You know, when you spot the other team a nine-run lead and come back and tie the game on the strength of six home runs, you really ought to win.
Unfortunately, when your late-inning relief takes that tie game and throws three innings and allows two hits, six walks (!) and four late-inning runs, that’s a comeback unlikely to be completed, and it wasn’t. Justin Grimm, Justin Wilson and Hector Rondon were, in a word, awful on Thursday (I’m excepting Brian Duensing because he cleaned up Wilson’s mess, mostly) and the Cubs lost to the Reds 13-10.
Beyond that, Jon Lester had to leave the game with an injury:
Jon Lester is being evaluated after experiencing left lat tightness.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 17, 2017
#Cubs Lester went to see doctor downtown. No update expected tonight— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
Hopefully, this is nothing serious and maybe he only misses one or two starts. Lester had an easy 1-2-3 first and then got dinked and dunked for four straight singles starting the second. It was, however, just 2-0 when he committed the sin of walking Billy Hamilton with two out.
Seriously, this is hard to do. Hamilton came into the game with 35 walks in 516 plate appearances. It’s almost as if Cubs pitchers are afraid to challenge him with strikes. That loaded the bases for Jose Peraza, who made it 4-0 with a single, and then Joey Votto hit a fly ball that on any other day would have been a routine out. Instead it wound up in the bleachers for a three-run homer, making it 7-0. Kris Bryant booted a ball that should have been the third out, and then Eugenio Suarez doubled him in.
You could see Lester gesture toward the dugout, and they wasted no time getting him out of the game. As noted above, hopefully there’s nothing that would put Lester out for an extended period, though lat injuries can be tricky. I’m sure they will be careful with him.
Mike Montgomery entered and walked the first batter he faced, Scooter Gennett. (This is going to become a theme later.) Phillip Ervin doubled in the Reds’ ninth run of the inning, but Gennett was thrown out trying to score run No. 10.
There this game lay in ruins, but I thought, “The wind’s blowing out and the Reds pitching staff is mostly a dumpster fire, so there’s a chance.”
The Cubs broke through in the bottom of the second with a two-out homer by Ian Happ:
Montgomery had an uneventful third and a scoreless fourth despite allowing a couple of baserunners.
Then the Cubs had a very eventful fourth inning. Bryant began it with this long home run that bounced right next to our section and out onto Waveland:
Anthony Rizzo doubled, and one out later Alex Avila began a back-to-back-to-back party:
Javy looked at that one for a while and I don’t think you can blame him. That accomplished something no Cubs team had done in 13 years. Not since Derrek Lee, Sammy Sosa and Michael Barrett did it in the second inning September 15, 2004 against the Pirates had the Cubs hit three consecutive home runs. Also:
4th 4-HR inning in #Cubs history— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2017
May 12, 1930 (7th inning)
April 27, 2000 (1st inning)
June 21, 2008 (4th inning)
Today (4th inning)
That made it 9-6, and it’s a game again. Montgomery had a 1-2-3 fifth and then Kyle Schwarber stepped up leading off the bottom of that inning:
That’s 20 for Kyle, and he also had two singles, which accomplished this:
Kyle Schwarber since return from minors (33 games):— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 17, 2017
.278/.381/.588, 17 Runs, 8 HR, 12 RBI #Cubs
That’s really, really good. And after Bryant was hit by a pitch, Rizzo doubled him in to make it 9-8 (and Rizzo had two nicely-placed doubles in this one that went to left field). One out later, Avila doubled to tie the game. Montgomery continued his nice run, with a 1-2-3 sixth. He retired the last seven hitters he faced and threw 4⅓ shutout innings, allowing three hits and a walk, with four strikeouts.
Given what happened after he was removed for pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella (who struck out, a rare PH failure for TLS), maybe it would have been better to just let Montgomery finish the game.
Justin Grimm walked the first hitter he faced. Where have I heard that before? (Look up 11 paragraphs and a few videos.) One out later, Ervin homered to make it 11-9. Grimm issued another walk before getting out of the inning.
The Cubs closed the gap to 11-10 in the bottom of the seventh. Ben Zobrist tripled, meaning that every Cubs position player reached base at least once in this one. Avila walked and Happ lofted a fly ball to left that scored Zobrist.
At 11-10 this game might still have been winnable if not for Wilson.
Wilson walked the first batter he faced. (Check up three paragraphs.) On four pitches. Then he walked the second batter he faced. On four pitches.
I don’t know what’s wrong with Wilson but he can no longer be trusted in any situation other than a blowout game; he’s now the guy you go to in those games instead of a position player, that’s how bad he has been since the trade. If he’s hurt get him on the disabled list. If he’s not... fix him. He was pretty good this year while with the Tigers; it’s hard to believe he’s this bad, particularly since he’s throwing to the same catcher he had in Detroit.
Joe Maddon had seen enough after those eight pitches and summoned Duensing, who got Adam Duvall to fly to right, which advanced the first runner to third.
Suarez hit a ground ball that Baez made an excellent stop on and got an out at second. The relay from Happ was too late for a double play and the Reds’ 12th run scored.
Now, here’s where we get into the part of the Reds’ bullpen that is actually good. Wandy Peralta took care of the Cubs 1-2-3 in the eighth. Joe sent up Victor Caratini to bat for Duensing. While that might have seemed odd, if Joe sends Albert Almora Jr. up, the Reds probably counter with their closer, Raisel Iglesias. Caratini, batting righthanded, was overmatched and struck out.
Hector Rondon entered to pitch the ninth. He walked the first batter he faced. (Paragraph reference: up five.) Stuart Turner sacrificed him to second — which was odd, because Ervin, the man who had walked, had second base stolen. Anyway, then Hector issued another walk. He struck out Hamilton, but Peraza singled in the 13th run.
Then it was time for Iglesias, who’s been very good for the Reds as a closer. Rizzo singled with one out, but Iglesias struck out the side to end it.
To circle back to the beginning: You really can’t lose games like this if you’re expecting to make the postseason. I can understand Lester losing it and giving up all those runs if his lat is tightening up, but once the comeback is made, it has to be completed, and with relief pitching like that... ugh. The Cubs now have an eight-man bullpen with only four truly reliable relievers: Montgomery, Duensing, Wade Davis and Pedro Strop ... and why wasn’t Strop in this game? Strop did throw 22 pitches in his last outing... but that was on Tuesday. I left Carl Edwards Jr. off that list because although he’s been better lately, he also has issues with walks and I don’t consider him “truly” reliable, not yet, anyway.
As for Grimm, Wilson and Rondon: Right now I wouldn’t trust any of them in any close game.
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s time for the Cubs to give Dillon Maples a shot at the big leagues. Combined at three minor-league levels this year he’s striking out 14.6 batters per nine innings (with 4.9 walks per nine). Granted, that’s in the minors. But how much worse could he be?
Beyond that, I guess Theo & Co. could scour the waiver wires for someone to pick up in relief. Or if Lester’s injury appears more serious and he might be out for a period of time... why not revisit the possibility of picking up Justin Verlander?
The game was entertaining, sure, but instead of having this comeback tie the team record for such things and winning, instead it ties the team (and N.L.) record for most home runs hit in a loss.
And let’s hope Lester is OK. Here’s a bit more on Jon from Joe:
#Cubs Maddon noticed drop in velocity re: Lester. Says: "When a pitcher of his stature is potentially injured, of course, you're concerned"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
Wanted to wait for doctor to exam Lester. Maddon: "Right now, I'm not going to jump to any negative conclusions." #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 17, 2017
The Toronto Blue Jays come to town Friday to begin a three-game series. Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs and J.A. Happ for the Jays. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT.
And please, Cubs. Cut down on the walks. Please.