I thought I’d start this annual end-of-year series with the bad stuff, and then move on to the best games of the year tomorrow.
In other years when I’ve done this retrospective, blowout losses have been the focus of this feature. Not this time. In 2023, there were several soul-crushing defeats, some of them helping lead to the Cubs’ collapse in September.
Read on, if you dare. These are listed in chronological order.
The Cubs fashioned a 6-1 lead after three innings, thanks mostly to three home runs. Seiya Suzuki went deep twice and Christopher Morel also homered.
The Cubs held this lead going into the bottom of the eighth. Drew Smyly, who pitched very well through the first half of 2023, threw six innings and allowed one run, and Adbert Alzolay threw a scoreless seventh.
Mark Leiter Jr., who’d thrown pretty well up to then, got smacked around. Jeremy Peña led off with a triple and Alex Bregman doubled him in to make it 6-2. Leiter did strike out the next two hitters, including the dangerous Yordan Alvarez, but Jose Abreu singled in Bregman and it was 6-3.
Yes, Jose Abreu, who had entered that night with a .532 OPS.
Still, a three-run lead going to the bottom of the ninth. What could possibly...
Well, you know the answer to that, or you wouldn’t be reading about this game right now. Keegan Thompson was given the closing assignment. Yainer Diaz singled and Jake Meyers homered to make it 6-5. That took three pitches. Thompson then walked Mauricio Dubon and Brandon Hughes entered the game. That didn’t help, as Hughes allowed a double to Peña. Bregman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Alvarez hit into a force play at the plate.
Kyle Tucker drove in the tying and winning runs. David Ross challenged the tag play at the plate, but it was ruled “call confirmed” and the game was over.
This would not be the biggest lead the Cubs would blow in 2023.
The Cubs had just crushed the Cardinals in London the previous day 9-1 and raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning of this one. A British sweep seemed in order.
In the bottom of the second, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two out on a pair of singles and a walk off Marcus Stroman.
A major league first baseman has to make that play, it’s just that simple. The first mistake Trey Mancini made was going for the ball — it was a simple grounder right to Nico Hoerner. Look where Mancini is and where the batter-runner (Tommy Edman) is when Hoerner is about ready to field the ball and throw:
Mancini should have been on the base ready for the throw. He did eventually get to first in time to take Nico’s throw — but dropped the ball.
Right there, this specific play shows you the value of good defense at first base. If that play is made the inning is over and the Cubs still lead 4-0. If so, maybe they go on to win.
Marcus Stroman left the game the next inning with what was reported as a blister, but he never really got back on track the rest of the year.
Mancini hung on for another 20 games with the Cubs, in which he batted .196/.232/.235 (10-for-51) with 19 strikeouts, before he was released August 2.
The Cubs went to the bottom of the ninth leading this game 2-1, and Alzolay, who by this time had been made closer, entered to finish things off. It was his third outing in four days and sixth in a 10-game span, which in hindsight was not a good idea.
Alzolay struck out Elly De La Cruz to start the inning, then Nick Martini — NICK MARTINI?!?! — homered off Alzolay to tie the game. Martini, who had played 25 forgettable games with his hometown Cubs in 2021, somehow homered six times in just 72 at-bats with the Reds in 2023.
A single by Christian Encarnacion-Strand followed, and Stuart Fairchild pinch-ran. Will Benson struck out, but Fairchild stole second and took third on a bad throw by Yan Gomes.
Noelvi Marte singled in the winning run. Does the run score if not for the error? We’ll never know.
To me, this is the game, the one play that ruined the Cubs’ playoff chances.
The game went to extras tied 3-3. Both teams scored in the 10th and 11th, but not in the 12th, and the Cubs scored once in the top of the 13th.
In the bottom of the 13th, the D-backs sacrificed the Manfred Man to third. A walk and a pop out followed, so there are now runners on first and third with two out.
It’s just this simple: If Dansby Swanson catches that ball, the game is over and the Cubs win. Further, the Diamondbacks lose! Assuming everything else after this game happens exactly as it did in reality, the Cubs are 84-78 and the D-backs 83-79 and the Cubs are the No. 6 playoff seed and play the Brewers in a wild card series.
But Swanson didn’t.
The game is tied, but Gabriel Moreno, the next hitter, singled in the winning run.
The Cubs had a 6-0 lead in this game going into the bottom of the sixth. Even after Justin Steele ran out of gas in the sixth and Javier Assad served up a two-run homer in the seventh, the Cubs still led 6-5 with two out in the bottom of the eighth with two out and runners on second and third.
Seiya Suzuki should have caught that ball, but he apparently lost it in the lights at Truist Park. If he catches it, the Cubs have a one-run lead going to the ninth. Instead, two runs scored, giving the Braves a 7-6 lead, which turned into the final score.
Dishonorable mention for another one-run loss in that September series in Cincinnati, 2-1 on September 2, in which the Cubs again went to the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead and the winning run scored on this play [VIDEO].
Again, David Ross called for a review and again, it was ruled “call confirmed.”
I promise you’ll like tomorrow’s article, about the best Cubs games of 2023, better.
What was the worst Cubs game of 2023?
This poll is closed
7-6 loss to the Astros on May 17
7-5 loss to the Cardinals on June 25
3-2 loss to the Reds on September 1
7-6 loss to the Diamondbacks on September 16
7-6 loss to the Braves on September 26
A different game (leave in comments)