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Cardinals 2, Cubs 1: The offense disappears, again

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... and some bad umpiring helped the Cardinals win.

The man who drove in the only Cubs run Friday night
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Before I unpack everything about the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Cardinals Friday night, I want to call your attention to one pitch in the 10th inning.

Specifically, pitch 6 in this sequence:

That’s a strike. No question about it. And yet, plate umpire Laz Diaz called it ball four to Harrison Bader. Dillon Maples’ sliders have quite a bit of movement on them, and that one fooled Diaz.

If Diaz makes the correct call, that’s the second out of the inning and there’s just one runner on second base. Instead, now there are runners on first and second with just one out. Maples then walked Jedd Gyorko and Joe Maddon brought in Steve Cishek to face Matt Carpenter, who singled in the winning run on Cishek’s second pitch.

Diaz missed quite a few calls in this game, some in favor of the Cubs. But that one was so egregious and could have been a factor in the Cubs losing the game. And that’s not just me talking, that’s Joe Maddon:

And more on Diaz’ multiple missed calls:

If we’re not going to have an automated strike zone — and I’m all in favor of that, as you know — perhaps at least umpires and MLB might consider getting umpires who are bad at calling balls and strikes out of that position. There’s no rule that requires umpires to simply rotate through all the bases as they go through the season. Why not simply figure out who the best umpires are at pitch calling and let those men do that job, and keep the rest of the guys on the bases?

Something to consider, anyway.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s go back and look at the rest of this game, one in which the Cubs had multiple chances to score more than that one run. That includes the first inning, when they had Miles Mikolas possibly on the ropes that early, loading the bases with two out. But Addison Russell lined to right to end the inning.

The Cardinals scored a run off Yu Darvish in the first inning after Darvish walked the first two hitters he faced. Two fly balls scored that run. But after that, Darvish settled down and threw probably the best game he’s had as a Cub. Overall: Six innings, two hits, three walks (just one walk after the first inning), six strikeouts, 93 pitches. That pitch count is very efficient, considering that on May 9 against the Marlins he threw 97 pitches in only four innings.

The Cubs tied the game in the second. Victor Caratini doubled on a ball that bounced into the seats and advanced to third on an infield out.

Then Darvish helped himself out with the bat. [VIDEO]

Darvish is not a very good hitter, but he hit the ball deep enough to score Caratini, just his second career RBI. (The other one came on a solo home run in 2016.)

The Cubs had another chance to score in the fourth when Jason Heyward and Russell led off with singles. But Caratini flied to center and Albert Almora Jr. hit into an inning-ending double play.

In the fifth, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo pulled off an outstanding defensive play. Dexter Fowler led off with a walk and Kolten Wong laid down a bunt. Rizzo had no play at first and fired to Baez covering second [VIDEO].

Fowler didn’t slide, stepped off the base and was tagged out by Baez, who pointed right at Fowler’s foot to alert second-base umpire Jeff Nelson of the play, but Nelson was right there to make the call anyway. Great heads-up play by both Rizzo and Javy.

In the sixth, Baez walked with one out. Then he tried to steal second and was thrown out easily. You could tell that Javy is still not quite 100 percent from that heel injury suffered almost two weeks ago. Frankly, he should have just stayed put, as Matt Wieters, filling in for the injured Yadier Molina, is pretty good at throwing out runners (32 percent for his career).

Almora tripled with two out in the seventh, as his hit got past a diving Bader. David Bote batted for Darvish and flied to center and the game remained tied.

The Cubs bullpen did an excellent job in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Kyle Ryan, Brad Brach and Brandon Kintzler retired all nine hitters they faced, three by strikeout. Those guys have had their struggles at times, but in this game, they were outstanding.

But the Cubs couldn’t do anything in those innings, either. In the 10th, Daniel Descalso walked (batting for Kintzler) with one out and advanced to second on a wild pitch. But Kyle Schwarber struck out and Kris Bryant grounded out.

That set up the disastrous 10th inning.

Extracurricular stuff: As expected, Bryant got booed every time he came to bat, as Cardinals fans wouldn’t let go KB’s joking comment about St. Louis being “boring” at the Cubs Convention last January. The Cubs got in on the fun:

Len Kasper mentioned on the broadcast that Cardinals fans were “having fun” with it. That, I think, is incorrect. Cardinals fans seemed dead serious about the booing. It’s time to let it go, St. Louis.

The most encouraging thing about this loss was Darvish’s performance. He is, for some reason, pitching much better away from Wrigley Field:

Home: six starts, 6.32 ERA, 1.660 WHIP, 34 strikeouts and eight home runs in 31⅓ innings
Road: six starts, 3.64 ERA, 1.449 WHIP, 39 strikeouts and three home runs in 29⅔ innings

Obviously the Cubs can’t use Darvish only in road games, but it would seem there’s something about Wrigley Field that’s holding him back. He had a slightly better ERA (4.68) on the road compared to Wrigley (5.40) last year, too.

Also, if you’ll indulge me, and I admit this has no scientific basis, Darvish appears to pitch better when wearing the blue alternate jersey this year (jersey info from Chris Creamer’s Uniform Tracker):

Darvish in road gray: four starts, 18⅓ innings, 4.42 ERA, 1.745 WHIP, 3 HR, 22 strikeouts
Darvish in blue alt: two starts, 11⅓ innings, 2.38 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, 0 HR, 17 strikeouts

I know it shouldn’t matter. But just for the heck of it... put Darvish in the blue alt on the road for the rest of the season. Couldn’t hurt, right?

The Cubs remain in first place in the N.L. Central by half a game because the Brewers lost to the Pirates Friday night. The Pirates and Cardinals trail by 3½ games and the Reds, in last place, are five games behind.

The Cubs will look to even up the series Saturday evening with Jose Quintana on the mound. Jack Flaherty will start for the Cardinals. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on Fox-TV (regional — coverage map). And this ought to be fun: The announcers for Fox’s coverage tonight will be Len Kasper... and A.J. Pierzynski.