All season long, I’ve written articles here on the 50th anniversary of the star-crossed 1969 Cubs, likely the most famed team that never won anything. (There’s one more such article coming next week.)
I never thought the 2019 Cubs would take that commemoration literally and do nearly the same thing that ballclub did.
Seemingly in control of the N.L. East early in September, the 1969 Cubs lost eight in a row and fell out of first place, never to return.
Seemingly in control of at least a spot in the wild-card game this year, and with a shot at the division title, the 2019 Cubs lost eight in a row and were mathematically eliminated Thursday night when the Brewers won shortly before David Phelps threw two wild pitches that led to the decisive runs in a 4-2 Pirates win.
The parallels aren’t exact (the 1969 streak was earlier in September, for example), and of course the core of this year’s team did win something, the 2016 World Series. I certainly could have done without the way the 2019 season came screeching to a halt, though. You too, I bet.
This game looked pretty good for a while, too. In the second inning, Willson Contreras tripled and Ian Happ drove him in [VIDEO].
In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates threatened to score but Kyle Schwarber denied them on this excellent throw home [VIDEO].
Too often, Schwarber gets criticized for his defense. But that arm is still usually strong and accurate.
The Pirates took a 2-1 lead in the fourth off Jon Lester, who actually had a fairly strong outing for his last appearance of 2019: six innings, eight hits, two runs, no walks, four strikeouts. He finishes the year with 171⅔ innings, his lowest total in a full season, although he did miss a couple of starts in April after injuring a hamstring running the bases. It’s the 12th consecutive season Jon has made at least 31 starts. Overall, though, it’s Jon’s worst year since 2012.
Happ, who had given the Cubs the lead with his RBI single in the second, tied it up on his own in the seventh [VIDEO].
At this point in the evening, the Brewers were way ahead of the Reds, so we knew the Cubs would be eliminated even if they won this game.
And they did not. And the way they lost reflected the way some Cubs pitching has been this year — simply too many walks, pitching themselves into trouble and you know the old saying: “If you go looking for trouble, trouble will find you,” and it did after Brad Wieck issued a walk with one out in the eighth. Phelps entered and issued another walk, and two wild pitches and a sacrifice fly later, the Pirates had a 4-2 lead. And yes, it happened just about that quickly.
So we enter the final four games of the 2019 regular season knowing that those will be it for the Cubs until they assemble next spring in Mesa, Arizona. It’s the first time in five years that’s happened, and it feels odd, unsettling, unfinished. We’ve likely seen the last of Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist for this season, as it was noted Wednesday they probably wouldn’t play after the Cubs were eliminated. The injured Kris Bryant and Javier Baez likely won’t, either, though Javy did pinch-run in this loss.
I can’t say enough about Rizzo willing himself back to play when he likely shouldn’t have, trying to do anything he can to help his team win. Since he returned from that awful ankle sprain: .400/.429/.600 (8-for-20) with a double and a home run.
The mainstream media is full of writing about Joe Maddon’s future and I’ll address that at some point. The way I read between the lines, there’s still a possibility Joe and Theo Epstein will come to some sort of agreement to continue. I personally hope that’s the case. It would appear some players do, too:
More Lester on Maddon: “You talk about a rebuild, you talk about signings, you talk about all that stuff, he was the first guy to write his name on the paper. He believed. Him believing made other people believe. What he’s done for this city, its huge.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 26, 2019
Jon is right. And I don’t think Jon Lester is a Cub if Joe Maddon hadn’t been signed to manage in the fall of 2014. The signing showed that the team was serious about winning now. If Joe is not under contract to be Cubs manager in 2015, I’m pretty sure Lester would have signed with the Giants, who offered him more money and sent Buster Posey to Jon’s Atlanta-area home to personally implore him to sign in San Francisco.
More thoughts from Cubs players:
Jon Lester: "That's what I think draws people to this game. You play seven months to come down to this last week. There's teams like us that are tucking our tails between our legs and going home. And there's teams like the Brewers and the Cardinals that are moving on."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 26, 2019
Castellanos: "I wish I could've done more."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 26, 2019
Really, not much more he could've done since being acquired by the Cubs.
"I mean, the point is that I wanted to play in the playoffs, man."
Jordan Bastian is right. Nicholas Castellanos did just about everything he could to help this team to the postseason. I hope they can find a way to bring him back.
Anthony Rizzo: "You set out goals in the spring you want to accomplish as an organization. We didn’t (accomplish them). We hold ourselves to a high standard and its up to everyone to figure out why? Why didn’t we come together and win?”— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) September 26, 2019
And as usual, team leader Rizzo states what needed to be said. Those are good questions and players and management will try to find the answers over the next days, weeks and months.
The Cubs aren’t alone in their disappointment. Last year’s World Series champions, the 108-win Red Sox, are also staying home this October. Their record is similar to the Cubs, currently one game better at 83-75. The Rockies, who dumped the Cubs out of the postseason in last year’s wild card game, have lost 90 games this season. Meanwhile, the Twins, who were 78-84 in 2018, are a 98-win ballclub this year with a chance to win 100. Things can change quickly in one offseason, so there’s a reasonable chance that with the right offseason moves, the Cubs can quickly return to contention in 2020.
In the meantime, there are four more games to be played. If this team continues to mirror its 1969 predecessors, they should win tonight.
Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs and Joe Musgrove will go for the Pirates in the series finale. Game time is again 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago (and on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).