Let’s put it this way.
The last time the Cubs had an inning as disastrous as the eighth inning at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, they won the next six games after that one.
So let’s go with that — maybe the Cubs will start another winning streak after the bullpen implosion that gave the Cardinals an 11-4 blowout win in the series opener in front of the biggest announced crowd of 2017, 42,186. The defeat ended the Cubs’ season-longest win streak at six.
That eighth inning — man, I have no explanation at all for it. Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to throw 66 pitches in that inning, only 32 of which were strikes. Six walks were issued, and when Cubs pitchers weren’t walking Cardinals hitters, the St. Louis batters were hitting baseballs hard all over Wrigley Field. 11 Cardinals reached base before the Cubs finally got an out, two of them, on a double play.
CJ, Hector and Justin have had their ups and downs this year, but never anything that bad. It might send Theo & Co. to the drawing board looking for relief help; there are certainly relievers out there who can help the Cubs, and after this one, they look like they’ll need it.
All of that ruined an excellent start by Jake Arrieta, who allowed five hits and two runs in six innings and didn’t walk anyone. The two runs were on a two-out homer in the second by Randal Grichuk and a pair of two-out doubles in the third. Apart from that only one Cardinals runner got past first base off Jake. And that continued a fine run of Cubs starting pitching since the All-Star break:
#Cubs starting pitching since all-star break (7 games):— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 21, 2017
2.14 ERA, 42.0 IP, 27 Hits, 35 K, 9 BB, 0.857 WHIP
That’s the kind of starting pitching the Cubs had all last year. Let’s hope they can keep this roll going.
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Ben Zobrist singled and stole second (his first steal of the year!) while Willson Contreras was batting. Willson made that steal moot:
Willson Contreras launches a two-run home run to deep left field to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st inning!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/iEIme2IiyF— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) July 21, 2017
That was Contreras’ 14th homer of the year and fifth this month.
The Cubs went ahead in the fifth. Arrieta reached on an error by shortstop Paul DeJong. Jason Heyward singled, and after a force play, Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead [VIDEO].
Rizzo’s single put runners on first and third with one out, but Contreras hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Cubs had a chance to pad that lead in the sixth when Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ led off with singles. After a pair of strikeouts, Tommy La Stella pinch-hit for Arrieta and walked, his fifth pinch-walk of the season, loading the bases. But Heyward grounded to short to end the inning. Those were the last Cubs baserunners until the ninth.
In the top of the sixth, Schwarber had kept a run off the board with this fine leaping grab at the warning track [VIDEO].
And give some credit to Pedro Strop, who walked the first man he faced in the seventh, Kolten Wong, on four pitches. He ran the count full on Grichuk before striking him out and then got out of the inning on a pair of ground outs. Strop didn’t throw many strikes either — just nine in 22 pitches — but at the time it seemed like gutty pitching. Instead, it was just a precursor to some of the worst Cubs relief pitching I’ve seen in a long, long time.
The Cubs scored a consolation run in the ninth. Javier Baez singled and went to second on an error by Matt Carpenter on a grounder from Heyward. Zobrist singled to load the bases and Joe Maddon sent up Albert Almora Jr. to bat for Rizzo, I suppose just to give AA an at-bat. He hit a sacrifice fly to center field. By the time this happened, the ballpark was probably two-thirds empty; even many Cardinals fans took off after their team’s big inning.
This comment by Joe sums this one up, I suppose:
#Cubs Maddon was asked if he felt helpless watching the Cardinals' in the 8th: "You can't just open another can of pitchers"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 21, 2017
One more comment, from Hector:
#Cubs Rondon on the Cards' 9-run 8th: "That was a weird, weird inning. First time I've seen something like that"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 21, 2017
Weird or whatever, the Cubs, I believe, are going to have to find some other relief solutions. I would imagine they’ll make a pen move before Saturday’s game. Grimm was likely heading to Iowa when Kyle Hendricks is activated next week, so why not send Grimm down now and bring up a fresh arm? Then that reliever could be sent down for Hendricks. Brian Duensing, Koji Uehara and Wade Davis didn’t throw in Friday’s game, so at least those three should be available out of the pen Saturday.
And not to put any pressure on, but the Cubs really need a strong outing from Jon Lester in Saturday’s game, and hopefully seven innings’ worth. This game does, fortunately, count as only one loss. And the fact that Kris Bryant couldn’t play in this one (and probably won’t play Saturday, either) didn’t really affect this game one way or another. This loss is all on the bullpen.
And it ended only 30 minutes or so before a big storm hit the area around Wrigley Field, so at least there’s that.
Lester’s opponent Saturday will be Adam Wainwright. A reminder that Saturday’s game time is 3:05 p.m. CT.