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Pirates 6, Cubs 1: This one’s on you, Joe Maddon

An inexplicable managing move put this game out of reach.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

I am not one who will normally criticize Joe Maddon for in-game moves.

After all, the man came to the Cubs, changed the entire clubhouse culture and brought us three of the best seasons in franchise history and a World Series championship. For all that, much can be forgiven.

And this was only one game, but it was one where a Maddon choice, or in this case non-choice, possibly cost the Cubs a chance to get back in it.

Situation: It’s 3-1 Pirates, top of the seventh. Justin Wilson has already served up a home run in the inning, against the wind blowing in, to Gregory Polanco. That was Polanco’s second homer of the game. Wilson got a second out only because of a slick play by Addison Russell.

Then Wilson started doing what he did much of last season after the Cubs acquired him — walking people. Back-to-back walks to Josh Bell and Corey Dickerson brought up Francisco Cervelli.

A righthanded hitter with some power, Cervelli is.

Steve Cishek was warmed and ready to go.

Why wasn’t Cishek in the game, Joe?

Why was a clearly ineffective Wilson left in the game to pitch to Cervelli? After a pair of walks, that was the proverbial “recipe for disaster,” and that’s what we got, a three-run homer by Cervelli that put the game out of reach and pretty much sealed a 6-1 Pirates win over the Cubs.

Obviously that’s not the only reason for the defeat. The Cubs offense, a day after putting up 13 runs against the Bucs, was MIA in this one. But had Cishek faced Cervelli, maybe he gets him and a 3-1 deficit in the seventh is obviously easier to come back from than a 6-1 deficit.

That’s my hot take for this game. Let’s unpack the rest.

Polanco’s first homer, in the first inning, gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead. The Cubs had a runner on third with two out in the first but could not score, neither did they score after a one-out double by Ian Happ in the third.

Kyle Schwarber led off the fourth:

That ball went into a wind that had just shifted from blowing out (that did help Polanco’s first homer) to blowing in at about the same clip, maybe 15 miles per hour. The temperature dropped from 74 into the mid 50s.

The game was tied, for a few minutes, at least, until Adam Frazier homered leading off the fifth. The two solo homers were the only runs off Kyle Hendricks, who didn’t seem totally sharp in this one, yet managed six decent innings, allowing just three hits besides the homers, plus a pair of intentional walks. He struck out seven.

The Cubs simply could not get any offense going against Trevor Williams and three Pirates relievers. Schwarber smacked a double down the left-field line with two out in the sixth: stranded. Jason Heyward, two-out single in the seventh: stranded. After Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch with one out in the eighth, Ben Zobrist forced him, and Schwarber again went the other way with a hit, his third of the game. Both runners were stranded when Tommy La Stella grounded out to end the inning. A leadoff single in the ninth by Victor Caratini led to nothing when Javier Baez hit into a double play.

So the Cubs were 0-for-7 with RISP in this game — but the Pirates were even worse, 1-for-10, and they left 11 on base. The only RISP hit the Bucs had was Cervelli’s homer. Schwarber had a nice day, but not the rest of the offense.

Sorry, Joe. Love your managing most of the time. Not today, though.

A couple of ballpark notes. First, there were four of us keeping score in my group today. All of us missed the intentional walk to Jordy Mercer in the second inning. I sent this tweet at Cubs PA announcer Andrew Belleson afterward:

Seriously, this would be helpful. The White Sox do this at their home games. I heard it done at Camden Yards last year when I went to that series. The way the intentional passes are done now, it’s very easy to miss what’s happening. This would be a fan-friendly thing to do.

Also fan-friendly would be: PLEASE TURN DOWN THE PA SPEAKERS AT WRIGLEY FIELD, THEY ARE WAY TOO LOUD. Yes, that’s in all caps and boldface for a reason, this is something that happens every year, and every year I go to Fan Services and request they be turned down. This year they told me they’d gotten other complaints. These speakers are so loud that you have to shout at the person sitting next to you to have a conversation. That isn’t right. Wrigley is the only ballpark I’ve been to where the PA is turned up to “BLAST PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR SEATS” level. So I’m going to make the request here: Please turn the speakers down. Thank you.

Really, that’s about it for this one. One (in my view) poor managing choice, and an inability to score baserunners cost the Cubs the game, and the series.

They’re 6-6, so really there’s no need to panic. This team will be just fine.

Friday, the Cubs begin a series against the Braves at Wrigley. The weather forecast is pretty miserable all weekend, though I suspect they’ll get Friday’s game in without too much difficulty. Saturday and Sunday, a different story, and as this is the only Braves visit to Wrigley and the teams only have a couple of common off days that wouldn’t break the 20-day rule, I suspect they will wait a looooooong time before calling these games off.

Just be glad this isn’t the White Sox/Twins series in Minneapolis, where they’re probably going to lose two games (Friday and Saturday) to a major snowstorm.

Yu Darvish goes for the Cubs Friday against Anibal Sanchez. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage is on NBC Sports Chicago.


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