Yu Darvish pitched his heart out, really he did, because he likely knew in the back of his mind that he’d probably have to throw a shutout for the Cubs to even have a chance to win Game 2 of the Wild Card series against the Marlins.
It didn’t happen, and the Cubs bats again disappeared in a disappointing 2-0 loss that ends their season.
This is all you really need to know about this two-games-and-out set: Ian Happ went 4-for-8 with a home run. That was the only run the Cubs scored. The rest of the team went 5-for-54 with two doubles and 15 strikeouts.
It’s a shocking ending, really, for this team that had so many good young hitters just four years ago. They just haven’t sustained the level of performance that we hoped for and expected of them.
There are two plays in this game that I want to call your attention to.
The first happened in the bottom of the fourth inning. Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber walked. One out later, Jason Heyward broke his bat on a single to right [VIDEO].
To some extent, I understand Contreras’ aggressiveness, trying to make something happen for a team that has struggled to score runs all year.
On the other hand, look where right fielder Matt Joyce is when he makes that throw — that can’t be more than about 200 feet from the plate. Joyce is a pretty good outfielder and Contreras — well, sorry, but Willson simply isn’t as fast as he thinks he is. He did make a nice slide, but was tagged out.
If he holds at third, the bases are loaded with one out. Yes, I know the Cubs have had their troubles with the bases loaded this year, but to me that’s a much better situation in the fourth inning of a scoreless game where you’re on the second time through the lineup and it appears that maybe the hitters have begun to figure Sixto Sanchez out.
The other thing an out does at that point is deflate your team and give the other team enthusiasm. Maybe you don’t think that matters. I do.
The next play we’re going to look at happened in the top of the fifth inning. Miguel Rojas hit a ball that bounced right off the left-field bullpen door to Kyle Schwarber and if you have ever complained about Kyle’s defense, look at this arm! [VIDEO]
Rojas was called safe on the field, but it was overturned on review. Enthusiasm level back to the Cubs!
They took that enthusiasm, for whatever it’s worth, to load the bases with two out in the fifth on singles by Victor Caratini and Happ and Contreras being hit by a pitch. But Schwarber flied to left and you could see his frustration as he slammed his bat to the ground.
The game went scoreless into the seventh, and Darvish retired the first two hitters easily and I thought maybe, just maybe, he could get the team into the eighth. Garrett Cooper ruined that with a home run, and you could just feel the deflation coming from empty Wrigley Field. Joyce doubled, and the Cubs chose to give Rojas a Manfred and pitch to Magneuris Sierra.
That backfired when Sierra singled, scoring Joyce to make it 2-0. The way the Cubs were hitting, a 1-0 lead appeared insurmountable. Craig Kimbrel finished off the inning by striking out Chad Wallach. The Cubs failed in the last of the seventh and Kimbrel threw a scoreless eighth, though he issued a pair of walks before inducing a double-play ball.
Eight Cubs in a row had been retired after the HBP to Contreras in the fifth when Willson was hit for the second time with one out in the eighth. But Schwarber and Kris Bryant were retired on routine fly balls to end that inning.
Jeremy Jeffress went through the Marlins 1-2-3 in the ninth. One last chance.
Heyward gave us all brief hope with a leadoff double in the ninth. But our old buddy Brandon Kintzler struck out Javier Baez (and Javy looked really bad doing it, much as he has all season). David Bote also K’d — and yes, David, that was a strike, Kintzler painted the corners really well:
Jason Kipnis, who nearly won the World Series for the Indians in 2016 with a ball that off the bat appeared like it could leave the yard but instead was a loud foul, was the Cubs’ last hope for 2020. Kintzler struck him out, too, and the game was over.
In the end, this team just wasn’t good enough. Despite the bats awakening for three days on the South Side last weekend, the offense just did not produce almost all year. The Cubs’ 34-26 record was accomplished almost exclusively with excellent pitching, particularly from Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs scored three or fewer runs in 24 of their 60 regular-season games, and it’s a credit to the pitching staff that they actually won eight of those 24 games.
There will be many changes, I suspect, before we see the Cubs at Wrigley Field next, which will be Thursday, April 1, 2021 against the Pirates. This isn’t the time for me to opine on what those changes might be; I want to gather my thoughts and will have something here tomorrow. In the meantime, we did have some exciting moments in 2020, again largely provided by Darvish and Hendricks, as well as the no-hitter thrown by Alec Mills. The Chicago Cubs are still a very good team. They will need help to get back to being a postseason winner. This quote sums up 2020 for all of us, I think:
“Mentally, physically, emotionally, 2020’s no joke.” - David Ross— Jared Wyllys (@jwyllys) October 2, 2020
And as I do every year, I will end the final Cubs recap of 2020 with the words of former Commissioner Bart Giamatti. The words fit, even though the game didn’t begin in the spring this year, and I’ve added part of the final sentence of the first paragraph, as it fits today’s date.
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2... it stopped, and summer was gone.