In the end, the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Brewers in Game 163 came down to this.
With two of the team’s best relievers down due to injury and a third unusable due to ineffectiveness, it came down to guys you probably really didn’t want to trust in a tie ballgame in the late innings against a good-hitting team. Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek are good, serviceable major-league relievers and have had pretty good seasons. But in crunch time, both failed and that was the difference in the game.
Well, that and the fact that the Cubs managed just three hits off Brewers pitching. I’m not going to say “the offense vanished” or any of those other platitudes; those guys just pitched well. Tip o’ the cap time.
This game was winnable at many intersections, too, which makes the Cubs finishing second and taking the first wild-card spot that much more frustrating.
Jose Quintana was good enough for the first five innings, getting out of the first with a double play before allowing a run in the third on a single by Orlando Arcia, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI single by Christian Yelich. Yelich had three hits on the afternoon, and yes, he’s almost certainly going to be voted National League MVP.
But Arcia? I mean, come on. Arcia was absolutely one of the worst hitters in the National League this year, so much so that the Brewers kept trading for infielders to attempt to boost their offense beyond what Arcia was giving them. That’s yet another frustration about this game, the failure to retire a guy who’s been easy to retire by just about everyone this year, including the Cubs! Before Monday, Arcia was 8-for-52 against Cubs pitching this year with 16 strikeouts.
The Cubs tied the game in the fifth inning, courtesy of this colossal blast [VIDEO] by Anthony Rizzo. Len Kasper was on the radio call.
That ball: CRUSHED!
No..... Body.... Moved.... pic.twitter.com/wiMSdewgOT— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 1, 2018
That brought the near-sellout crowd of 38,450 to life. There were large numbers of Brewers fans in the house, maybe a quarter of the total. But Cubs fans had enthusiasm and hope after Rizzo’s homer.
Q allowed a leadoff single in the sixth and was removed for Jesse Chavez, because no way was Joe going to let Q face Ryan Braun and Jesus Aguilar with runners on base. It worked. Chavez struck out Braun and got Aguilar to hit into a double play. The Cubs had their chances in the sixth when Ian Happ, who had entered on a double switch when Q was removed, led off with a walk. But Willson Contreras hit into a double play. A single by Daniel Murphy and walk by Ben Zobrist put the lead run in scoring position for Javier Baez.
But Javy struck out.
Chavez had a 1-2-3 seventh and if only he could have thrown the eighth, too, but his batting-order spot came up and Tommy La Stella batted for him. TLS grounded out to end the seventh.
And then came the decisive eighth. As I noted above, Justin Wilson has been pretty good overall this season. He got two quick strikes on Arcia on fastballs leading off the inning. So why would you do this?
Hello! Just throw him another fastball! He can’t hit that!
But the slider, Arcia hit up the middle for a single. This was the first four-hit game of Arcia’s career. This year, he had just four other games where he had even three hits.
Domingo Santana entered to pinch-hit and sliced a double just out of reach of Kris Bryant’s diving attempt, sending Arcia to third.
Okay, the game’s still tied, and obviously Wilson’s not going to face Lorenzo Cain. Cishek was summoned.
Yes, Cishek has been pretty good. But here is where you want someone who throws 95+, and the Cubs just don’t have anyone like that. Cishek ran the count full on Cain, who singled in one run.
Well, that’s it for Cishek, because he’s not going to be allowed to face Yelich. Randy Rosario came into the game. Rosario... well, he’s also had a pretty good season, but really, he’d be about my fifth choice to throw in this situation.
And yet, he did his job. [VIDEO]
If, before this game, you had told me that just one Cubs pitcher would retire Christian Yelich in this game, “Randy Rosario” would not have been my guess. Rosario was lifted for Brandon Kintzler, who, supposedly, can induce ground balls. A double play would have been nice, but Kintzler allowed an RBI single by Braun before retiring Aguilar to end the inning.
While all this was going on, look what happened:
Kyle Hendricks just ran into the bullpen— Bleacher Jeff (@BleacherJeff) October 1, 2018
And Hendricks began warming up, and continued to do so through the eighth and ninth, while Josh Hader entered for Milwaukee. He struck out Jason Heyward. Albert Almora Jr. batted for Happ and hit a sharp line drive. That brought the Cubs fans in the crowd to their feet... for about three seconds, until Jonathan Schoop caught it. Contreras struck out to end the inning.
Jaime Garcia allowed a pair of hits in the ninth, but kept the Brewers scoreless.
Instead of Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress entering the game, Hader stayed in to face the top of the order. He struck out Murphy. Ben Zobrist flied to right. Baez singled and took second on defensive indifference.
That brought up Rizzo, who homered off Hader at Miller Park in early September. Hader’s approaching 30 pitches, and maybe, just maybe, Rizzo could square up a Hader fastball and hit it out and tie the game...
He did square up a fastball, but hit it to the warning track and the Brewers were N.L. Central champions. Congratulations to them, hard as it is to give that, they earned it. The Cubs had too many injuries and a tough September schedule and simply ran out of gas.
Unintentional funny moment in this game:
Hey @mlb...for all of the talk about umps not liking to be shown up by players, how about Culbreth emphatically punching out Heyward on strike 2. Please. #Cubs #EverybodyIn #Game163— Ashvin Lad (@ashvinlad) October 1, 2018
Here’s the video:
There is so much to love about the crowd reactions to umpire Fieldin Culbreth's mistaken "punchout" call on a 3-1 pitch. #Game163 pic.twitter.com/p4kd9OYXR9— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) October 1, 2018
Heyward flied out to the warning track after that, one of several Cubs fly balls that didn’t quite go far enough in this game. Joe noticed the offensive failure, too:
#Cubs were outhit 12-3. Where's the offense? Maddon: "The consistent hard contact has not been there more than anything. I can't give you a solid reason. We have to find it quickly. The capabilities are within the group. We have one more shot tomorrow to right the ship"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 1, 2018
I’m guessing most of you feel the way I do, with a decided lack of enthusiasm at the present time about the wild-card game that will take place Tuesday night at Wrigley Field against the loser of the Dodgers/Rockies game also being played Monday afternoon. At posting time the game was scoreless. Compare that feeling to how we all felt three years ago entering a wild-card match against the Pirates in Pittsburgh... all of us brimming over with excitement.
This time, not so much. But, if the Cubs can put together a good pitching outing from Jon Lester and get some offense going against a team that will arrive in Chicago to play its third game in three different cities in three days (and if it’s the Rockies, in three different time zones), they can get revenge against the Brewers in a division series that will begin Thursday in Miller Park.
Game time at Wrigley Field Tuesday evening is 7 p.m. CT. TV coverage again will be via ESPN.
Here’s hoping the Cubs season lasts longer than one more day.