When Mookie Betts hit Mark Leiter Jr.’s second pitch of the game out of the yard at Dodger Stadium Thursday evening, I said, “Welp, game’s over,” because I didn’t expect the Cubs to score off Tony Gonsolin.
But they did score a couple runs off Gonsolin, and had the tying run on base in the ninth inning, before losing the series opener to L.A. 5-3.
So, yay for yet another moral victory? Too bad those don’t count in the standings.
Leiter gave up another home run to Gavin Lux in the second inning, this one with a man on base, to make it 3-0. Well, now I’m thinking this is really it, but... three runs wouldn’t have won this game. Justin Turner smacked another homer off Leiter in the fourth to put the Dodgers ahead 4-0.
Even with all that, I didn’t think Leiter pitched that badly. The home run balls were three of just five hits he allowed. He didn’t walk anyone. Obviously you can’t make as many mistakes as that against a team as good as the Dodgers and expect to win, but as an emergency spot start because so many Cubs starters are still on the IL? We’ve seen worse.
Granted, when we’re in the “We’ve seen worse” phase of Cubs baseball, things aren’t great.
But the Cubs actually got back in this game. In the fifth inning, Alfonso Rivas singled with one out. One out later, Christopher Morel made the score 4-2 [VIDEO].
The homer was Morel’s ninth of the year. Only Willson Contreras and Patrick Wisdom have more among Cubs, and both have over 100 more plate appearances than Morel. Also notable regarding Morel’s HR rate:
With his home run tonight, Christopher Morel has hit 9 homers in 210 plate appearances.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 8, 2022
Morel's 24.3% HR/FB rate ranks 7th in Major League Baseball (min. 200 PAs), notably ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Shohei Ohtani and Pete Alonso. #Cubs
The players with a higher HR/FB than Morel: Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Kyle Schwarber, Byron Buxton and Jack Suwinski.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 8, 2022
The Cubs got some good bullpen work from Scott Effross and Brandon Hughes, who combined to retire six of the seven batters they faced, allowing no runs. But Betts hit his second home run of the night off Michael Rucker in the eighth, and that was important, because the Cubs mounted a comeback off old friend Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.
Kimbrel retired the first two Cubs by strikeout, then Ian Happ singled and advanced to second on defensive indifference.
Betts made a tremendous effort, but the ball fell for an RBI double, and it was 5-3. Kimbrel then wild-pitched Suzuki to third, and Patrick Wisdom had a terrific at-bat, working a walk after seeing nine pitches.
(Also, Suzuki since returning: 5-for-13 with a double, two home runs, one walk and no strikeouts.)
So, now the tying runs are on base and Kimbrel was lifted after throwing 31 pitches. Lefthander Alex Vesia entered the game, with Rivas as the scheduled hitter. So a righthanded pinch-hitter was called for — but not Contreras, who was said to be available before the game. Apparently that wasn’t the case, since Nelson Velázquez was sent up to bat for Rivas.
Here is a good test for the Cubs rookie, then. Velázquez did work the count full off Vesia, but then looked at a pitch right down the middle for strike three [VIDEO].
Gotta swing at that one (pitch 6), Nelson!
One-sentence summary, then: The Cubs played reasonably well... just not well enough to defeat a very good team using its best pitcher.
So, again: Yay for a moral victory? (Answer: No, not really, I prefer actual victories.)
Keegan Thompson will take the mound Friday evening for the Cubs at Dodger Stadium. He’ll be opposed by Dodger lefthander Tyler Anderson. This is a much more even pitching matchup. Also, we learned during the TV broadcast Thursday that Justin Steele is in Chicago awaiting the birth of his first child (congratulations!) and so might go on the paternity list soon, which is why he’s not listed to take what would be his normal turn in the rotation Saturday. I assume we’ll hear about either Marcus Stroman or Drew Smyly available to make that start sometime later today.
Game time Friday is again 9:10 p.m. CT (and thank you Cubs and Dodgers for playing Thursday’s game in a reasonable 2:55, ending the game just a few minutes after midnight in the Midwest). TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Dodgers market territories).