Wednesday’s Cubs/Braves game in Atlanta was going along quite well for our favorite team.
Good pitching (and some offense!) from Jon Lester. A mammoth home run by Willson Contreras. A two-run lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. So this could have been a very pleasant, happy recap for you to read.
Unfortunately, the Cubs then had one of the worst bullpen implosions you’ll ever see, or would ever want to see. Five walks, a bases-clearing double and a sacrifice fly later, the Braves had a 6-4 win over the Cubs.
Let’s rewind back to the beginning of this one.
In the second inning, Kyle Schwarber singled and inexplicably tried to steal second base. Jim Deshaies, on the broadcast, thought it might have been a blown hit-and-run. But Willson Contreras and Daniel Descalso followed with singles, and that brought up Lester [VIDEO].
As you can hear on that clip, Len Kasper was prescient, saying “He’s in an RBI spot here,” and Lester did indeed drive in the Cubs’ first run.
Then Jon served up a pair of solo home run balls in the third, to Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and the Braves had the lead. Fergie Jenkins used to talk about that, saying that if you had to give up homers, at least try to do it with no one on base.
The Cubs took the lead in the sixth. Schwarber walked and that brought up Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
Contreras’ first home run of 2019: Crushed!
Willson Contreras (1) off LHP Jonny Venters (1) - 112.9 mph, 24 degrees (452 ft Home Run)— MLBBarrelAlert (@MLBBarrelAlert) April 4, 2019
93.4 mph Sinker#Cubs @ #Braves (T6) pic.twitter.com/HrlscCFUG9
The Cubs added a run in the seventh, making it 4-2, when Anthony Rizzo and Contreras singled, and Rizzo then scored on a wild pitch.
Brandon Kintzler, who I perhaps was too hasty in saying the Cubs should let him go, threw a scoreless seventh in relief of Lester, who had quite a night:
Most starts by a Lefty of 6+ innings & 2 or fewer runs allowed— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 4, 2019
69 JON LESTER (6 IP, 2 R tonight)
68 Clayton Kershaw
66 Chris Sale
64 Dallas Keuchel
63 JOSÉ QUINTANA
60 COLE HAMELS
Jon Lester is the first #Cubs pitcher with a hit & 2 walks in a game (at the plate) since Bill Hands on September 30, 1970— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 4, 2019
correction:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 4, 2019
Jon Lester is the first #Cubs pitcher with a hit & 2 walks *and at least one RBI* in a game (at the plate) since Jack Curtis on August 19, 1961
The Braves’ eighth inning, which was decisive in this game, I’ve already described to you and I’m sure you don’t need to hear the carnage again. I’ll add only that Steve Cishek threw only three strikes in 15 pitches and Brad Brach threw only five strikes in 16 pitches. Cubs pitchers have now issued 35 walks in five games. Only Diamondbacks pitchers have walked more — and the D-backs have played two more games than the Cubs.
I mean, what more can I say now? This is one of the worst stretches the Cubs have had since they returned to contention in 2015. While they are scoring decent numbers of runs — 32 runs ranks fifth in the N.L. — they are giving up walks and runs in buckets, 37 of them, second-most in the league to the Diamondbacks. This was a very good start by Lester that was ruined by bad bullpen work.
Theo Epstein says there are no immediate changes coming:
“Every game is not a referendum on the season or the team’s play or four games in our ability to throw strikes,” Epstein said. “Obviously, throwing strikes is important to any team’s success — especially ours — and we recognize that.
“Our bullpen hasn’t pitched great so far four games in. You can write your stories. It’s yet to be determined how they’ll pitch. We have a pretty good track record when it comes to the bullpen, and I expect this year will be no different in the end.”
I hope he’s right about that, though it should be noted that statement was made before Wednesday’s bullpen disaster. One other thing is for sure: This is not Joe Maddon’s fault. He can only put the guys in the game that Theo & Co. put on the roster for him.
The Cubs will try to salvage one game out of this three-game series Thursday night. Yu Darvish will go for the Cubs and Max Fried starts for Atlanta. Game time again is 6:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Thursday is on NBC Sports Chicago (and also on MLB Network outside the Chicago and Atlanta market territories).