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Rays 8, Cubs 2: The importance of defense

Defensive miscues weren’t the only reason the Cubs lost this game, but they did make a difference.

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

I noted this in the recap to Tuesday’s loss to the Rays:

Watching the Rays for two days, what I have seen is one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the game. They are defensively air-tight and do not beat themselves.

Many don’t realize how important this sort of thing is to winning baseball. The Cubs lost 8-2 to the Rays in the rain-shortened series finale Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field, and it wasn’t all because of defensive miscues, but they did play a role.

Here, let me explain.

Marcus Stroman walked the first hitter he faced, who then advanced to second on an infield out.

This is what happened next [VIDEO].

Now, that’s not an easy play at third base. But I think Patrick Wisdom, who is a plus defender there, would have made that play, or at least knocked the ball down and kept it in the infield. Jonathan Villar didn’t and it’s 1-0 Rays.

Then this happened [VIDEO].

Whether Wisdom could have tagged Randy Arozarena out, I do not know. But I’m pretty sure Wisdom prevents that ball from going into left field and allowing Arozarena to score.

So that’s two defensive miscues and two runs. Maybe that entire inning, where the Rays scored two more runs on a two-run homer, turns out differently with better defense. Obviously we’ll never know, but it does show the value of having good defenders.

The Rays put another run on the board in the second off Stroman to make it 5-0. The Cubs did come back with a rally in the third. Villar singled with one out and advanced to third on a single by Ian Happ.

Frank Schwindel put the Cubs on the board [VIDEO].

For Schwindel that extended his hitting streak to nine games in which he’s batting .278/.297/.528 (10-for-36) with three doubles and two home runs.

Nick Madrigal batted next [VIDEO].

Madrigal’s RBI groundout made it 5-2 and gave some brief hope the Cubs could get back in the game. A light rain that had started to fall early in the game got a bit harder at this point and I decided to bail from the bleachers and go sit under cover in the terrace reserved seating, where there were plenty of empty seats (probably only about 7,000 of the 26,167 announced were actually in the house).

Not every defensive play in this game was bad. Stroman helped himself out with this slick grab in the fourth [VIDEO].

But then, with Arozarena leading off the fifth, Villar committed his third miscue of the game, a throwing error that allowed the Rays outfielder to reach second base (that was the only actual error charged to Villar; two others were charged to catcher Yan Gomes). One out later, two straight extra-base hits scored a pair of runs and Stroman was replaced by Daniel Norris, who served up another XBH that made it 8-2. Again, maybe that inning turns out differently with better defense.

At this point the rain was falling pretty hard and it seemed fairly clear that once the game got past the fifth inning, if the tarp had to be pulled, the game would not be resumed. In the last of the fifth, Seiya Suzuki led off with a walk. That brought his on-base streak to 12 games, which is a franchise record for the start of a Cubs career. The Cubs, though, did not score, and Suzuki was replaced by Michael Hermosillo to start the bottom of the sixth, a smart move. No need to risk the health of your star player, your big investment, in weather conditions like that.

After Norris threw a 1-2-3 sixth, the tarp was indeed pulled and I decided to head home. This turned out to be the right decision, because after a delay of a bit more than an hour the game was called. It was the shortest game at Wrigley Field in almost 13 years:

The Cubs made the right call moving the game time up by more than an hour. With the Rays only coming through Chicago once and only one real possible makeup date (late September), the game really had to be played as scheduled.

I blame the Rays for the lousy weather. They spent six days in Chicago, splitting six games with the White Sox and Cubs, and the game-time conditions each day were as follows:

April 15: 47 degrees, cloudy
April 16: 44 degrees, sunny
April 17: 41 degrees, cloudy
April 18: 40 degrees, cloudy
April 19: 42 degrees, cloudy
April 20: 51 degrees, overcast, rain

Today’s forecast:

Cloudy through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 68. West wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

Draw your own conclusions. (Also, that 51 degree temp at game time Wednesday? I beg to differ. It felt just as cold as the previous two days.)

Anyway, the Cubs played pretty well for two days against a very good team, not so well the third, and I think that’s about what we can expect from this Cubs team. They’re going to look really good at times, not so much at others, and that’s a sign of a .500 team — which is what I said they’d be before this season started.

They sit at exactly .500 going into a four-game weekend series against the Pirates, which begins tonight. The Pirates aren’t very good so the Cubs have a chance to put together some wins. In Thursday’s series opener it will be Mark Leiter Jr. for the Cubs against Bryse Wilson for the Pirates. Game time is 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).