I am going to try to resist making any comparisons between this year’s team and the 2016 World Series champion Cubs, because every year is different, every team is different, every situation is different.
But one thing that did stand out from Friday’s frustrating 4-2 loss to the Pirates was the fact that the Cubs absolutely dominated the Bucs last year, winning 14 of the 18 decisions between the two teams (as you recall, there was one tie).
In this game, the Cubs had plenty of opportunities to break the game open. Anthony Rizzo doubled in the first with two out and took third uncontested, but could not score.
In the third, after the Cubs had tied the game 1-1 on a single by Ben Zobrist, they had runners on first and second with two out, but Miguel Montero struck out.
The worst, though, were the eighth and ninth. Kris Bryant and Rizzo, the first two hitters in the inning, both reached base. Bryant walked and Rizzo was plunked. But Zobrist and Addison Russell could not bring them in, and even after Jason Heyward slid head-first into first base to beat out an infield dribbler (one of the few times sliding into first actually makes sense), the Cubs failed to score. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras bounced into a force play.
And then there was the ninth. With two out and no one on base, Kyle Schwarber walked. Bryant then hit a bouncer to third that could have ended the game, but Pirates third baseman David Freese booted it. Then Rizzo was hit again with a pitch, the third time he’s reached by HBP this year.
That put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base.
But Zobrist bounced harmlessly to short, and the game was over.
Frustrating to watch after so many similar situations in 2016... oh, wait. I said I wasn’t going to do that.
Honestly, this game was winnable, as the pitching staff did a good job... except for Justin Grimm, who gave up an RBI single after relieving Kyle Hendricks with nobody out and two on in the sixth. After getting a fly ball out, he gave up a double to Francisco Cervelli, scoring two more runs. It might have been more except a nice relay from Heyward to Rizzo to Russell nailed Cervelli at third.
And that’s it, really. Hendricks didn’t seem overly sharp. The new pitch speed metering isn’t doing Kyle any favors. Many of his fastballs showed up at 84 on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter, and at least one curveball showed as 68. Almost all of his pitches showed up five miles per hour slower than they would have last year. On the other hand, Hector Rondon, who showed no ill effects from the collision at the plate with Chase Utley the other night, popped a few fastballs at 97. So is it Kyle? Or the system?
Beyond that, Kyle simply wasn’t hitting the locations he usually does. He did record eight ground-ball outs, but he also gave up a couple of hard-hit doubles.
Credit to Brian Duensing (making his Cubs debut), Rondon and Mike Montgomery for keeping the game close, allowing no runs and two hits over the last three innings. Carl Edwards Jr. went on the bereavement list to make room for Duensing, so when CJ returns the team is going to have to make a choice, likely between keeping Matt Szczur and Tommy La Stella. With the schedule having fewer off days upcoming, I would assume they’ll keep Duensing and option TLS, since he has options remaining.
In the end this Cubs team is going to have to do better with all those runners on base. They stranded 11, and even though they went 3-for-10 with RISP, there were no hits to be had in the late innings with the bases loaded, when it really mattered.
In the end I’m not too concerned. This Cubs team is too good to do things like this very often, and they were facing a very good pitcher in Gerrit Cole, who stifled them much of the afternoon.
The Cubs and Pirates will go at it again Saturday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CT. It’ll be Jake Arrieta for the Cubs and Tyler Glasnow for the Pirates. And remember, the Cubs still have a chance to continue meatloafing, as they can still take two of three in this series.