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Reds 4, Cubs 3: Walkathon

Can’t anyone in this bullpen throw strikes?

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon at Wrigley Field Thursday, with temps in the low 80s, unlimited sunshine, a light lake breeze, the kind of day you’d like to bottle up and let it out in January when Chicago really needs it.

And for six innings, the Cubs baseball matched the weather, an excellent outing from Adrian Sampson and just enough runs to go into the seventh with a lead.

Sampson faced 21 batters, threw 75 pitches (55 strikes) and didn’t walk anyone.

The Cubs bullpen... uh, they weren’t good. Five Cubs relievers faced 19 batters, threw 87 pitches (only 44 strikes) and issued six walks, one of the biggest reasons the Reds came back and won an ugly game 4-3.

Neither team scored over the first four innings and the Cubs turned a pair of double plays, which helped Sampson out of early jams.

Here’s one of those double plays; it ended the fourth inning [VIDEO].

Sampson retired the Reds 1-2-3 in the fifth and then the Cubs took a 1-0 lead. Nico Hoerner led off with a triple to center and P.J. Higgins drove him home with this fly ball [VIDEO].

Alfonso Rivas followed that with a single and then as he took off for second, Nelson Velázquez struck out, upon which everyone left the field. That was confusing because the strikeout was only the second out of the inning, but Velázquez was called for batter interference, so Rivas was ruled out to end the inning.

In hindsight, that might have been an important play, as Rivas would have been in scoring position with two out and the top of the order up. Maybe he scores, maybe he doesn’t.

Sampson threw a 1-2-3 sixth and then the Cubs extended the lead in the bottom of the inning. With two out, Seiya Suzuki doubled and scored on this single by Franmil Reyes [VIDEO].

It was 2-0 heading to the seventh and not only had Sampson pitched well, but the game was breezing along, possibly on pace to end before 4 p.m.

That... didn’t happen. The Cubs bullpen was just awful. A home run leading off the seventh off Sampson by Kyle Farmer made it 2-1 and David Ross went to the pen. No one threw well. Brandon Hughes allowed a single and walk, didn’t give up any runs but had to be bailed out of the inning by Manuel Rodriguez. In the eighth it got worse, with Rodriguez issuing a one-out walk and after recording the second out, allowing a single.

That brought in Rowan Wick, who couldn’t throw strikes at all. He walked the first batter he faced, loading the bases. Then he walked the second hitter he faced, forcing in the tying run. If you’re counting, we’re up to four walks already from the Cubs pen and they’ve thrown fewer than two innings. Wick did get out of the inning with the score still tied.

Suzuki gave the Cubs the lead back with one out in the eighth [VIDEO].

That’s the one good takeaway from this game, apart from Sampson — Suzuki continuing to hit the ball with authority. He doubled and homered in this game, the homer his 12th, and his OPS of .773 is at its highest point since July 31. I’d really like to see him finish the year strong, possibly getting that OPS over .800.

So the Cubs had a one-run lead going to the ninth.

Mark Leiter Jr. was summoned for the save opportunity. Another walk, the fifth by the pen, led off the inning. After a sacrifice bunt, a triple to right-center tied the game, and one out later, a single by Jonathan India past a diving Zach McKinstry gave the Reds the lead. Michael Rucker was next in line, and just for good measure, he walked the first batter he faced, so three of the five Cubs relievers accomplished that dubious feat.

The Cubs did get the tying run on base in the ninth on a single by Higgins. P.J. had the following results of his four PA: Hit by pitch, sac fly, sac bunt, single. There have been only five other players in MLB history who have had that exact four-PA nine-inning game, the last one another Cub, Doug Glanville in 1997. Here’s the entire list. (Note that this is only since sac flies became an official stat in 1950.)

Just trying to lighten things up here with a bit of trivia after an awful performance by the Cubs bullpen. Jed Hoyer has been good over the last couple of years at identifying relievers who can help the team. Hopefully, he can do that again — many of the guys in the pen now are likely not going to make it to 2023’s Cubs roster.

Here’s some numbers backing that up:

And that was BEFORE today’s disaster.

Attendance watch: The announced crowd was 23,910, the lowest number of tickets sold this year. In the house? Maybe 13,000 or so. The last time the Cubs had a crowd this small under full capacity (which excludes 2021) was September 4, 2013, when only 20,696 paid to see the Cubs defeat the Marlins 9-7.

Onward to another game and series. The Giants come to Wrigley Field for a three-game set beginning Friday afternoon. Note, Friday’s game time is 3:05 p.m. CT. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and Carlos Rodon will go for San Francisco. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.