.
The Cubs offense is pretty terrible
Even with the massive starting pitching regression, the offense is bad. Bottom third of the league now in runs scored. There’s fundamental problems and I don’t see a switch just being turned on that will make this a good team. Even though he doesn’t want to do it, Theo should keep an open mind about a potential Wade Davis trade to restock some arms into the system. This team just doesn’t have it this year.
If 87 wins this division, the margin for error continues to shrink.
That one was from MikeJW who gets a hard time sometimes because he’s one of the more outwardly critical regular posters on BCB. I’ve called him on it myself on more than one occasion, but I’ll admit that I was one of the people at the time thinking that Theo should consider making some headliner trades in the second half. I was not only thinking of Wade Davis, but also Jake Arrieta and some of the other veteran players who were to be free agents this offseason.
What followed of course was the Cubs trading for Jose Quintana who was featured in my last column and was one of the most consistent pitchers for the Cubs in the second half and is signed for three more seasons after 2017. The offense surged in the second half and ended up being one of the best offenses in the whole league. The Cubs returned to the playoffs for the third straight year and advanced to the National League Championship Series for the third straight year. It was less than we’d all have hoped, but I’d think almost to a person we’d have all taken it if it was offered as a deal in spring training.
Next week, we’ll go back and look at a positive game. I’ve had an image from this game saved to my desktop since the day after it occurred as it was one of my favorite moments of the season. Of course I’ll also be back later in the week with another installment in my 1984 look back through the lens of Heroes and Goats.