“It ain’t over until it’s over” — Yogi Berra
You’ve probably heard Yogi Berra’s well-known aphorism above many times. And indeed, it’s true, on many levels.
The Chicago Cubs’ 2019 baseball season ain’t over. Quoting another Berraism: “it’s getting late early out there.”
The Cubs ran themselves out of innings, then got some fine relief work until the fact that far too many players on this team are injured caught up with them and they lost to the Reds 3-2 in 10 innings Wednesday night.
It was not a fatal blow to the Cubs’ playoff hopes, or chances. Ten games remain in the season, seven against the ballclub they most want to catch.
But this game was not good, no, not at all. (It was also a reminder that the Reds are likely going to be a force in the N.L. Central in 2020.)
The Cubs had a chance to take the lead early until they had their first TOOTBLAN. Ben Zobrist walked leading off the first inning. Nicholas Castellanos flied to center, and Kris Bryant hit a comebacker. Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle threw to second for a force, and the relay got past Joey Votto... but then bounced right back to him. KB ill-advisedly took off for second and was thrown out easily.
TOOTBLAN No. 2 took place in the second inning. Kyle Schwarber led off with a walk and took second on an infield out. Victor Caratini then hit a comebacker. Does this sound familiar?
Schwarber took off for third and was tagged out after a brief rundown. This was a really bad move on Kyle’s part. He’s already in scoring position and with the comebacker and a likely second out, it would take a hit to score him anyway.
The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a home run by Eugenio Suarez. Cubs pitchers did a pretty good job of holding Suarez down in this series (six strikeouts), but he’s been a power machine most of the year. Also:
Eugenio Suarez's homer off Lester in the 4th was his 9th vs. the Cubs this year. Gives him 48 on the year. That also...— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 19, 2019
• Set the single-season record for a Venezuelan-born player
• Tied Beltre (2004) and Schmidt (1980) for single-season NL record for a third baseman
The Cubs tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Castellanos led off with a double. That was his 56th of the year (37 with the Tigers), and put him in select company:
Most doubles since 1950:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 19, 2019
59: Helton (2000)
57: Delgado (2000)
56: Castellanos (2019), Ramirez (2017), Roberts (2009), Anderson (2002), Garciaparra (2002), Biggio (1999)
Castellanos advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on this fly ball by Schwarber [VIDEO].
It’s 1-1 in the sixth and the first two Reds hitters reach on a walk to Joey Votto and single by Suarez. Joe came and got Lester, replacing him with David Phelps. Lester had thrown 77 pitches and was clearly not happy to be removed from the game.
But you know, this is Joe managing in playoff mode, and I think it has to be that way at this time in the season. Phelps struck out Aristides Aquino and then got a ground ball to first [VIDEO].
That’s really nice work by Victor Caratini at first base, channeling his inner Anthony Rizzo. He stepped on the bag and then threw to second for a tag double play. The throw was a bit offline, but still in plenty of time for the DP.
Tony Kemp batted for Phelps. This might or might not have had an impact on the game, but seriously, only one of these four pitches was even close to being a strike:
I have to wonder if Kemp’s height has an impact on how pitches are called on him. He’s been called out on strikes several times this season on pitches that are not strikes.
Pedro Strop entered to throw the seventh. He got ground balls from the first two hitters, but they found holes for hits. After a fly ball and Derek Dietrich announced as a pinch-hitter, Joe decided he’d rather have a matchup of Kyle Ryan vs. a RH pinch-hitter (Jose Peraza), so Ryan entered and promptly walked Peraza to load the bases. Alex Blandino hit a sacrifice fly to left and the Reds had a 2-1 lead.
Two outs into the bottom of the seventh, the game was again tied [VIDEO].
Willson Contreras has been incredibly hot since his return from the hamstring injury. That was his fifth home run in 10 games this month.
Tyler Chatwood entered to throw the eighth. That might have been his best inning as a Cub. Seriously. He struck out the side, at one point hitting 99 on the Wrigley pitch speed meter, and threw 11 strikes in 18 pitches. Perhaps he can continue to be used in high-leverage situations like this.
Ian Happ, pinch-hitting for Chatwood, doubled with two out in the eighth, but was stranded.
The Reds got a pair of runners on with two out in the ninth off Rowan Wick thanks to an error by David Bote, but did not score, and neither did the Cubs, so the game headed to extras.
In the 10th, Derek Holland was summoned to throw to Votto. It worked. Votto flied to left. James Norwood came into the game and got Suarez to ground to short.
Two out. No one on. And then... Norwood fell apart. A single, walk and double scored a run, a second walk loaded the bases and Duane Underwood Jr. had to enter to finish the inning.
Caratini doubled with one out in the 10th, but Jason Heyward struck out. Nico Hoerner... now wouldn’t that have been great if he could have been the hero? ... hit a sharp line drive to right, but just a little too hard. It was caught, and the game was over.
What more can I say? The Cubs are trying to win games with two key offensive players out, with a bullpen that’s missing its closer... you could, in fact, say that they’re doing pretty well to still have a good postseason chance with all those guys out. The players who are healthy are doing the best they can, I think, despite the baserunning gaffes I mentioned earlier (and Joe does in the video clip). The Cubs are 4-8 in extra-inning games this year, largely because the bullpen simply isn’t deep enough.
The Brewers lost to the Padres Wednesday, so they are tied with the Cubs for the second wild-card spot. The fourth and final game of their series is at 3:10 p.m. Thursday, so the Cubs should know the result before their game begins Thursday night.
Now comes the hard part, with the Cardinals coming to town for a four-game series and the Cubs three games behind. Realistically, they now have to win at least three of four to maintain any hope of winning the N.L. Central, and that would also keep their wild-card game hopes alive. The Cardinals are a hot team right now, but check out their home/road splits since August 1:
In St. Louis they are dominant. On the road, they can be defeated, and they have yet to win a game at Wrigley Field this year.
It all begins Thursday night. Game time is about an hour earlier than usual, 6:15 p.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Jack Flaherty goes for the Cardinals. TV coverage will be on Fox.