Throughout this season you’ve read on this site stories about the 1969 Cubs, that star-crossed team that never won anything.
Two of those stories have been posted over the last two days about tough losses that were part of an eight-game losing streak that knocked those Cubs out of first place, never to return.
I’m usually the most optimistic person here, but as someone who lived through all that, I can only say that the last three days in Milwaukee feel just like that September half a century ago.
The Cubs lost to the Brewers 8-5 Sunday afternoon. They are now 4½ games out of first place and three games behind the first wild-card spot. They are still in postseason position, holding the second wild-card slot by 1½ games.
And yet, it feels like things are ending, doesn’t it? Like there’s no possible way the Cubs can hold on to that spot? And even if they do, to face the Nationals in Washington in a one-and-done game doesn’t feel very appealing.
I’ll get back to all of that later. First, let’s go through how the Cubs lost this long, dismal game.
Jon Lester got himself into a jam in the first inning, loading the bases on a single and two walks. A double play scored a run, but in the words of 1969’s announcer Jack Brickhouse that we heard so often in those days: “It sure could have been worse!”
Lester then breezed through the next two innings and then the Cubs got to work in the third after a very scary moment [VIDEO].
A pitch from Adrian Houser hit Addison Russell just below the helmet flap. It looked like it got him in the nose, or somewhere nearby. He was indeed fortunate to not be seriously injured. After a delay of several minutes, Russell stayed in the game. He immediately stole second base and David Bote batted next [VIDEO].
Christian Yelich, whose throw to the wrong base helped the Cubs win Thursday, made an unnecessary throw to the plate. Russell was going to hold at third anyway, but he scored when the throw got away, and Bote took second.
That was a nice little hit, bouncing just fair inside the first-base line.
I love watching Lester “motoring” around third base in that clip. That was Zobrist’s first extra-base hit since he returned September 1, and just his second of the season (both doubles). The Cubs had a 3-1 lead.
Things were looking good. And then, they weren’t.
In the fourth, a single by Yelich and double by Ryan Braun made it 3-2. After a strikeout, a single by Hernan Perez tied the game. A forceout made it two out, and then Lester thought he had David Freitas struck out:
Pitch 8... I dunno. Close enough to be called a strike by some umpires, but not today by Will Little. Freitas walked, and five pitches later another pinch-hitter, Tyler Austin, put a ball in the seats to give the Brewers a 6-3 lead.
Lester gave up another homer in the sixth, to Eric Thames. That made it 7-3, and after Cory Spangenberg tripled, Lester was removed in favor of Duane Underwood Jr. Tyrone Taylor, playing in just his second big-league game, singled in a run to make it 8-3.
The Cubs just seemed utterly deflated after that. No Cub reached in the sixth, seventh or eighth.
Danny Hultzen, who was called up to the big leagues by the Cubs eight years and a couple of shoulder surgeries after he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft by the Mariners (seven picks ahead of Javier Baez!), made his big-league debut in the seventh. The first batter he faced was Yelich, who he grazed with a pitch. He allowed a single to Ben Gamel, then struck out the next three Milwaukee hitters. Congratulations to Hultzen on finally making it; perhaps he can be of some help as a lefty specialist down the stretch.
In the ninth, the Cubs decided to make things semi-interesting. Willson Contreras led off with a walk. Jason Heyward then made the score a bit closer [VIDEO].
The home run was J-Hey’s 19th, and broke him out of a very long, deep slump:
Jason Heyward entered today with a .094/.238/.113 slash line and no home runs in his past 15 games (5-for-53). He belts a 2-run homer in the 9th off Jimmy Nelson.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 8, 2019
Brewers 8, Cubs 5.
After Ian Happ struck out, Victor Caratini singled and that put the game in a save situation, so Craig Counsell summoned Josh Hader, who struck out Robel Garcia and Zobrist to end things.
So, again, the answer to the question “What could possibly go wrong?” is: “Everything.” And that’s the reason I said this feels like September 1969.
Of course, this team isn’t that team, and the entire situation is different, and there are still 20 games remaining in the season, 10 at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs have been dominant. Despite falling 4½ games behind the Cardinals — the farthest they’ve been behind since April 8 — those seven games remaining against St. Louis give the chance, at least, that this team could still turn things around and finish in first place.
But it will likely not be very much fun on the long team flight to San Diego this evening.
Do not blame Joe Maddon for this. That’s far too easy. This is a flawed team that has been hit hard by injuries. I would argue that without Maddon, this team wouldn’t even be sniffing a postseason spot right now.
The Cubs will open that important four-game series in San Diego Monday evening. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs (this time for sure, after being shifted from today’s game, that didn’t work out so well) and Cal Quantrill will go for the Padres. Game time is 9:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage Monday will be on WGN.