Normally I don’t get much into second-guessing managers, but I do have a bone to pick with David Ross after the Cubs’ 1-0 loss to the Brewers Friday evening in Milwaukee.
Why was Rowan Wick still in the game to begin the ninth inning?
Wick had thrown an effective eighth inning, but he’d thrown 16 pitches in that inning, and Jeremy Jeffress was up and throwing in the Cubs bullpen before the bottom of the ninth.
The Brewers used their top reliever (closer Josh Hader) in the ninth. Why didn’t Ross?
Was he locked into the idea that you only use your closer in the ninth on the road if you’re ahead? I think he should have used Jeffress, since Jeffress has been the Cubs’ most effective reliever and three tough hitters are coming up in the ninth, as well as the fact that Wick had already thrown an inning’s worth of pitches and that’s pretty much what he’s suited to.
Wick walked Christian Yelich and gave up a single to Jedd Gyorko. Then, finally, Jeffress is in the game, but now you’ve got him in a situation where the winning run is at third base with nobody out. Ross brought Javier Baez into the game to have a five-man infield with only infielders (though Baez was technically the “left fielder” since he replaced Kyle Schwarber). That’s creative thinking, but instead of a ground ball Jeffress got Ryan Braun to hit a fly to right and the game was over.
All of this ruined an outstanding outing from Jon Lester, vintage Lester. Jon struggled a bit in the first inning, allowing a leadoff hit. Later in the inning, Gyorko reached on an error, but Lester got out of the inning, even though he threw 24 pitches.
But the rest of Jon’s outing was excellent. He threw 73 pitches from the second through the sixth, allowing two more hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts — all swinging.
We don’t know what was said in the Cubs dugout after the sixth; perhaps Lester told Ross he was done. I thought he might have been able to go one more inning, which would have changed the relief selections.
Speaking of relief selections, Craig Kimbrel was put in a reasonably high-leverage situation, throwing the seventh inning in a scoreless game. This was one of his best outings of the year, as he had a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts, his 10th consecutive appearance with at least two K’s. He threw strikes (nine in 14 pitches) and hit 97-98 miles per hour again. He’s beginning to look like vintage Kimbrel again, which would be a big deal for the Cubs pen in the postseason.
One thing I’d like to note about this game is the horrendous ball-and-strike calls by umpire Manny Gonzalez. Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff struck out 12, six of them called, and I call your attention to this chart of called strikes:
A look at the called strike calls for both pitchers tonight. pic.twitter.com/YX5cMtFNMk— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 12, 2020
(Note, the orange dot near the bat for Woodruff isn’t a called strike, it’s the indicator, just without the words “CALLED STRIKE.” See Lester’s chart.)
That’s a lot of called strikes for Woodruff that weren’t in the strike zone. Like pitch 4 to David Bote in the fifth inning:
Or pitch 5 to Jason Heyward, who batted right after Bote:
Or pitch 5 to Kris Bryant in the sixth:
There’s more like that, but you get the idea. With a strike zone that large, it’s no wonder there were only six total hits (four by the Brewers, two by the Cubs) and 27 strikeouts (16 by Cubs hitters, 11 by Brewers hitters) in this game. Just three Cubs runners got past first base. On the other hand, only four Brewers runners got past first base until the ninth inning.
The Cardinals also lost Friday, so the Cubs’ lead stays at three games, now with 14 remaining. The Brewers moved to within four games of the NL Central lead with their win, and the Cubs’ magic numbers are:
The Cubs will look to even up this series Saturday evening at Miller Park. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Brett Anderson will go for Milwaukee. Game time is an hour earlier, 6:10 p.m. CT, and TV coverage is on Marquee Sports Network.