It was inevitable, but it came faster than one might have thought.
The Cubs needed to strike out 17 times Wednesday evening to set a new franchise record for batter strikeouts.
And they came quickly in the early innings, seven in a row at one point, 11 in all by Twins starter Joe Ryan.
They entered the ninth inning needing just one for the record, and when Patrick Wisdom was called out on strikes on yet another very close pitch, that was it:
Right on the corner, you’ve seen pitches like that called balls before, but strike three to Wisdom, his reaction pictured at the top of this recap, was the record-breaker. (FWIW, an automated strike zone probably also calls that a strike.) It was Wisdom’s fourth K of the game, the seventh time this year he’s struck out four times in a game.
The Cubs put together a ninth-inning rally regardless, but it fell just short when Trayce Thompson struck out, No. 18 on the night, with the tying and winning runs in scoring position for a 5-4 loss to the Twins.
More on the strikeouts in a moment, but first, there’s a lot to unpack from this game, so let’s rewind to the beginning.
Kyle Hendricks was once again a victim of a first-inning home run, this one by Max Kepler with a runner on base. I hadn’t thought anyone could hit a homer Wednesday evening with the wind blowing in at 18 miles per hour, but look at the launch angle on that one:
#MNTwins 2 @ #Cubs 0 [T1-2o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) September 22, 2021
Max Kepler homers (18): line drive to CF (2-run)
Hit: 411ft, 107.8mph, 21°
Pitch: 86.4mph Sinker (RHP Kyle Hendricks, 30)
21 degrees — they don’t go out of the ballpark at angles much lower than that.
One of the outs recorded by Hendricks in the first inning was a nice line-drive snag by Frank Schwindel. Not only was the play good, so was his reaction after [VIDEO].
Can’t help but like a guy who enjoys playing baseball that much.
Three Cubs struck out in the bottom of the first, but they tied the game in the second. Ian Happ walked and was doubled to third by Matt Duffy. One out later, Nico Hoerner brought them both in [VIDEO].
You hear JD say “Hit it on a line!” and Nico does exactly that, and it’s 2-2. Unfortunately, Thompson hit into a double play after that, and from there through the fifth the Cubs had just one baserunner and struck out eight times, including the aforementioned seven in a row.
Kepler managed to mash another ball out of the park in the fourth to give the Twins a 3-2 lead and when he came up in the sixth with two out and no one on base I had thought: “They should just walk him.” Turned out that would have been a good thing to do, because he doubled — missing a third homer by just a few feet — and scored on an error by Duffy to make it 4-2.
Seriously, Duffy is not a second baseman. Before this year he had played 18 MLB games there, all in 2015 and 2016. David Bote should probably be starting at second base. Bad defense like that, and defense in general that’s not as solid as it once was for the Cubs, is one of the reasons Hendricks has had such a poor season. And if you don’t believe me, check out the charts on Hendricks in this article in The Athletic.
Anyway, it’s now 4-2 and the Cubs still couldn’t hit three Twins relievers, with just one hit from innings six through eight, a leadoff single by Rafael Ortega in the sixth. He advanced to second but no further. It was in this span that we got the Duffy (Matt) vs. Duffey (Tyler) that JD said we got “cheated” out of Tuesday. The Twins’ Duffey won that battle by striking out the Cubs’ Duffy.
In the seventh, the Cubs lost Robinson Chirinos to injury during this at-bat [VIDEO].
Here’s what appeared to have happened:
Looks like Robinson Chirinos was reaching for his left oblique after that swing. He's coming out. Nick Martini will finish the at-bat. #Cubs— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) September 23, 2021
That’s a tough break. Oblique injuries can take a while to heal so that might end Chirinos’ season. If indeed that’s the case, Chirinos performed well for the Cubs, hitting .227/.324/.454 (22-for-97) with five home runs. If he’s healthy I wouldn’t mind him coming back in 2022 to back up Willson Contreras.
Chirinos left with a 3-1 count. Nick Martini took over the at-bat. You will not be surprised to learn that he ended it by striking out.
Cubs relievers did a good job in this game until the ninth. Adam Morgan ended the Twins’ sixth-inning rally by striking out Nick Gordon, and Adbert Alzolay struck out three in the seventh, completing a scoreless inning despite allowing two hits. Rowan Wick threw a 1-2-3 eighth.
Unfortunately, Codi Heuer had a bad outing, allowing a couple of doubles and a run in the top of the ninth, which turned out to be important when the Cubs rallied in the bottom of the inning.
Schwindel doubled to lead off the inning, his second hit of the game. He now has an 11-game hitting streak, the second-longest by any Cub this year (Kris Bryant’s 13-game streak from May 17-31 is the longest).
After Wisdom’s record-breaking strikeout, Happ made it a 5-3 game [VIDEO].
Duffy followed that with a walk, putting the tying run on base. Both runners moved up on stolen bases while Contreras was at the plate, batting for Austin Romine. Then this happened [VIDEO].
Josh Donaldson’s throw was high, but first base umpire Mark Carlson ruled that Miguel Sano tagged Contreras. The Cubs immediately called for a replay, and to me it’s hard to tell, but it was ruled “call confirmed” [VIDEO].
If Contreras had been safe, there would have been one out, runners on first and second, with the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base.
Instead, there’s a runner on second and two out. Hoerner followed with an infield hit, with Duffy taking third. Hoerner moved up to second without a throw, credited with a stolen base.
Trayce Thompson had a chance to be a hero; a base hit likely wins the game. But he struck out, the Cubs’ 18th of the night, to end it [VIDEO].
And now, more on the strikeouts. The Cubs setting a franchise record for K’s, the total now 1,520, is truly a function of modern baseball and its three true outcomes. Nine of the 10 highest K totals for a season in Cubs franchise history were compiled in the last 12 seasons:
The team total of 1,520 currently ranks tied for 14th (with the 2018 Phillies) in MLB history. The record is 1,595, set by the 2019 Tigers. At the Cubs’ current pace of striking out, they will break that record Friday, October 1 in St. Louis.
No, it’s not a fun record to have, but here we are.
If you are keeping track of such things, the two-game series loss put the Cubs in a tie with the Twins at 67-85. That currently puts them in the No. 7 draft spot for 2022, per Tankathon.com. The Cubs could pick as high as fifth in 2022, per those reverse standings; they “trail” the Marlins by three games and the Nationals by four, with 10 games remaining for all three teams.
Also, the loss wrapped up interleague play for the Cubs for 2021 with a 6-14 record. It’s the fewest wins the Cubs have had against AL teams since 2012, when they went 5-10 in interleague action.
The Cubs have Thursday off and then the Cardinals come to town for a four-game series. St. Louis has won 11 in a row and they currently hold the second wild-card spot. It would be nice for the Cubs to play spoiler for the Cardinals’ playoff chances.
A split doubleheader will open the four-game series Friday. Game 1 will be at 1:20 p.m. CT and the currently listed starters are Justin Steele (Cubs) and J.A. Happ (Cardinals). Game 2, the makeup for a rainout July 11, will be at 7:05 p.m. CT and the listed starters are Zach Davies (Cubs) and Jack Flaherty (Cardinals). TV coverage will be on Marquee Sports Network for both games, and Game 1 will also be on ESPN outside the Cubs and Cardinals market territories.