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Rays 8, Cubs 1: Jon Lester throws a stinker

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No, not a “sinker.”

Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, FloridaThe Cubs were crushed by the Rays 8-1 Wednesday night and looked bad doing it, so before I get to the gory details, here’s a photo of a cute kitten:

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Feel better now?

Well, maybe not. But I think we all need something to distract ourselves from the ugliness of Wednesday night’s loss.

This recap will be mercifully short. I was struck by the oddity of these postgame quotes from Joe Maddon:

For his part, Lester says there’s nothing wrong with him:

Lester's velocity was down and he suffered from a lack of command but quickly dismissed any speculation he might be ailing.

"We're not going to make excuses and say (lack of velocity) is why I didn't throw the ball well," said Lester who was on the 10-day disabled list in the final two weeks of August. "Physically, it's September, and you're going to have ups and downs. I feel fine. There are no lingering effects from anything. There's nothing physically wrong."

I suppose we have to believe him, but in this game Lester threw 86 pitches, only 47 for strikes, and he has only three other games in his career in which he’s gone as far as he did Wednesday (4⅓ innings) or thrown that many pitches with no strikeouts, and no such games since 2014 until Wednesday night. And it could have been worse; the Cubs turned double plays in both the first and second innings, by which time they were already trailing 4-0. The game was essentially over at that point. And this isn’t good:

Blake Snell, who stymied the Cubs on four hits July 5 at Wrigley Field, did it again Wednesday night. He allowed just two singles through seven innings and only five other Cubs hitters even hit the ball out of the infield against him. Many of the large contingent of Cubs fans took the opportunity to head out of the Trop long before Joe emptied his bench and put subs Mike Freeman, Leonys Martin, Rene Rivera and Taylor Davis into the game, giving this one a spring training split-squad feel. Freeman’s double and a single by Jon Jay allowed the Cubs to avoid a shutout, for whatever that’s worth.

There are two video highlights from this game worth looking at. First, Ian Happ made this nice diving catch on a sinking line drive hit by Evan Longoria in the third:

And Dillon Maples struck out the side in the seventh on three really nice offspeed pitches:

Maples, Justin Grimm, Justin Wilson and Felix Pena helped Joe save some of his other key relievers, many of whom had thrown quite a bit over the last week. For Wilson, it was a chance to again show he belongs on a postseason roster. Despite throwing a scoreless inning, I’d say the answer is still “no,” because he issued two walks and threw 28 pitches, not exactly the efficiency you’d want from a postseason reliever.

The only good news coming out of Wednesday night was the Brewers’ walkoff loss to the Pirates. Thank you, Adam Frazier, for your two-run homer off Brewers closer Corey Knebel. That reduced the Cubs’ division-clinching magic number to eight. It’s certainly unlikely, but a Cubs sweep in Milwaukee would eliminate the Brewers, though not necessarily clinch the division, as the elimination number for the Cardinals is seven. The Cardinals wrap up their series at Cincinnati Thursday night and then head to Pittsburgh for the weekend while the Cubs open a four-game set at Miller Park.

Despite the loss, I enjoyed my visit to the Trop, my 44th major-league park. I’ve now seen 26 of the 30 current parks, all but the ones in Seattle, San Diego, Miami and Atlanta. The crowd Wednesday of 24,238 was a bit smaller than Tuesday’s, but still the Rays’ fifth-largest of the year (25,046 Tuesday was the second-largest). The Rays were averaging about 15,000 per date before the Cubs came to town, so if you figure about 10,000 Cubs fans attended each of the two games, that means Cubs fans have been responsible for about one and a half percent of the Rays’ entire home attendance for the season, which stands at 1,201,043 with three dates to go.

The Cubs complete 2017 interleague play with a 12-8 record, compared to 15-5 last year. As of now that’s the second-best record by any National League team against the American League this year. The Dodgers went 16-4, and the Diamondbacks are 11-6 with one series to go (the D-backs finish this season vs. the Royals at Kansas City).

Of course, we hope the Cubs will be playing an A.L. team again... about a month from now.

The big series in Milwaukee begins Thursday evening. Jake Arrieta returns to the Cubs rotation; he’ll face the Brewers’ Zach Davies.