That’s not the way any team wants to clinch such a thing, and Tuesday night is especially not the way any team wants to lose a game, which the Cubs did 3-2 on a walkoff homer by Jacob Stallings off Andrew Chafin, an example of how the three-batter rule can come back to hurt a team.
But that was the end of the game, let’s look back from the beginning, and there was something quite positive that came out of this defeat.
Like the Cardinals last week, the Cubs could do almost nothing off Pirates lefthander Steven Brault. Brault held the Cubs hitless until the fourth inning, when Cameron Maybin beat out an infield ground ball that could have been ruled an error. The only other hit the Cubs had off Brault in seven innings was a sixth-inning single by Anthony Rizzo.
Meanwhile, the Pirates scored a run in the second inning off Jose Quintana, who was making his first start of 2020 after injuries and two relief outings. The Cubs clearly were taking things cautiously with Q, because he was removed after two innings and just 34 pitches.
That’s where the bright light of this game came in. Adbert Alzolay, who likely could have made this start, relieved Quintana and showed off some breaking stuff we haven’t seen from him previously. Alzolay threw four innings and the Pirates added a run off him to make it 2-0 in the fifth, but he struck out seven, using incredible offspeed pitches like this:
Adbert Alzolay, Ridiculous 84mph Curveball.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 23, 2020
And sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/w4utBGSzcV
And this slider. Alzolay fired up after this K in the 6th... pic.twitter.com/zz7xTlIIn3— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 23, 2020
If that’s the kind of stuff Alzolay has finally perfected, he’s a very strong candidate for a rotation spot in 2021. Here’s the last of Alzolay’s seven strikeouts [VIDEO].
Like Len Kasper said: Nasty stuff!
Brault was finally removed from the game in the eighth and the Cubs broke through. With two out, Willson Contreras singled and that brought up Rizzo [VIDEO].
The home run didn’t go that far, but far enough, and check out the launch angle:
That was Rizzo’s 10th home run of 2020 — but his first with a runner on base. He also hadn’t hit a home run at all since September 6 and had hit .185/.200/.204 (10-for-54) with one double since that last long ball. Rizzo is a notorious streak hitter and often goes on tremendous hot streaks for a week or two. There would be no better time than right now for him to do just that.
Ryan Tepera retired the first two Pirates in the bottom of the eighth but walked Ke’Bryan Hayes. Colin Moran was sent up to pinch hit and David Ross responded with lefthander Andrew Chafin, who retired Moran on a force play.
The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the ninth and that’s where the three-batter rule hurt them. Had the Cubs taken the lead, Craig Kimbrel would have entered to close things out. But Ross opted to stay with Chafin to face switch-hitter Josh Bell. Bell’s generally worse vs. LHP and Chafin struck him out. But that meant Chafin, whose career splits are fairly even vs. LHB and RHB (and also this year in a small sample size), had to face Stallings.
And that’s where the game ended, and that’s where we came in.
Not-so-fun fact: Jose Martinez went 0-for-3. In so doing he set a Cubs franchise record for most at-bats (and plate appearances) in a career by a position player without a hit. He’s 0-for-20 (21 plate appearances). The previous record had stood for more than a century. It had been held by George Moriarty, who went 0-for-18 (18 PA) for the Cubs in 1903-04. Of course, if Martinez gets a hit as a Cub that dubious record reverts to Moriarty, but I’m not expecting that to happen. Martinez has looked totally lost at the plate since he came to the Cubs and overall this year is now hitting .184/.268/.310 (16-for-87). Seriously, if there’s someone else out there on the waiver wire, Theo should go get him and release Martinez.
So the Cubs are in the October tournament. I can’t get too excited, yet, not with 16 teams in this year’s expanded playoffs; obviously, winning the division would be better. The Cardinals won Tuesday and the Brewers defeated the Reds. Thus the Cubs lead St. Louis by 3½ games and Milwaukee and Cincinnati both by 4½. The magic number to clinch the division title remains at 4 entering Wednesday’s action.
The other related news is that the Braves won Tuesday and took over the second seed from the Cubs, who trail Atlanta’s 33-22 record by one game. Worse, the Braves now own the tiebreaker, the better intradivisional record, as they are 23-15 within the NL East, while the Cubs are 22-16 within the NL Central.
The Cubs move on and try to recapture the No. 2 seed as well as move closer to a division title Wednesday evening against the Pirates. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Trevor Williams will go for Pittsburgh. Game time is again 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network, and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories.