The 2019 Cubs underperformed. This isn’t a subjective fan take, their Pythagorean projected win total was 90-72, instead they went 84-78. A 90-win Cubs team would have been in the wild card game ahead of the Brewers, and depending on where those wins came from might have beaten back the Cardinals for the division.
Anyway, that’s all wishful thinking at this point. The Cubs did not win 90 games. Their inability to come through in a couple of key situations pushed them to third place. One of the most glaring places the Cubs struggled were one-run games where they went 19-27 for a .413 win percentage. This is bad in both absolute and relative terms. For context, the Cubs ranked 26th in MLB with that win percentage. The only teams who were worse in one-run games than the 2019 Chicago Cubs were: Detroit, Kansas City, Miami and Baltimore.
So today, on the tenth day of Cubsmas I’m looking back at ten games that made a huge difference in the Cubs’ season: their 10 walk off losses.
March 31 vs. the Rangers
The walk off problems started early for the Cubs in 2019 and I imagine most of you will remember this wild game in Texas at the start of the season. The Cubs jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and appeared to have this game in hand but Texas came back to make it 5-4 in the fourth on a grand slam off of Cole Hamels. In the top of the sixth inning the Cubs went up again, 7-5, but couldn’t hold that lead either. By the bottom of the seventh the game was knotted at 8, when Asdrubel Cabrera made it 10-8 with a two run homer. The Cubs came back one more time to tie it at 10, but Pedro Strop threw a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs lost an early heartbreaker in Texas [VIDEO].
May 15 vs. the Reds
In retrospect this loss signaled a problem for the Cubs in 2019. It was their first series against the Reds and it became clear that winning against the NL Central was going to be a lot more difficult in 2019. The Cubs had early but slim leads in this one and looked to be in good shape when Kyle Schwarber mashed a two-run home run for a 5-3 lead in the eighth. However, that lead vanished early in the bottom of the eighth when Carl Edwards Jr. gave up a two-run home run to Eugenio Suarez. The game went to extras, but Brad Brach couldn’t hang on [VIDEO].
May 31 vs. the Cardinals
The Cardinals jumped out to a one-run lead in the first inning of this game against Yu Darvish but in the top of the second Darvish got that run right back when he hit a sacrifice fly to score Victor Caratini. That’s where the game stayed until the bottom of the tenth. Mike Montgomery gave up a one out double to Kolten Wong and Joe Maddon brought Dillon Maples into the game to try and get it to the eleventh. Unfortunately the version of Maples that struggles with finding the plate showed up this day. After walking Harrison Bader and Jedd Gyorko he gave up a single to Matt Carpenter and the game was over [VIDEO].
July 3 vs. the Pirates
This is the game that Willson Contreras started in right field and I would just like to use this as an opportunity to remind everyone that Willson Contreras is a more than adequate outfielder [VIDEO].
Unfortunately this game didn’t end well. The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but quickly surrendered that before tying it. The Cubs battled back and were up 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth when it all went wrong. Willson couldn’t quite run down a Jung Ho Kang double in right, which put runners on second and third. Addison Russell decided to go home with a ground ball when he really should have taken the out at first instead and then Corey Dickerson hit a sacrifice fly that should have been the third out but instead won the game for the Pirates [VIDEO].
July 23 vs. the Giants
Here’s a crazy stat from 2019. The best record in one-run games in MLB was not the Astros, it was not the Dodgers, nor was it the World Series Champion Nationals. The best record in one run games in baseball belonged to the San Francisco Giants who were 38-16 in one run affairs in 2019. On July 23 they took one from the Cubs.
In a slight change from earlier walkoff losses, the Cubs battled back in this one. They were behind most of the game after the third inning but kept chipping away, tying the game at four in the top of the eighth. The game stayed there until the bottom of the 13th when Pablo Sandoval hit a walk off home run against Brad Brach. The nicest thing I can say about this loss is that it didn’t have the same sucker punch quality some of the other ones did. The Cubs weren’t leading for most of the game and they did nothing after the top of the eighth that indicated they might take the lead [VIDEO].
July 27 vs. the Brewers
Remember how I said it’s hard to get upset about that Giants game? It is not hard to get upset about this Brewers game. The Cubs had a 2-0 lead in this game in the bottom of the eighth inning when Steve Cishek promptly gave up a lead off home run to Ben Gamel. That was followed by a Lorenzo Cain double and Maddon went to his bullpen. Derek Holland managed to get Christian Yelich to fly out, but then Tyler Chatwood came in to face Ryan Braun and Keston Hiura. Braun popped out for the second out of the inning but Hiura doubled tying the game. Nothing like burning through your whole bullpen when a game is tied late, so Maddon brought in Rowan Wick to finally end the damage.
Albert Almora gave the Cubs hope in the top of the tenth with a home run that was one of his best moments of 2019, but it didn’t matter. Craig Kimbrel couldn’t hold the Brewers in the bottom of the tenth. Yelich led off the inning with a home run, Tyler Saladino walked and then Hiura hit a two run homer to end one of the worst losses of 2019 [VIDEO]:
August 15 vs. the Phillies
The Cubs had a 5-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Corey Dickerson hit an RBI single off Rowan Wick to make it 5-1. In normal circumstances a 5-1 lead heading into the ninth inning would be more than sufficient to shut the door on the Phillies, but 2019 wasn’t all that normal. Wick stayed in the game in the bottom of the ninth. David Bote let César Hernández reach on an error, and then gave up back to back singles which made the game 5-2. Pedro Strop came in to finish this game but quickly surrendered another RBI single before hitting Rhys Hoskins with a pitch to load the bases for Bryce Harper. We all know what happened next [VIDEO].
August 16 vs. the Pirates
Remember that time the Cubs had back-to-back walkoff wins against the Marlins? These back to back walk off losses were the polar opposite of that experience. One day after one of the worst losses of 2019 the Cubs were facing the Pirates. Kyle Hendricks threw a seven-inning, one-run, three-hit gem but it didn’t look like he was going to be rewarded for it until the Cubs finally put two runs on the board when Tony Kemp hit a two run triple in the eighth. With Kimbrel on the IL and Wick and Strop unavailable, JoeMaddon tried to piece together a save out of Kyle Ryan and Brandon Kintzler. It did not work [VIDEO].
September 7 vs. the Brewers. (Again.)
Josh Hader entered this game in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded, one out and the game knotted at one. He got Nicholas Castellanos to strike out, but then Anthony Rizzo took a walk against the dominating reliever to put the Cubs ahead 2-1. Rewriting this now I can almost feel the joy we had in the game thread about the Cubs winning. Winning on the road. Winning against the Brewers. Winning against Josh Hader.
That joy lasted about seven minutes before David Phelps served up a home run to Yasmani Grandal to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth Maddon went to Kintzler to get the game to extra innings, however an error on Russell at shortstop allowed Tyler Austin to reach first. Kintzler got Trent Grisham to line out and Grandal to strike out, but his luck didn’t hold against Yelich who hit a double to score Austin [VIDEO].
September 10 vs. the Padres
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the second inning of this game on a Jason Heyward home run and then never led again. The Padres made it 4-2 on a rare Ben Zobrist error that cleared the bases and while they Cubs fought back multiple times in this one, including tying it at eight in the top of the eighth they were unable to pull ahead of the Dads. This game went to the tenth inning where Steve Cishek gave a clinic on what the new three batter minimum may look like in 2020. He surrendered a one out single to Luis Urías and then walked the next three batters to end this one like the Cubs season - not with a bang, but a whimper [VIDEO].
On the tenth day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: ten walk off losses, nine different starting pitchers, eight saves from non-closers, seven epic bat flips, six walk off wins, five games out of the playoffs, four Alec Mills starts, three Nico homers, two fWAR from Castellanos and a David Ross for manager.