Questions. I have questions!
In the seventh inning of the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Reds Tuesday evening, what was Albert Almora Jr. thinking?
Victor Caratini had led off the then-scoreless tie with a single. Almora then lined a single to left. Great! I thought. Runners on first and third, nobody out!
Except no, Almora thought he had a chance at second base but was thrown out easily by Adam Duvall. In a scoreless game like that, you need baserunners, the more the better. Sure, Caratini is now on third base, but you have one fewer runner and now there’s one out.
Jason Heyward hit a sharp line drive right at Scooter Gennett and Javier Baez grounded to third, and the inning ended quietly and with no Cubs runs.
Fast-forward to the ninth inning. The Cubs are now trailing 2-0 in part thanks to walks issued by relievers (more on this later). Kyle Schwarber led off, hitting for Almora, and singled. (That’s good! It was only the second pinch hit for Kyle this year in 11 PH at-bats.)
Heyward singled Schwarber to second. Tying run on base now, nobody out.
And Baez is up there... sacrificing? I can see this if it’s 1-0, maybe, but giving up an out to put runners in scoring position? It’s a defensible call, though I don’t think I would have done it.
But Baez did do it, and successfully. So the tying run’s in scoring position.
Ben Zobrist is next:
That’s good! Zobrist has scuffled all year, so it was good to see him get a key hit.
It’s 2-1 now and the tying run is on third base with one out, and Jon Jay is the next hitter, and here’s my next question.
Heyward is a good baserunner. Jay is a good bunter. Why not try a squeeze here?
But they didn’t, and Raisel Iglesias struck out Jay and pinch-hitter Alex Avila, and the game was over.
Therein lies another issue: With the Cubs insisting on an eight-man bullpen, if Jay or Avila had managed to bring the tying run across the plate and send the game into extra innings, the team had no more bench players left. Which means we would have potentially been “treated” to the spectacle of Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester pinch-hitting and while those two occasionally do provide some entertainment by hitting baseballs a long way, neither one should be up there pinch-hitting, unless it’s to bunt, as Lester did so well in winning that famous game last July against the Mariners.
Sorry about all that, but I was tremendously frustrated by the Cubs’ failure to capitalize on situations where they could have scored more runs, and I didn’t even mention loading the bases with two out in the eighth, only to see Caratini strike out.
All of this ruined a really good outing from Kyle Hendricks, who struck out six and was getting weak contact (seven ground-ball outs through six innings). His command still isn’t quite back (four walks) and his velocity is still down a bit, but you cannot argue with these results:
Kyle Hendricks in 5 starts since return from DL— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 16, 2017
2.00 ERA in 27.0 IP, 29 H, 9 BB, 24 K, 2 HR #Cubs
Hendricks ran out of gas in the seventh, allowing the first two Reds batters to reach. Carl Edwards Jr., who scuffled for a while after the All-Star break, came in and struck out the side. Excellent work by CJ.
But the Cubs were shut down by Reds starter Luis Castillo, who’s probably been Cincinnati’s most consistent starter since he was called up in late June. I had noted earlier this week that this game figured to be the toughest one of the series, and it lived up to that billing. You probably figured this was going to happen after the 15-run outburst on Monday:
Last 3 times #Cubs scored more than 10 runs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 16, 2017
Aug 14 (15 runs) next game: 1
Aug 1 (16 runs) next game: 0
Jun 22 (11 runs) next game: 0
And give credit to Iglesias, who did OK but not great as a starter for the Reds (3.88 ERA in 21 starts in 2015 and 2016), but who has turned into a lockdown closer for them this year, in the somewhat-rare times when they do win: 1.97 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 59⅓ innings, 21 saves, only one blown save.
I mentioned walks getting Cubs relievers in trouble, and this was the case both for Pedro Strop and Justin Wilson. Strop walked Joey Votto with one out in the eighth and he wound up scoring on a sacrifice fly. Wilson walked Jesse Winker leading off the ninth and after he was sacrificed to second, a ground-rule double scored him with what would prove to be the decisive run.
Wilson has now made six appearances for the Cubs and allowed runs in four of them. He’s walked five in 5⅓ innings, allowed nine hits (2.625 WHIP) and opponents have a .346 BA and .452 OBP against Wilson as a Cub.
Let’s just say I’m less than impressed so far.
Bottom line: This game was winnable. The Cubs didn’t execute and the Reds did. But I’d still like answers to my questions. Perhaps you have some.
Update on Wrigley Field’s PA system: When I arrived Tuesday evening, it was blasting even louder than it had been on Monday. I walked over to Fan Services to let them know and while walking near the 200 level, it was even louder there. I asked the Fan Services people to let whoever was running the system that it was uncomfortably loud. They appear to have gotten the message, because the volume was lowered. It was still a bit louder than it needed to be, but the level was better; conversations were now possible between innings when music or ads were playing. So I thank the Cubs for listening.
Thanks to the Red Sox crushing the Cardinals Tuesday night, the Cubs still have a 1½-game lead in the N.L. Central. The Brewers also trail by 1½ games after defeating the Pirates. Those matchups continue Wednesday evening, and the Cubs will face the Reds in the third game of their four-game set. John Lackey goes for the Cubs and Homer Bailey for the Reds.