MILWAUKEE — Before I get to the details of the Cubs’ depressing 3-2 loss to the Brewers Saturday night, let me say this: If you ever meet someone who doesn’t like baseball, have them watch this game. That was some playoff-intensity baseball during the regular season, good plays and bad, chances blown and taken advantage of. Disregarding the fact that the team we root for lost, that game contained so much of what we all love about baseball.
I’m not usually one to complain about Joe Maddon’s lineups or bullpen usage, but:
- What on Earth is Albert Almora Jr. doing in a starting lineup, much less leading off against a lefthanded pitcher? Almora is a fine human being and a plus defender, but for whatever reason, he is having a miserable offensive season, and he’s hitting lefthanders worse (.533 OPS entering the game) than he’s hitting righthanders (.667 OPS entering the game) this year! Stop, Joe, just stop.
- Why was David Phelps in the game in the eighth inning instead of Brandon Kintzler?
- For that matter, why wasn’t Brad Wieck in the game to face Christian Yelich in the ninth inning instead of Kintzler? Yelich hits both sides well, but lefthanders do a bit better.
- Or why wasn’t Yelich given a Manfred, even with first base occupied?
All right, I’ve gotten that off my chest. On to the details. Joe has some explanations for the above, and I’ll get to that later.
The Cubs simply could not do anything with Gio Gonzalez in the first four innings. They did have some baserunners, but two double plays took them out of any chances to score through the fourth.
Yu Darvish, though, was matching Gonzalez quite well through four.
In the fifth, Addison Russell gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
Still, Gonzalez completed five innings allowing just two hits (the other a single by Victor Caratini) and one run. Thankfully, the Cubs will not see him again this year, because Gonzalez has utterly dominated them:
Gonzalez, five starts vs. Cubs: 1.48 ERA, 0.945 WHIP, 21 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings
Gonzalez, 10 starts vs. other teams: 5.25 ERA, 1.521 WHIP, 42 strikeouts in 48 innings
Joe Maddon has an idea why this is happening:
Gio Gonzalez now has a 1.48 ERA in 5 starts vs. Cubs this year. Why?— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
Maddon: "Because we expand our strike zone. There's one answer to that and one only. That's it. We're trying to pull balls that are way outside. Just watch the tape. You'll see it." pic.twitter.com/pfMCwNBC10
But why would a team do that start after start? Once, I get, even twice. But by the time you are facing someone for the fifth time — and second in a week! — maybe you’d get the idea to stop doing this?
Like I said in the headline: Excruciating.
Darvish was lifted after five innings. Why?
Yu Darvish wanted to pitch one more inning, but the Cubs set a limit of 5/75 tonight. He went 5 IP and 72.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
Yu: "I wanted to go one more inning. We talked about it a couple minutes, but he explained why he didn't want me to pitch one more inning. Then, I understand 100 percent."
Maddon: "I said, 'I love the idea you want to go back out, but if you go back out in the sixth and all of a sudden you feel that [forearm pain] again, then we've lost all this momentum that we gathered. So, he was good. He was really good about it."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
I get that, to a certain extent. But in a case like this, a critical game in a pennant race, and your pitcher says he could go one more? I think you let him, because removing him began a cascade of relief issues.
The Cubs had a runner on third with one out in the top of the sixth when Nicholas Castellanos doubled and moved up a base on a wild pitch. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant struck out and that was that.
Kyle Ryan got two outs on five pitches in the bottom of the sixth. Great, right? But this has happened to Ryan before: He does that and then loses the strike zone. Two walks and a single tied the game before Steve Cishek ended the inning with a fly to right.
Neither team did anything in the seventh and then the Cubs put together a rally with walks in the eighth. Caratini led off with a base on balls and was replaced by pinch runner Robel Garcia. A pinch single by Ben Zobrist and pinch walk by Ian Happ loaded the bases.
Observation: Those two should have been in the starting lineup.
Josh Hader, who utterly dominates the Cubs, entered the game. He struck out Castellanos, but Rizzo walked to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. There aren’t many Cubs highlights to show you from this game, so here, have one of a bases-loaded walk [VIDEO].
Maybe there’s something here, I thought. Maybe THIS is the time the Cubs get to Hader.
Nope. He got Bryant to pop up and struck out David Bote.
That’s when I thought Kintzler would enter the game for the eighth. Nope, it was Phelps. Granted, Phelps had been pretty good for the Cubs since his acquisition, but not on this night. His first pitch was deposited into the seats in left by Yasmani Grandal, and the Brewers had tied the game. Next was Derek Holland, who walked Yelich. Now, that’s not the worst possible result of a Yelich at-bat.
Rowan Wick, who I thought Joe was saving for the ninth, then had to enter to put out this rally. He did, but not before loading the bases on a walk and an infield single where he didn’t get to first base in time to cover.
Here’s Joe’s explanation of the bullpen selections:
Maddon said the plan was to have Phelps and Holland get through Grandal/Yelich in the 8th to set up a 4-out save for Rowan Wick.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
Maddon: "They just foiled that opportunity. Grandal's also swinging the bat like I've never seen him, either."
The Cubs did nothing in the ninth off Hader.
Then Russell made a critical error. He made a nice stop on a sharp ground ball by Tyler Austin, but threw wildly to first. Kintzler retired the next two hitters, and got Yelich down in the count 1-2.
And then Yelich hit his walkoff double, and you probably don’t want or need to hear anything more about that.
Maddon’s comment about expanding the zone is valid. But so is the fact that, in my view, he didn’t have the right hitters in the game. I understand they are trying to be careful with Willson Contreras as he comes back from a hamstring injury. But it sure would have been nice to see him batting with two out in the ninth inning instead of Jonathan Lucroy, who entered to replace Caratini. Sure, Contreras would then have had to stay in the game to catch the bottom of the ninth, or extras if it had gone that far — but don’t you want your best players in the game at this point?
The loss of Javier Baez to injury, perhaps for the rest of the regular season, is something this team is simply going to have to do its best to compensate for.
This loss isn’t the end of the world, nor of the Cubs’ postseason dreams. The Cardinals won Saturday, so the Cubs now trail them by 3½ games with 21 remaining — that’s not insurmountable. They lead the Diamondbacks by 1½ games for the second wild-card spot and trail the Nationals by two for the top spot. A postseason berth still awaits, but this team is simply going to have to start playing better baseball, especially on the road, especially in a park where nearly half the crowd was cheering loudly for the Cubs.
Then there was this guy — a Cubs fan, from what he was wearing — a few rows in front of me at Miller Park:
One note about my drive to and from Milwaukee: One day, the ride up and back on I-94 will be free of construction barricades. Saturday was not that day. It seems as if this route has been under construction for decades. Fortunately, Saturday traffic wasn’t all that bad.
The Cubs will go for the series split Sunday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Adrian Houser goes for Milwaukee. Game time is 1:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on NBC Sports Chicago. Sunday’s game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.