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Braves 4, Cubs 0: Balk Yu

Yu Darvish fell apart after a balk call in the fifth inning.

Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start in the middle of the Cubs’ 4-0 loss to the Braves Friday afternoon, shall we?

Yu Darvish had struggled a bit through the first four innings, but still came out of all of them without allowing a run, and the game was scoreless heading to the fifth.

Darvish allowed a one-out double to Ozzie Albies, and then, with a 3-2 count on Freddie Freeman, Darvish was called for a balk.

He didn’t appear to like the call much. He approached plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, not in any sort of menacing way, it appeared he just wanted an explanation. Joe Maddon came out and evidently got that explanation, and the game continued with Albies on third.

Darvish got Freeman on strikes, but then wild-pitched Albies in for the game’s first run. Then Darvish started getting hit hard, allowing, in order: a single, double and three-run homer by Preston Tucker that made it 4-0.

At that point I was surprised to see no indication of anyone warming up in the Cubs bullpen, but it took a couple more batters before Brian Duensing hurriedly got loose. A walk, bunt single and a third walk loaded the bases, and then that was it for Darvish after 105 pitches. Duensing got out of the inning on a comebacker.

That, really, was it. Anibal Sanchez, who as you know seemed to play a Cubs free-agent offer following the 2012 season into a bigger payday with the Tigers (and the Cubs wound up with Edwin Jackson as a “consolation prize”), pitched this one as if it were still 2013, his best big-league season. I mean, this was a guy who was worth negative bWAR each of the last two seasons, took a long time to get any sort of contract offer this past offseason and then was released by that team (the Twins) after only three weeks, and hooked on with the Braves.

The Cubs could not solve him at all. Three singles and a walk was all they got, and just two runners past first base off Sanchez. They did manage to load the bases in the third, but Willson Contreras grounded out to end that inning. After that inning the Cubs had just three hits the rest of the game, and only one runner past first base, Ian Happ on a two-out double in the eighth. Happ, who wasn’t originally supposed to play in this one, replaced Albert Almora Jr. due to illness, and produced two of the Cubs’ four hits.

The Cubs bullpen did a good job of keeping the Braves off the board once Darvish left. Duensing, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brandon Morrow combined for 4⅓ innings, allowing just three hits and striking out three. So that’s a good thing.

But it doesn’t mean much if the offense can’t get going. These guys are too good to hit this way for too long, and they’ll eventually come out of it. They do seem to miss Anthony Rizzo in the middle of the lineup, and he will be ready to go Monday when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list:

Kris Bryant played first base for the first time since June 24, 2017 and the rust showed. He couldn’t handle a couple of throws that Rizzo would get to easily, and thus you see the value of a good defensive first baseman. Bryant could probably be one if he played the position every day, but I’ll be happy to see him back at third base. It seems likely either Ben Zobrist or Victor Caratini will fill in for Rizzo until Monday.

It was cold and windy at the ballpark Friday, a perfectly miserable afternoon with a game-time temp of 42 and wind howling in off Lake Michigan at 17 miles per hour. That wind didn’t hold up Tucker’s home run, but Jason Heyward hit a ball in the fifth inning that might have gone out on another afternoon. An announced crowd of 29,775 was maybe 60 percent of that in the house, and after the seventh inning stretch — nicely done by former Cubs broadcaster Chip Caray, incidentally — most everyone else left, maybe 6,000 or so remained at the end. Which, fortunately, happened before rain hit the area; maybe five minutes after I got in my car to head home, that’s when the rain began.

We are not going to be as lucky Saturday, I don’t think. The forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain pretty much all day and evening. Sunday doesn’t look much better, although the precip chances drop during the day. The Cubs might be well served to postpone Saturday’s game early, reschedule it for May 14 when both teams are off, and move on to Sunday.

There were issues again with the Wrigley Field PA system. Today, I went and did a bit of research. I’ll be posting a separate article on this later on.

Saturday’s scheduled starters are Jose Quintana for the Cubs and Sean Newcomb for the Braves. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV will be on NBC Sports Chicago. Weather permitting, of course.