For many, many years, Cubs fans dreamed of playing meaningful games in September, to be part of actual pennant races.
Well, we’ve got one now. How does it feel? (Don’t answer that this morning, you might not like what you feel.)
Carl Edwards Jr. entered the game in the sixth inning after Jon Lester departed with what was termed “lower back stiffness” and threw his first pitch to the backstop with a runner on third. That runner scored and that was the difference in a 3-2 Brewers win over the Cubs that cut the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central to one game.
Yikes. That’s not what you wanted to read here this morning, was it.
Lester was in trouble from the very beginning of this one, though I didn’t think he threw that badly in the first inning. A soft liner just out of the reach of Daniel Murphy and a zillion-hopper into right field put Brewers runners on first and third with nobody out. Eventually Lorenzo Cain scored on a sacrifice fly, but Lester wound up picking Christian Yelich off second base to end the inning... even if it took far too many rundown throws to get him (Rundowns have been something the 2018 Cubs have not done well. Remedial work might be needed next spring training.)
The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Kris Bryant doubled with one out and Wade Miley tried what Lester did, but his pickoff throw sailed into center field and Bryant took third. Anthony Rizzo grounded to first, scoring Bryant.
But the Brewers came right back in the second. Mike Moustakas doubled to deep center, took third on a fly to left and scored on a single by Orlando Arcia.
And Miley kept mowing down Cubs. After Ben Zobrist singled with two out in the first, eight straight Cubs went down. Zobrist singled again in the fourth, but was erased on a double play.
Meanwhile, Lester was doing the same to the Brewers. He retired seven of eight from the second through the fourth, and finally, in the fifth, the Cubs broke through and tied the game. Willson Contreras hit what should have been a single to center, but Cain didn’t get to the ball quickly and Contreras hustled to second with a double.
The Cubs might have broken the game open at this point, but Cain made up for that defensive lapse big time when Lester sent a ball to deep center field [VIDEO].
That ball was well-struck by Lester and one less step by Cain and it’s a run-scoring double. Contreras took third and Miley then walked the bases loaded.
But the Cubs could score only once; Bryant hit a fly ball to left and Contreras scored to tie the game. Rizzo grounded out to end the inning.
Then things fell apart in the fifth. Lester got the first two outs, seemingly easily, then Joe Maddon and Cubs trainer PJ Mainville came out [VIDEO] after Lester struck out Jonathan Schoop.
You can see Contreras signaling to the dugout after Lester’s last pitch to Schoop, clearly he could see Lester was having trouble. But Lester remained and gave up a single to Moustakas and double to Erik Kratz.
Maybe Jon should have left after the strikeout. Instead, runners were on second and third when Maddon and Mainville came out for the second time and removed Lester in favor of CJ.
I’m not sure what’s wrong with Edwards, but clearly, he’s having real problems with command and control. The wild pitch I noted earlier scored the lead run; eventually Edwards struck out pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson, but I suspect Joe is not going to use him in high-leverage situations for a while.
Good news: It doesn’t seem as if Lester’s back issue is anything serious:
#Cubs Lester on his back: "I think it'll be fine -- hopefully. It's not anything painful, it's just kind of uncomfortable. After I got out of the game and came up here, it felt a lot better."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 11, 2018
The Cubs had virtually no chance after CJ’s wild pitch. Albert Almora Jr. singled with two out in the sixth, but was stranded.
And then Josh Hader entered. You know, I really don’t get why hitters can’t square up on Hader. He throws almost nothing but fastballs, and while they’re at decent velocity, they’re not 100-plus... he usually sits at 95 or 96, and good big-league hitters can hit those kinds of pitches. It must be something in his funky delivery that throws hitters off. Hader threw two innings, faced six Cubs hitters, and... not one put a ball in play.
#Brewers Josh Hader struck out all six batters he faced. He is the first pitcher to strikeout all batters faced having faced at least six batters since Alfredo Simon on May 6, 2013.— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) September 11, 2018
“Alfredo Simon” was not the answer I was expecting to that bit of trivia.
Jesse Chavez, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Brandon Kintzler managed to get through the last three innings without giving up any more runs, even though they allowed three hits and two walks. Kintzler picked Domingo Santana off second base thanks to a nice move by Murphy to block the base with his foot [VIDEO].
The call was reviewed and confirmed.
And then, the last of the ninth against Jeremy Jeffress. With two out, Contreras walked. Terrance Gore replaced him on the bases. Terrance Gore is really fast. Terrance Gore stole second easily, so now the Cubs have a runner in scoring position with two out and Tommy La Stella up to bat for Kintzler.
TLS battled, fouling off a couple of 1-2 pitches before striking out to end it.
So there it is. The Cubs lost a key game in a pennant race, but still lead the N.L. Central by a game, and still have a two-game lead over the Brewers in the loss column. Win Tuesday and they’re back to where they started the series.
At least the Cubs didn’t have to deal with the rain that wrecked their weekend in Washington. It was a beautiful September evening at the ballpark, clear skies and temps in the upper 60s, with light winds. Similar conditions are expected in Chicago all week.
All the Cubs can do is pick up from this now-three game losing streak and try to even up the series Tuesday night. Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Jhoulys Chacin goes for the Brewers. Game time again is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via WGN.