Wednesday evening’s 5-3 Cubs loss to the Braves was just painful.
If it wasn’t a sudden thunderstorm popping up and delaying the game 48 minutes, it was having to watch Yu Darvish once again slog through a start with long counts, home runs allowed and way too many pitches thrown.
The Cubs, who had been so good at Wrigley Field up to recent times, are now going to have to win Thursday afternoon just to escape with a 5-5 homestand.
Yuck. You came here to read a recap of this game, and so you will have one, though writing it is about as much fun as watching the game was.
The Braves manufactured a run in the first inning. Ronald Acuna Jr. walked, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error and scored on a Darvish wild pitch. That’s just about everything that could go wrong actually going wrong and it’s barely 7:10.
Albert Almora Jr., who had a poor OBP leading off this year (.279 in 43 PA entering this game), led off with a single. That’s good! Kris Bryant then hit into a double play on the second pitch he saw. That’s not good. The Cubs got two more baserunners in the inning but could not score.
Darvish served up a home run ball to Brian McCann in the second inning to make it 2-0, and then after a double and a walk in the third, Nick Markakis put one in the seats to make it 5-0.
Meanwhile, the Cubs had hit into two more double plays. With one out in the top of the fourth, play was stopped about five minutes before a severe thunderstorm raced through the area around Wrigley:
Storms can be pretty cool and absolutely terrifying. Just ask Kris Bryant pic.twitter.com/42VIeRJBJI— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) June 27, 2019
Up to then, that was the most entertaining part of the evening.
48 minutes later the game resumed, with Darvish still on the mound. He actually pitched better after the delay, retiring the final five hitters he faced, two by strikeout. Overall Darvish results: five innings, five hits, five runs, eight strikeouts, 92 pitches (56 strikes). Beyond the fact that watching Darvish work about as slowly as I’ve ever seen a starting pitcher, this simply isn’t going to cut it. This is 2013-level Edwin Jackson-style pitching, and if you don’t believe that, just check out EJax’ 2013 numbers: a good start every once in while, but in general too many walks, too many homers, too many runs.
A few weeks ago I suggested trying Darvish at closer. Obviously that’s no longer necessary with Craig Kimbrel joining the ballclub Thursday, but I can’t disagree with this:
At what point do you forget about the contract numbers and just have him throw max effort in short bursts out of the bullpen, see how that goes.— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) June 27, 2019
We know Darvish can dial it up to 97 or 98 miles per hour. Why not try it? One inning at a time, 15-18 pitches, he’s striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings as it is. Maybe the Cubs have a setup man in the house, and once Kyle Hendricks returns, Adbert Alzolay could take over Darvish’s rotation spot.
Anyway, back to the game. With one out in the fifth, Willson Contreras put the Cubs on the board [VIDEO].
Look at the height and launch angle on that one:
#Braves 5 @ #Cubs 1 [B4-1o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) June 27, 2019
Willson Contreras homers (17): fly ball to LCF (solo)
Hit: 377.11ft, 102.54mph, 38°
Pitch: 87.3mph Two-Seam Fastball (LHP Dallas Keuchel, 2) pic.twitter.com/UHThSXVYZN
For a reference point, the MLB average launch angle on home runs is about 28 degrees.
One inning later, Kris Bryant joined the homer club for the night [VIDEO].
Another one that went high and far:
#Braves 5 @ #Cubs 2 [B5-2o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) June 27, 2019
Kris Bryant homers (16): fly ball to LCF (solo)
Hit: 428.9ft, 104.02mph, 33.2°
Pitch: 85.6mph Cutter (LHP Dallas Keuchel, 3) pic.twitter.com/p6hJ25H22J
Len Kasper, in the clip, can be heard saying it hit the video board. It didn’t — landed on the fly one row beneath the board. Anyway, it’s only the fifth inning and just 5-2 and I’m saying there was a chance.
And in the sixth, Contreras tripled into the right-field corner and scored on an infield out. Now it’s 5-3 and hope was alive.
Cubs relievers did a good job of keeping the Braves offense in check. Kyle Ryan threw a scoreless inning, departing when Johan Camargo led off the seventh reaching on an error. Tony Barnette came into the game and got a fly ball and then Bryant stopped a hot shot by Acuna and started an inning-ending double play. The Cubs got another double play in the eighth with Brandon Kintzler on the mound.
In the bottom of the inning, they had an excellent chance to tie the game. With one out, Contreras walked and Heyward singled. Addison Russell struck out and Victor Caratini batted for Kintzler.
A.J. Minter threw ball one to Caratini, then uncorked a wild pitch and the runners were both in scoring position.
With two pitches out of the zone to start the at-bat, it’s clear that Minter’s going to have to throw a get-me-over fastball, which could have been a very hittable pitch. It was, and so was the next one, but Victor looked at both of them:
Oh, man, Victor... what were you thinking? There are two pitches that both could have been smacked into the outfield for a hit. Then Minter threw a ball just on the border of the zone for strike three.
The Cubs went down meekly in the ninth and the game was over. And here’s the summary from Joe Maddon, and he is 100 percent correct:
Maddon on RISP woes:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 27, 2019
"I sound like a broken record. We need to get better at this, period. Good at-bats for the most part. We get guys out there, and then once we do, we might get in a little bit of a hurry. I think that's what leads to these quick endings to potential rallies."
More Maddon:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 27, 2019
"I just can't lay it on [Darvish]. We need to do better. We're getting guys out there -- like we've been talking about. We've got to score some runs. You've go to win a game 6-5 once in a while, too, and then the onus goes away. So, we've got to get better at that."
So, I’ve written over 750 words up to this point, and Joe summed things up in a couple of paragraphs. The home runs are great, but the Cubs have to do better in situational hitting, especially in at-bats like the one Caratini had.
The good news is that the Brewers and Cardinals both lost again Wednesday evening, so the Cubs maintain their leads over both: one game ahead of Milwaukee, 2½ ahead of St. Louis.
Statistical footnoted: Darvish took the loss, ending his no-decision streak at 10 straight starts. That tied the major-league record for such things (excluding “openers”).
As noted above, Kimbrel arrives Thursday. There will be fanfare and hoopla, but he won’t have the desired effect on this team unless, you know, they can actually get to the ninth inning with a lead. I’ll have a full article on this coming up at 9 a.m. CT, but here’s the roster move for Kimbrel:
Maddon said Tony Barnette will be optioned to clear a spot in the bullpen for Kimbrel.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 27, 2019
As noted above, the Cubs will go for a split of the series and the homestand Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, and it is expected to be hot, but dry for the homestand finale. Tyler Chatwood will start for the Cubs and the Braves are expected to recall Bryse Wilson from their top farm club to go for them. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.