The Cubs defeated the Reds 8-7 in Cincinnati Monday evening in a game delayed one hour, 47 minutes by rain.
That’s the nuts and bolts of a game that likely made you pretty unhappy. I can’t remember the last time I felt this bad about a game the Cubs actually won.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and most of it is under the label of “bullpen meltdown.” So let’s start at the end of this game, and in particular, the outing of Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel hadn’t pitched in a week, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. He was just bad. He threw 34 pitches, only 13 for strikes. He had no command of any of his pitches and they went all over the place. For example, here’s the sequence of pitches Kimbrel made to the first batter he faced, Nick Castellanos:
Yikes. I could post similar graphics for just about every batter Kimbrel faced. After that walk, Kimbrel wild-pitched Castellanos to second, got one out on a ground ball, issued two more walks, forced in a run when he hit Freddy Galvis and another run when he walked Tyler Stephenson — a player making his major-league debut.
Honestly, I thought David Ross waited a batter or two too long before removing Kimbrel, who clearly had no command nor control. Kimbrel’s velocity was fine — several of his fastballs touched 97. He just had no idea where they were going. Not so fun fact:
Craig Kimbrel is the 1st pitcher to issue 4+ walks & a hit by pitch while recording 1 out or fewer since Ryan Dempster on April 28, 2011, also for the Cubs.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 28, 2020
Jeremy Jeffress had to be summoned to clean up the mess, and Jeffress struck out Phillip Ervin with the bases loaded and then had to face Joey Votto. He ran a full count to Votto before getting him to hit a sharp line drive right at Albert Almora Jr. to end it. Here are both the outs Jeffress recorded [VIDEO].
So yay, the Cubs won, but they’ve got to fix Kimbrel, and do it quickly. There were other bullpen issues, which I’ll get to, but they can be summed up here: The bullpen issued EIGHT walks and hit two batters — in FOUR innings of work. That simply can’t continue.
The game sure didn’t start out like this. The Cubs pounded Wade Miley for four runs in the first inning, all of them scoring after two out, all of them on well-struck line drives by Willson Contreras, Steven Souza Jr. and David Bote.
Two more crossed the plate in the second inning, on an RBI double by Javier Baez and a passed ball. 6-0 after two innings! This is where I say, “What could possibly go wrong?”, but you already know the answer.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester was having an excellent outing. The only baserunners he allowed were on a two-out walk in the first inning, on a hit batter (there were eight HBP in all in this game, five Cubs and three Reds ploinked) and on a pair of errors, one his own fielding miscue, the other by Bote. Fun fact before I raise a question:
Last #Cubs pitcher to leave the game after pitching 5+ no-hit innings?— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 28, 2020
Mark Prior 7/26/2006 (5.2 IP)
Now, the question: What if those errors aren’t made? By my count, Lester had to make nine extra pitches to record outs due to the fielding mistakes. Lester threw 76 pitches in his five innings. If he’s through five innings with nine fewer — 67 — does Ross let him throw the sixth? I’d say probably yes, and instead of the seven relievers the Cubs had to use, maybe they could have kept things under better control. Really, of the seven, only Rowan Wick threw well. Wick and Ryan Tepera were the only relievers who didn’t walk any Reds hitters, though Tepera allowed two hits and a run, even while striking out the side.
The Cubs had extended their lead to 7-0 in the top of the sixth thanks to Anthony Rizzo [VIDEO].
Games for Anthony Rizzo to reach three home runs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 28, 2020
Rizzo usually has slow starts to his seasons. But that seems likely because it’s generally cold when the season begins, and now it’s not. In Rizzo’s career he’s hit .241/.371/.465 in April, his second-lowest monthly OPS and lowest BA.
Anyway, it’s 7-0 going to the bottom of the sixth! What could possibly... well, you know.
It’s a good thing this RBI double [VIDEO] by Bote happened in the seventh, because the Cubs needed every one of their eight runs.
That was off former Cub Brooks Raley. Yes, Brooks Raley, who before this month had not pitched in the major leagues since September 27, 2013, and I urge you to click on that boxscore link because you’ll be amused by some of the names you find. Raley had pitched the last five years for the Lotte Giants of KBO in Korea before the Reds signed him this past January. We’re going to see a lot of random guys like that pitching in this shortened season, I think.
We might wind up seeing some of them pitch for the Cubs, in fact. Here are the Cubs’ starter/reliever pitching splits through four games:
Starters: 24 innings, 1.50 ERA, 0.625 WHIP, three walks, 23 strikeouts
Relievers: 12 innings, 9.00 ERA, 2.000 WHIP, 13 (!) walks, 12 strikeouts
Acknowledged, that’s a very small sample size. Still, there are issues that need to be fixed, and right now, and Kimbrel’s one of the biggest of said issues. Believe it or not, Kimbrel gets credited with a “hold” for that awful performance, because he entered the game with the lead, departed with the lead intact and the lead was held.
Here’s one more thing for the complaint department: Why was Souza still in the game in the bottom of the eighth? I ask because of this [VIDEO].
Pretty sure Jason Heyward would have caught that ball, and saved two runs. Yes, Souza was scheduled to lead off the ninth, but why couldn’t Heyward have taken that at-bat? Ross made some other switches for defensive purposes, even taking Kris Bryant out of the game. In a game where your bullpen is giving up runs at an alarming pace, you should have your best defensive alignment in the game, yes, even in the eighth inning. If that ball is caught, it’s 8-3 going to the ninth and Kimbrel either isn’t in the game at all, or has a much bigger lead when he enters.
All right, NOW the complaint department door is closed. I trust the complaints lodged will be addressed, and soon.
A couple of comments about Marquee’s broadcast Monday. It felt more like a “normal” Cubs TV broadcast. No special guests, no features interrupting play, just Len and JD and Taylor McGregor. That’s the sort of broadcast I’d like to see every day. Just please get Len and JD out of their shirts and ties, and no, I’m not going to let it go. #FreeLenandJD
Alec Mills will start for the Cubs in the second game of the series Tuesday evening. Tyler Mahle will go for the Reds. Game time is 5:40 p.m. CT and today, the game should start on time with pleasant weather forecast for the Cincinnati area. TV is once again on Marquee.