There is no sugarcoating what happened to the Cubs this weekend, so let’s deconstruct this game and then move on.
The Brewers swept the Cubs with a 3-1 victory Sunday and, frankly, dominated the Cubs in every aspect of the game all weekend. Any question about whether the Brewers are legitimate contenders should have been erased by this series.
The Cubs were without Jake Arrieta, who might have made a difference in Saturday’s game, and the Brewers deliberately set up their rotation to have their three best starters go against the Cubs. Now they have lost one of those for the year, and we’ll see if that affects them going forward.
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead Sunday afternoon in the second inning. Ian Happ walked, was sacrificed to second by Javier Baez (who appeared to be bunting for a hit), and one out later Rene Rivera hit a ball that confused Hernan Perez in right field. Perez turned the wrong way and the ball went off his glove for an RBI double [VIDEO].
Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks had a fairly easy first three innings, allowing just two baserunners. Eric Thames dribbled a ball down the third-base line for a leadoff single, but he was stranded. A ball was booted by Happ for an error leading off the third, but that runner was also stranded.
Ryan Braun led off the fourth by bunting for a hit. If that seems unusual to you, it was:
Ryan Braun's first bunt hit since 2014. He has 11 in his career. Bunting!— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) September 10, 2017
Braun stole second — he has 10 steals, more than any Cub — and was sacrificed to third.
With a 1-0 lead, Joe Maddon decided to play his infield back, conceding a run for an out. He got the out on a ground ball to second. If the infield is in, do they have a chance for a play at the plate? Hard to say.
The Cubs left RISP in the fourth and fifth, and both times that runner was there with one out. Happ reached second after a walk with a stolen base. The Cubs should have run more on Stephen Vogt, who has thrown out only seven of 66 runners trying to steal this year (11 percent).
In the sixth, Neil Walker led off with a walk and one out later, Travis Shaw homered. That’s 29 homers for Shaw, who is one of the more underrated players in the game. I’m not quite sure what the Red Sox were thinking trading him; obviously they lost out on that trade because Tyler Thornburg, who they acquired in exchange, had to have surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome and missed the entire season. Shaw is leading the Brewers in homers, RBI, OPS and OPS+ and sure, the Red Sox are in first place but they’ve had to mix and match at third base and got lucky when they called up Rafael Devers, who has taken over the position.
Without Shaw, the Milwaukee offense probably wouldn’t be where it is.
And that homer, as was Braun’s Friday night, was the difference in the game. The Cubs got a runner to third with two out in the seventh, but Jason Heyward flied to right. Heyward had a broken-bat infield hit with two out in the ninth and got to second on defensive indifference, but stayed there as pinch-hitter Alex Avila struck out to end the game.
Which raises a question. Where was Kyle Schwarber in this game, or really, in the entire series? Schwarber did play Saturday after the game was out of reach, but sat anchored to the bench Friday and Sunday. I don’t understand this at all. From August 14 through the end of the Pirates series, Schwarber hit .235/.333/.471 (16-for-68) with five home runs. And then he’s essentially benched against the Brewers. If you have an explanation for this, let all of us know, because I sure don’t.
The much-maligned Cubs bullpen did a decent job of holding the Brewers down after Hendricks exited after six. Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis threw three scoreless innings, allowing two singles and two walks, with four strikeouts. CJ looked particularly good, throwing 14 strikes in 16 pitches. Davis, on the other hand, struggled a bit, with the two walks, but got out of the inning by striking out Manny Pina. He threw 24 pitches, which is rather a lot, but with the Cubs off till Tuesday evening, he should be fine.
And so will the rest of this team. Remember, please, the old baseball saying: “No team is as good as they seem when they’re on a winning streak, and no team is as bad as they look when they’re losing.” I mean... just look at what’s happened to the Dodgers over the last couple of weeks. (And they trail again as I write this; if they don’t come back they will have lost 10 games in a row.)
Willson Contreras returned to play Sunday, greeted by a standing ovation, and even though he struck out, it was good to see him back in action.
I’ve written a bit more than 800 words to this point, so let’s let Joe Maddon sum this up in less than 140 characters:
#Cubs Maddon: "We pitched really well and you have to pitch better than good pitching to win and [the Brewers] did it"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 10, 2017
The race is tight. We were spoiled, a bit, last year with the Cubs’ huge lead most of the year and the division clinched with more than two weeks to go. Now, with 19 games remaining for the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals (who also won Sunday), the Cubs’ lead has been shaved to two games.
The Cubs and Cardinals have Monday off while the Brewers begin a three-game series Monday evening against the Pirates at Miller Park. The Cubs host the Mets in a three-game series beginning Tuesday evening (Jose Quintana vs. Robert Gsellman). The Cardinals host the Reds in a three-game series at Busch Stadium beginning Tuesday night.
Hang in there, keep the faith. I still believe the Cubs are the better team and will win the N.L. Central, and then once October baseball begins... anything can happen.