Seven times this year, the Cubs have gone into the final game of a three-game series with a chance to win the series.
They’ve succeeded just once, in the season-opening series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Sunday was another failure to meatloaf a three-game set. The Cubs had one lead at the end of a half-inning, 4-2, and tied the game twice more (6-6 and 12-12) before losing in extra innings, 13-12 to the Reds, despite hitting five home runs. (The Reds also sent five baseballs out of the yard.)
The game was entertaining, I’ll give you that.
Lots to unpack here, so let’s rewind to the beginning.
Ian Happ doubled to lead off the game and Kris Bryant doubled him in [VIDEO].
That lead didn’t last long. The first three Reds batters reached on Trevor Williams in the bottom of the first and two of them scored, giving Cincinnati a 2-1 lead.
In the second, Nico Hoerner and Tony Wolters singled and this groundout by Trevor Williams tied the game [VIDEO].
That’s where we got into some baserunning follies. Wolters alertly took off from third to home on an ordinary toss back to the pitcher after a pitch by Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart. Wolters appeared to beat the throw for a steal of home, but it was overturned on review [VIDEO].
Credit where it’s due here. Wolters did beat the throw, but his foot had not touched the plate before he was tagged. This wasn’t one of those situations where on review a runner’s foot was off the base for a fraction of a second. You can pretty clearly see the tag applied while Wolters’ foot is still in the air. This is exactly what review is designed for.
The chance taken by Wolters was a good one. He just didn’t quite execute it correctly.
The Cubs finally did get that third run on a solo homer by Bryant in the third [VIDEO].
This all would have been great if Williams could have settled down, but alas, that was not to be. Three Reds homers (Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Eugenio Suarez) came in a span of nine Williams pitches in the bottom of the third and the Reds had a 6-4 lead.
This cannot continue. The bullpen is going to be relentlessly overworked by June if starters keep getting pulled before the fifth inning.
Dillon Maples got out of that inning — more good work by Maples — and Keegan Thompson, making his MLB debut, threw a scoreless fourth, despite allowing two hits and a walk.
The Cubs then pulled to within one at 6-5 courtesy of Bryant’s second long ball of the afternoon [VIDEO].
In the sixth, Matt Duffy led off with a double and one out later, Nico doubled him in [VIDEO].
Nico then took off for third — what are you doing, man, you’re already in scoring position! — and was thrown out. That might have been the key moment of this game. The game’s tied, the Reds bullpen has been beleaguered — there’s no reason to do that. I know David Ross has preached aggressiveness on the basepaths, but that one... nope, that was a mistake.
So it’s 6-6 going to the bottom of the sixth and Alec Mills, who’s been pretty reliable, entered. Whoops, it’s not Millsy’s day. A couple of hit batters — one with the bases loaded — and a two-run single by Suarez gave the Reds a 9-6 lead.
The Cubs, though, they are not done, nope, no way. Happ singled with one out in the seventh and one out later, Javy destroyed a baseball [VIDEO].
Did I say destroyed? Yes, I did!
Now the Cubs are back to within one run. Justin Steele’s first four MLB outings were very good. The fifth, today? Not so much. He served up a pair of homers (Tucker Barnhart with a man on and a second by Castellanos with the bases empty) and it’s 12-8.
I mentioned the Reds bullpen had not been very good. The Cubs took advantage of that in the top of the eighth. With two out and two runners on base via walks, Jake Marisnick made it 12-9 [VIDEO].
Happ had been in a season-long slump. The three-run homer tied the game 12-12 and gave Happ a 3-for-5 afternoon with three runs scored and three RBI. His awful .469 OPS entering the game went up by nearly 100 points to .557. (Yes, that’s still bad, but it’s less bad.)
Unfortunately, Happ departed the game on this collision with Hoerner [VIDEO] in the bottom of the inning.
I’m still not sure what happened to Happ on that play, but it appeared he had a bloody nose and trouble standing up, as he had to be driven off the field on a cart. This is the latest on Happ:
After the game, Cubs manager David Ross said Ian Happ was "in good spirits." Expect more of an update on how Happ's doing ahead of Monday's game against the Dodgers.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 2, 2021
Depending on how he feels, Happ might have to go into concussion protocol. If that’s the case, the Cubs have an easy 7-day concussion IL move to make to activate Joc Pederson tomorrow. But as noted, that’s for tomorrow.
Both the Cubs and Reds were held scoreless in the ninth, so on they went to placed-runner extra innings and seriously, kill these with fire after this year. I get why they’re doing it in 2021, and yes both teams have equal chances with the placed runner, but...
The Cubs could not score in the top of the 10th and because they had run out of position players, were forced to send Jake Arrieta up to pinch hit. The inevitable, a strikeout, came. This would not happen with the universal DH, because the Cubs wouldn’t have had to burn three players (Eric Sogard, David Bote, Jake Marisnick) as pinch-hitters for pitchers earlier in the game.
Craig Kimbrel entered to throw the bottom of the 10th. The placed runner advanced to third on a pitch that appeared to cross up Willson Contreras. The Cubs went to a five-man infield, but Castellanos singled over it to win the game for the Reds.
Entertaining? Yes. Frustrating? Even louder yes. The Cubs need longer outings from starting pitchers, no question, and given the overwork of the bullpen this weekend, I’d possibly expect yet another bullpen move before Monday’s game.
The Cubs scored 30 runs in the last four games of the road trip — and managed to win only two of those games even while allowing only 26 runs. This cannot continue. I don’t know what the answers are, but they had better find some soon.
The Cubs open a three-game series against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field Monday evening. Game time is 6:40 p.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Walker Buehler will go for L.A. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network and the game will also be on MLB Network (outside the Cubs and Dodgers market territories).