This is how things are going for the Chicago Cubs this year.
Before Adbert Alzolay’s appearance in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game, lefthanded hitters were 3-for-23 against him with six strikeouts.
So, naturally, what happens? Of course, the Phillies send up lefty Bryson Stott to pinch hit with a runner on base and Stott promptly deposits a two-run homer into the right-field seats at Citizens Bank Park. And of course, the Cubs scored in the ninth, but just once, so Stott’s homer held up for a 2-1 Phillies win. The Cubs thus end a disastrous road trip with a 2-7 record and drop to 2-10 in one-run games.
Some good things happened in this game, so let’s take a look at them. Justin Steele threw six excellent innings, allowing four hits and a walk and striking out six. He got helped out quite a bit by his defense.
Here’s a nice play by Dansby Swanson that ended the first inning [VIDEO].
Check out this sliding grab by Mike Tauchman that ended the fourth [VIDEO].
In the sixth, Nick Castellanos led off with a double off Steele. Bryce Harper was the next hitter [VIDEO].
That was just an outstanding play by Seiya Suzuki. He got himself into position to throw even before he made the catch and his throw to Miles Mastrobuoni at third was perfect for the double play. Pat Hughes mentioned on the broadcast that a 9-5 double play is pretty rare, and per BCB’s JohnW53, we have the facts:
Until today, Cubs had not had a double play, right fielder to third baseman, since September 20, 2012, at home vs. the Reds. Cubs starter Jason Berken (!) gave up a leadoff double to Xavier Paul in the third inning. Miguel Cairo flied out to Dave Sappelt, who threw to Luis Valbuena in time to gun down Paul. Today’s was only their 19th such double play since 1914, first season for which baseball-reference.com has searchable play-level data.
Here’s a review of Steele’s outing [VIDEO].
So the game went to the seventh scoreless. The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the inning, and so Alzolay entered to replace Steele, and we’ve already discussed what happened. It’s just one of those things. Alzolay had done very well vs. LHB this year. Stott just got him.
The Cubs did have a chance in the ninth. With two out, Christopher Morel did it again [VIDEO].
Can’t say enough about Morel. That pitch was 97 miles per hour on the outer edge of the plate. That’s almost impossible to hit, much less hit out of the ballpark, but Morel did it. Here are the numbers on Morel’s blast [VIDEO].
If you don’t want to watch the video:
⚾Christopher Morel! HR (8)— Home Run Report (@homerunreport) May 21, 2023
Go, Cubs, go!
5/21/23 @ PHI, ⬆️ 9th
vs RHP Craig Kimbrel
103.3 MPH / 25° / 356 ft to RF
Off a 97.1 MPH four-seam fb
▶️It's a home run in 9/30 parks.◀️
See this play in Gameday: https://t.co/Wq0X0GJjdr pic.twitter.com/4RznxnX8SC
For Morel, he joined a very exclusive club with that homer (courtesy BCB’s JohnW53):
Most home runs, first 11 games of any season:
9: Mike Schmidt, Phillies, 1976
9: Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks, 2001
8: Reggie Sanders, Diamondbacks, 2001
8: Aristides Aquino, Reds, 2019
8: Christopher Morel, Cubs, 2023
I’m sure you remember Aquino — he hit five of those eight against the Cubs. He washed out of MLB and is now playing for the Chunichi Dragons of NPB (and is hitting .154 in 20 games).
Morel has a pretty good chance of being named N.L. Player of the Week. In six games this week, Morel batted .360/.407/.963 (9-for-25, 1.370 OPS) with two doubles and five home runs.
Anyway, back to this one: Trey Mancini did a nice job working a walk off old friend Craig Kimbrel to put the tying run on base. Patrick Wisdom was sent up to pinch hit — a perfect choice for that situation. But Wisdom popped up to end the game.
There’s not much more you can say about games like this. They happen. The Cubs continue to get good starting pitching (well, from most of the staff, anyway). But the bullpen simply cannot shut down opponents. I don’t know what the answer is.
As bad as the Cubs have played, they’re still nowhere near out of playoff contention — five games out of first place and four out of a wild card spot. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played. But they have to get the bullpen issues sorted out.
The Cubs will have Monday off and hopefully regroup as they begin a nine-game homestand with three against the Mets. That series begins Tuesday evening. Drew Smyly will start for the Cubs and Kodai Senga is scheduled to go for the Mets. Game time Tuesday is 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.