If you can locate the Cubs’ offense, please call... well, Joe Maddon or Theo Epstein or Tom Ricketts or someone in management, because after the Cubs’ pathetic 3-2 loss to the Padres Wednesday afternoon, I’m sure they all must be quite worried, as it’s definitely gone missing.
Because the San Diego Padres are not a good team. Miguel Diaz, their starting pitcher, is a Rule 5 pick who hadn’t pitched above A ball before this year, and who had a 7.36 ERA coming into the game.
The tone might have been set by Anthony Rizzo, who has been on an amazing hot streak since he started leading off games. He got loud ovations every time he came to bat, and Diaz went 3-0 on him to lead off the first. You’d think Rizzo, a patient hitter, might have waited for a walk, but he offered at 3-0 and hit a lazy fly to right. Rizzo went 0-for-4, ending his streak of leading off games reaching base at seven and his overall hitting streak at 14.
After Rizzo’s fly out, Kris Bryant doubled, but that’s the only hit Diaz allowed. Bryant advanced to third on a fly to right and was stranded.
Two innings later, Diaz walked Albert Almora Jr. with one out. That brought out what seemed like the entire Padres coaching and training staff to look at him. After a few moments Diaz left the game. I was thinking this but wouldn’t have posted it, except the Padres’ MLB.com beat writer was apparently thinking the same thing:
Speculating, but Diaz, a Rule 5er, needs to be active at least 90 days to remain with the Padres, in case of a DL stint.— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) June 21, 2017
Obviously, the Padres think Diaz has talent but they don’t want to have to keep him on their big-league roster all year. So they might be playing fast and loose with the rules so they can keep him. The Rule 5 rules probably need to be looked at. Here’s what Diaz has:
It's a right forearm strain for Diaz, say the Padres.— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) June 21, 2017
Pretty generic, probably keeps him out long enough so he can be optioned once he’s “healthy.”
Why am I talking about this? Because there’s hardly any Cubs things to talk about. Craig Stammen replaced Diaz and one inning later, he walked Kyle Schwarber with one out. Addison Russell popped up, and then up came Ian Happ [VIDEO].
Happ’s two-run homer gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. That ball: Crushed!
Ian Happ crushed that HR... 112 MPH pic.twitter.com/pWvHejJWnj— Daren Willman (@darenw) June 21, 2017
So that’s good, right?
Not so much. As has been the case so many times this year, the Cubs started coughing runs back within about five minutes. Eddie Butler served up a double to Stammen. That’s exactly the third extra-base hit by a relief pitcher this year, and it probably shouldn’t have even been a hit. Kris Bryant turned the wrong way on the ball, playing somewhat shallow on Stammen. This was just the fourth game Bryant had played in right field this year and... well, I don’t know, maybe his outfielding instincts were rusty. But this turned out to be a key play in the game.
Butler had struggled through the first four innings even though he didn’t allow any runs, and then when Jose Pirela singled in Stammen, Joe had seen enough.
Justin Grimm, who has been really good since his recall to the big leagues, was summoned, even though he had thrown the ninth inning on Tuesday. Pirela had taken second on the throw in from the outfield, so it was a fairly high-leverage situation, tying run in scoring position, nobody out.
Grimm struck out a pair sandwiched around a popup to get out of the inning. I can see Maddon giving him many more high-leverage situations going forward.
Brian Duensing was next, and with one out Erick Aybar homered to tie the game.
Okay, it’s still tied. And the Cubs are still going down 1-2-3 in every inning.
Pedro Strop had a 1-2-3 eighth and then Koji Uehara had a bad inning. Wil Myers singled on Koji’s first pitch. One out later, Cory Spangenberg singled and went to second on the throw in.
Aybar was next. Uehara went to 2-0 before Aybar was sent to first. Call that a “Half Manfred,” if you will.
Former Cub Matt Szczur — who was greeted warmly in all three games, a nice gesture — was next. You can imagine he would have liked to pay back his ex-employers, but Uehara got him to pop out in foul territory.
Up stepped Padres backup catcher Luis Torrens, playing only because of the collision between Rizzo and Austin Hedges on Monday. Before this game he had walked four times in 65 major-league plate appearances.
Naturally, Uehara walked him, and there was the lead and eventual winning run.
Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe this. The Cubs wound up 2-4 for the season against a bad Padres team they should have been at least 4-2 against, maybe even 5-1. Two hits? Third time this year the Cubs have been held to two hits, and they won one of those games (April 25 in Pittsburgh). That matches the total of games in which the Cubs were held to two hits or fewer from 2016 — all of 2016. We’re not even halfway through 2017.
The Cubs thus leave for their longest road trip of 2017 (11 games) one game over .500 and, pending the result of the Pirates/Brewers game Wednesday evening, one game out of first place. The N.L. Central is still winnable. This team has the talent to do it. I keep waiting for them to break out in a long winning streak. It won’t be easy to do it on the road, but I still believe they can and will.
The announced crowd of 41,708 was the Cubs’ second-biggest of 2017. They didn’t have much to cheer about on a day that was sunny most of the time before an odd little sprinkle started to fall in the seventh inning. Hopefully, when the Cubs return to Wrigley Field July 4, they’ll be in first place with the other teams in the division well in the rear-view mirror.
The road trip begins Thursday evening in Miami. Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs against the Marlins’ Jeff Locke.