There is, I think, a lesson to be learned from the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Red Sox Sunday night.
And that lesson is: Don’t use Koji Uehara in back-to-back games.
The 42-year-old reliever has been pretty effective so far this year — except in back-to-backs. In the first one of those, April 16 at Wrigley Field against the Pirates, he did pretty much what happened Sunday night. He faced three batters, retired none of them, and left with the bases loaded.
Let’s deconstruct that disastrous eighth inning, which happened after the Cubs’ good baserunning had tied the game 2-2 in the top of the seventh.
Marco Hernandez led off the inning with what looked like a routine ground ball to Anthony Rizzo. Uehara was a bit slow getting to the base and Hernandez was ruled safe. [VIDEO].
Man, that’s about as close as you can get on one of those plays. One angle appears to show Uehara’s foot touch first base just before Hernandez’s did. Other angles looked like the feet both hit the bag at the same time (and there’s no “tie goes to the runner” rule, as ESPN’s Dan Shulman hinted).
The replay review crew ruled “call stands,” and I can’t argue with that; if the call on the field had been “safe,” that probably would have stood, too. Truth be told, Rizzo probably should have taken the play himself.
That wasn’t the biggest problem — the biggest issue was that Uehara then gave up two more singles, loading the bases, and Pedro Strop was summoned in a tough situation. Strop struck out Mookie Betts, but then threw a wild pitch that gave Boston the lead at 3-2. A slow roller to Rizzo by Mitch Moreland was too slow for a play at the plate and another run scored while Rizzo recorded the second out at first base, and then Addison Russell threw away a potential inning-ending ground ball that Rizzo couldn’t handle and the game was out of reach at 6-2.
That might have been the ugliest Cubs inning of the year.
Joe Maddon has eight relievers. I think he’s going to have to be much more careful about how he uses Uehara, who can be quite effective most of the time.
It’s too bad this game turned into a blowout, because it was a good, tense, almost playoff-atmosphere game up to that point.
Hanley Ramirez sent a baseball rocketing into the stratosphere outside Fenway Park with a man on in the first inning off Kyle Hendricks to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. But after that Hendricks settled down. He allowed only one more hit over five subsequent innings for what was his second straight solid outing. If he hadn’t thrown so many pitches in the sixth (19) he might have gone out there for the seventh and then we might be talking about a win.
Kris Bryant got one of the two runs back on a home run to deep center field [VIDEO].
Bryant, typically a slow starter, is now on an 11-game hitting streak and hit a solid .289/.391/.515 in April with 10 doubles and four home runs. Fun fact about Bryant’s homer:
Kris Bryant joins Nate Schierholtz as only #Cubs with multiple HR at Fenway Park (2 each)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 1, 2017
The Cubs tied the game in the seventh. With one out, Jon Jay and Kyle Schwarber walked, and with Bryant at the plate, Boston reliever Joe Kelly uncorked a wild pitch. Then this happened [VIDEO].
Jay is such a smart player. He realized he had a chance to score when catcher Christian Vazquez couldn’t immediately locate the ball and never stopped running. He was called out on the field, but it was obvious on watching a replay that he had his hand on the plate before he was tagged by Kelly. Jay put his hands to his helmet indicating he thought Maddon should ask for a review, and the play was quickly overturned and the game was tied.
With Schwarber in scoring position and Bryant and Rizzo coming to bat, it seemed as if the Cubs might have a chance to take the lead. But both grounded out to end the inning, continuing the Cubs’ struggles with RISP. They went 0-for-5 in that situation Sunday night.
A few words about ESPN’s broadcast. I understand the concept of what ESPN tries to do with these games — they are trying to appeal to the casual fan and broaden their audience with feature pieces. But a fluffy interview with Russell by Jessica Mendoza wound up covering up play for two or three batters. (Note: I am not blaming Mendoza for this, that’s likely something the production team assigned her.) If a TV network is doing an interview like that while play is going on, they should keep running the audio while showing play and post a graphic that says, “Voice of Addison Russell.”
And though the story of Bryant’s dad Mike, a former Red Sox prospect, is interesting, there was way too much of it, and again, at times it interfered with coverage of the actual play in progress.
The series in Boston was promoted by some as a “World Series preview” and it’s way too early to make those sorts of judgments. However, these are both very good teams and despite some of the Cubs’ struggles in April they should be a strong contender to get back to the Series. The Red Sox certainly have the talent to make a run to October as well.
The end result of this set was frustrating, but the Cubs still come home with a winning (5-4) road trip and still in first place, by one game over the the Brewers and Cardinals, two over the Pirates and Reds, and no, I do not expect the division will be that close all season.
The Cubs open a four-game series Monday evening against the Phillies at Wrigley Field. Brett Anderson will go for the Cubs and Vince Velasquez for the Phillies.