Albert Almora Jr.’s two-out homer in the ninth inning Thursday, his first extra-base hit of 2019, would have meant a lot more if:
- The Cubs could have cashed in on four opportunities earlier in the game with RISP, or
- Cubs relievers could have thrown strikes in the eighth inning.
- Or, both.
Instead, all it did was make this a frustrating one-run loss instead of a two-run loss, 2-1 to the Dodgers.
There were some good things that happened in this game, though, and the first was a solid five-inning outing from Jon Lester, his first since April 8. He allowed one run after a leadoff triple by Alex Verdugo in the fifth, an uncharacteristic error by Javier Baez, and then a single by Dodgers catcher Rocky Gale. (Rocky Gale sounds like the guy who would have faced Max Muncy in an undercard boxing match in 1958.)
But while Lester was doing all that, the Cubs were busy running themselves out of innings. Javy got himself caught stealing after he and Anthony Rizzo had singled with two out in the first. That seemed an unnecessary chance; Javy thought he could swim-move his way to being safe, but not this time.
Then, the Cubs got runners on first and third with one out in the second on singles by Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward. Kyle Schwarber batted next [VIDEO].
That’s a contact play, so Contreras was off on contact, but he couldn’t stay in the rundown long enough for Heyward and Schwarber to both advance a bade. Lester was next, and he had a decent at-bat, running the count full, but he struck out.
After the Dodgers took the 1-0 lead off Lester in the top of the fifth, Schwarber led off the bottom of the inning with a double. Mark Zagunis batted for Lester and struck out. Schwarber took third on an infield out and Kris Bryant walked, but Rizzo hit a harmless fly to right to end the inning.
The Cubs also had a chance in the seventh. Albert Almora Jr. batted for Schwarber and was hit by a pitch, and David Bote, batting for reliever Brad Brach, walked. But Ben Zobrist ended the inning by hitting into a double play.
Incidentally, props to Brach for his performance in this one. He’s struggled much of the year, but Thursday Brach threw two shutout innings, striking out three and allowing just one baserunner on a walk. That’s a good sign for the future, I hope.
Not so good was the eighth inning, in which the Dodgers scored what turned out to be the winning run. Randy Rosario walked pinch-hitter Corey Seager on four pitches and when he threw the first pitch out of the zone to Enrique Hernandez, Joe Maddon pulled him and replaced him with Brandon Kintzler. It appeared Kintzler had induced a double-play ball, with Daniel Descalso tagging Seager and tossing to first, but the tag was overturned on review [VIDEO].
The replay crews must have had an angle we didn’t see there, because I can’t see how that play was overturned based on that evidence. But overturned it was, and that was important, because Kintzler then hit Justin Turner. Kyle Ryan entered to face Muncy and walked him to load the bases.
Cody Bellinger batted next and hit a fly ball to deep center field. If the double play had been upheld, that would have ended the inning. Instead, a run scored.
Ryan did a nice job holding the Dodgers in check, and incidentally, performances like the ones from Ryan and Rosario today likely mean Rosario heads back to Iowa when Mike Montgomery is activated. Then the Cubs got a two-out single from Baez in the eighth but did not score, and then with two out in the ninth Almora hit the aforementioned homer. Here’s a look at that blast [VIDEO].
Despite the fact that it came short of tying the game, that’s a good thing for Almora, as he’s been mired in a horrific slump, 0-for-15 (with four walks) prior to that at-bat. Almora doesn’t have to hit like he did the first half of last year to get playing time, but he’s got to do better than the .432 OPS he had coming into Thursday’s action. That homer boosted his OPS by nearly 100 points, to .524, but that’s still not very good. Still, we can hope that this will begin his movement up the BA/OBP/SLG ladder.
Frustrating as this game was, the Cubs still have to be relatively happy with taking this series. I know Theo Epstein has spoken often about taking the third game of a series in which the Cubs won the first two, but give some credit to the Dodgers bullpen in this one, they were very good. The Cubs won four of six on the homestand; keep doing that and good things will follow this season. This sums up my thoughts:
#Cubs lost, but they pitched well.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 25, 2019
Last 14 games: 10-4, 2.07 ERA, 126.0 IP, 137 K, 1.048 WHIP
It was coolish at the ballpark but not unpleasant for late April and the Cubs finish the April home schedule having had one snowout, a couple games played in very cold conditions, but several very nice days, which is a vast improvement over April 2018. Their next home game is May 3 against the Cardinals.
The Cubs now head out on a five-game western road trip, with the first stop being a three-game series against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. Friday’s series opener at Chase Field will feature Kyle Hendricks for the Cubs and Robbie Ray (who the Cubs saw last Sunday at Wrigley) for the D-backs. Game time Friday is 8:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago Plus.