What on Earth did I just watch?
The Cubs had a 3-0 lead over the Phillies with one out... in the first inning. Then they loaded the bases again in that inning and seemed to have a chance to score more and knock Phillies rookie Nick Pavetta out of the game. That didn’t happen, but John Lackey struck out the first five batters he faced and everything seemed to be going swimmingly, until this:
Triple play by the Phillies. pic.twitter.com/1p3JtXeBGm— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 27, 2017
If that ball drops, the Cubs have the bases loaded with nobody out. Instead, because it wasn’t at all clear that Rhys Hoskins caught it, Tommy La Stella and Anthony Rizzo, who were on base at the time, got stuck in no-mans-land and were doubled and tripled off base. Joe Maddon challenged the play — how could you not? — but replays clearly showed Hoskins had made the catch before the ball fell out of his glove. On the broadcast, Jim Deshaies noted that the way these kinds of plays are interpreted has changed since review came into the picture. A few years ago, that might have been ruled a dropped ball, but now... it’s a triple play.
You could almost hear the Cubs’ chances in this game go “thud” right after that play, even though they still had a 3-0 lead going to the bottom of the fifth. And that “thud” got louder when the Cubs first let a dinky little bunt attempt turn into a hit, then an error put runners on first and third, then a wild pitch plated one run, then a walk and another wild pitch put runners on second and third, where a two-run single tied the game and a two-run homer made it a five-run inning off Lackey. He was not amused:
And it seemed to happen almost as quickly as you can read the previous paragraph. Lackey walked off the mound with his glove covering his mouth and you can just imagine the choice words he was muttering to himself, covered up so the lipreaders couldn’t figure them out.
If you don’t think that specific plays in a game can change the momentum of a game, yes they can and yes this one did. The Cubs last hit into a triple play September 14, 2014, when Matt Szczur hit into an around-the-horn 5-4-3 TP, the last game of a miserable road trip where they lost five of six and were outscored 46-22.
Hopes were higher for this trip, and splitting six games against two last-place teams was not the way any of us had envisioned this trip going. Also, the Cubs are now 3-8 this year in games following one in which they scored 10+ runs and won. I don’t know if that means anything or if it’s just random noise in a 162-game schedule, but this team is simply going to have to do better if it’s going to make any noise in the postseason this year, and I still do believe the Cubs will win the N.L. Central.
There was one good thing coming out of this game, and that was another good outing from Justin Wilson. Joe Maddon had used him in a low-leverage situation Friday (the sixth inning of a game where the Cubs trailed by five), and this one was somewhat higher-leverage (two runs down in the sixth inning, runner on base, still a chance to come back) and Wilson got out of that inning with a strikeout and then had a 1-2-3 seventh. A recovery to form for Wilson would be really important for this beleaguered bullpen.
Koji Uehara threw the eighth and allowed yet another home run to Rhys Hoskins, who I am very happy to say the Cubs won’t have to see again until 2018. That’s 11 home runs for Hoskins in 18 major-league games, and really that’s 11 in 14 games, since he didn’t hit his first until Game No. 5. Looking at Hoskins’ home run log, though, you’ll note that a lot of the homers were hit against soft-tossers (including former Cubs Travis Wood and Dan Straily). I suspect the league will adjust to this eventually. Fortunately, the Cubs have an entire offseason to figure out how to pitch to Hoskins.
The Pirates won their game Sunday afternoon, so they move to within seven games of the Cubs. At this writing the Rays and Cardinals are tied 2-2 heading to the ninth, and the Brewers have a 2-0 lead early in their game against the Dodgers. The latter is the more important one for the Cubs’ division lead; if the Dodgers can come back and win that one, the Cubs will maintain their three-game lead coming home to face the Pirates and Braves this week.
Not much more to say about this one. The series vs. the Pirates begins Monday evening at 7:05 p.m. CT. Mike Montgomery takes the mound for the Cubs and Trevor Williams will go for the Pirates.