Now don’t be sad (don’t be sad)
Cause two out of three ain’t bad — Meat Loaf
Here is the song that’s the origin of Joe Maddon’s phrase “meatloafing a series,” in other words, taking two of three:
It’s sung by the 1970s performer known as Meat Loaf. Thus, “meatloafing.”
And if you do that for an entire baseball season, you’re likely going to win close to 100 games, and that’s probably Maddon’s intent in pushing the “two out of three” meme. But even though the Cubs did exactly that — win two of three in a series — on 14 different occasions this year, and won 95 games overall, that wasn’t quite enough to win the N.L. Central outright.
Was this what Theo Epstein was referring to when he said this in his end-of-season news conference?
“Sometimes divisions aren’t lost on that last day of the season when you only score one run and you don’t get in,’’ Epstein said. “They’re not lost in that last week and a half when the other team goes 8-0 and you go 4-3 and you needed to go 5-2. Sometimes they’re lost early in the season when you have an opportunity to push for that sweep, but you already have two out of three and you’re just not quite there with that killer instinct.’’
Of those 14 meatloafed series, seven times the Cubs won the first two games of the series and lost the last one, in Theo’s words, not having “that killer instinct.” Let’s look at the lineups put on the field for each of those seven games and what happened on those days.
May 13: White Sox 5, Cubs 3
Starting lineup: Zobrist RF, Bryant 3B, Rizzo 1B, Contreras C, Baez 2B, Schwarber LF, Russell SS, Happ CF, Hendricks P
I don’t see anything unusual in this lineup, and in fact, the Cubs got off to a 2-0 lead in the game, but the White Sox chipped away at Kyle Hendricks, who allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings.
The biggest issue here was the Cubs’ inability to take advantage of the wildness of Sox starter Lucas Giolito, who allowed only two hits, but walked seven. After the two runs in the first, the Cubs had RISP with two out and a chance to put Giolito away, but failed. And after a run-scoring double by Ian Happ in the fourth, Addison Russell was thrown out at the plate and Ben Zobrist hit into an inning-ending double play.
Conclusion: The Cubs had plenty of chances but simply didn’t cash in.
May 30: Pirates 2, Cubs 1
Starting lineup: Almora CF, Baez 2B, Bryant 3B, Rizzo 1B, Contreras C, Schwarber LF, Russell SS, Heyward RF, Hendricks P
Again, Hendricks is the starter, and this time he allowed two runs in five innings. The Cubs again had an early 1-0 lead and had the bases loaded with one out in the first inning, but Joe Musgrove struck out Kyle Schwarber and Russell. With nobody out in the fourth, the Cubs had runners on first and second, but Russell was picked off second. They had some other scoring chances, but all with two out, and all failed. In all, 11 Cubs were left on base.
This was also the game when this happened [VIDEO].
Conclusion: Musgrove is a pretty good pitcher who shut the Cubs down. But you can’t say anything about the Cubs’ effort, given the kerfuffle shown in the video.
June 17: Cardinals 5, Cubs 0
Starting lineup: Zobrist 2B, Heyward RF, Bryant 3B, Rizzo 1B, Contreras C, Schwarber LF, Almora CF, Baez SS, Quintana P
The Cubs loaded the bases with two out in the third, but Bryant struck out. The bases were loaded again with two out in the fourth, but Jose Quintana... well, you probably don’t need me to tell you what he did. (He struck out.)
Q threw five shutout innings, matching Jack Flaherty, but then gave up a couple of hits in the sixth and was replaced by Anthony Bass. Bass allowed an infield hit, loading the bases, then induced a double-play ball on which a run scored. Another single made it 2-0, and the Cardinals scored three more off Brian Duensing and Luke Farrell.
Conclusion: The Cubs just ran into hot pitching on a hot night (94 degrees at game time). It happens.
August 8: Royals 9, Cubs 0
Starting lineup: Rizzo 1B, Baez 2B, Heyward RF, Bote 3B, La Stella DH, Contreras C, Schwarber LF, Happ CF, Russell SS
The Cubs had RISP with two out in the first, but Tommy La Stella popped up. Quintana got into trouble in the second with a couple of walks and a two-run double. The Cubs didn’t have another baserunner until the seventh, when they put two on with one out, but Contreras struck out and Schwarber popped up — this while it was still 2-0.
Quintana allowed two singles starting the last of the seventh and then Adalberto Mondesi hit a three-run homer.
Tyler Chatwood threw the rest of this game and did about what you’d expect, issuing a couple of walks and giving up four hits and four runs, putting the game out of reach.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for a game where the Cubs might not have had the killer instinct, here’s one. TLS as DH? That’s an odd choice; they could have used Contreras or Schwarber.
August 29: Mets 10, Cubs 3
Starting lineup: Schwarber LF, Almora CF, Zobrist 2B, Rizzo 1B, Bote SS, Contreras C, La Stella 3B, Mills P, Happ RF
This was the ninth game of the 30-for-30 without an off day. The Cubs had won seven in a row, including the conclusion of a game suspended the previous night due to storms and completed before this one began.
The lineup does have the look of a spring-training split squad, and they got shut down pretty good by Jason Vargas, who, shall we say, had not had a good year up to that point (6.96 ERA in 15 starts prior to this one, although his outing previous to this game was six shutout innings vs. the Nationals).
Alec Mills, who had been very good the previous weekend against the Reds, started basically because the Cubs didn’t have anyone else, and he did all right — after he served up a grand slam to Todd Frazier in the first inning.
The bullpen selection of Randy Rosario, Brandon Kintzler and James Norwood put this game out of reach — six runs (five earned) over the last four innings.
Conclusion: Yeah, this one looks like they phoned it in.
September 16: Reds 2, Cubs 1
Starting lineup: Rizzo 1B, Happ LF, Zobrist RF, Murphy 2B, Caratini C, Bote 3B, Russell SS, Quintana P, Almora CF
Quintana threw five innings, allowing two runs (both on solo homers), which isn’t bad except he’d thrown 98 pitches, so Joe pinch-hit Willson Contreras for him, hoping for some scoring [VIDEO].
There are a lot of things that have already been said about that hit, so I won’t belabor it, just describe what happened. Contreras thought he had homered and didn’t run right away. Russell, who was on first base with a walk, held up to see if the ball was going to be caught. The wind knocked it down; as you can see, it missed being a game-tying home run by maybe six feet.
Russell scored anyway when Albert Almora Jr. hit a sacrifice fly that made it 2-1, but Contreras was stranded.
The Cubs got runners to second and third with two out in the seventh with Anthony Rizzo at the plate, but Rizzo struck out to end the inning and the Cubs had no further baserunners.
Conclusion: This is a tip-your-cap-to-the-other-guy game. Luis Castillo is a pretty good starting pitcher and Raisel Iglesias is a good closer. If you hold the Reds to two runs you should probably beat them, but this was one time Reds pitching came through.
September 19: Diamondbacks 9, Cubs 0
Starting lineup: Almora CF, Bryant LF, Rizzo 1B, Baez 2B, Zobrist RF, Contreras C, Bote 3B, Hamels P, Russell SS
The Cubs had demolished the D-backs in the first two games of the series and had Cole Hamels going. What could possibly go wrong, especially with the D-backs resting David Peralta, Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and A.J. Pollock?
Classic trap game. Hamels got in trouble in the first inning and Christian Walker hit a three-run homer off him, and everyone could have gone home right then. One more run scored off Hamels in that inning and he gutted out six innings, helping save the bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Cubs got only one hit (a leadoff single by Russell in the third) off Robbie Ray and three Arizona relievers.
Conclusion: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The D-backs were the team starting the spring-training split squad lineup, yet the Cubs played like they couldn’t wait to get on the bus back to Mesa (or, more correctly, the flight to Chicago). This was the final game of the 30-for-30 stretch without an off day — so maybe there’s some truth to that idea.
There is at least some evidence that at least one of these games, and possibly a couple others, were played by the Cubs without the sense of urgency that Theo was talking about, and perhaps without the sense of urgency shown by the Brewers, who went 16-5 down the stretch to force the N.L. Central tie while the Cubs went 13-10 in that same time span.
Hopefully, the Cubs get that 2016-style killer instinct back in 2019.