There is an alternate universe somewhere, where Dansby Swanson’s two-run homer in the ninth inning Thursday evening at Wrigley Field was a joyous walkoff blast, and celebrations were heard long into the night.
Unfortunately, because the real-life Cubs played some of the sketchiest defense we have seen at the real Wrigley Field in a long time, all that did was turn a four-run loss into a two-run loss, 8-6 to the Pirates.
Only two of Pittsburgh’s runs were unearned, but as many as four can be attributed to:
- An error by the usually completely reliable Swanson, which helped lead to two unearned runs in the third
- A dropped fly by Ian Happ (pictured above) which was not ruled an error, but the play should have been made, leading to one more run
- A ridiculously bad throw by Miles Mastrobuoni in a ninth-inning rundown that helped lead to at least one run
Obviously I am not in the dugout or clubhouse and I am not privy to anything that goes on between Cubs players, but from my outsider observation spot, it sure looks like these guys are playing tight and nervous and, well, that’s not useful in a playoff race.
And I haven’t even mentioned yet, but will now:
- Nine Cubs left on base in the first five innings
- Ridiculously bad relief pitching that allowed five runs in the last two innings
Let’s go back to the beginning of this mess.
Kyle Hendricks threw well enough over the first two innings. He did allow some hard-hit balls, but struck out four.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were getting plenty of guys on base against Johan Oviedo. A leadoff double by Nico Hoerner and two-out walk to Cody Bellinger produced nothing. (Two men left.)
The Pirates got two gift runs in the third thanks in part to Swanson’s error on a play he makes 999 times out of 1,000. The 1,000th happened at the worst possible time.
The Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the third with two out, but Swanson struck out to end the inning, his fifth K in the last two games.
The Cubs again got multiple runners on base in the bottom of the fourth on a walk issued to Yan Gomes and a single by Miles Mastrobuoni. Mike Tauchman grounded out to end that inning.
In the fifth, Happ dropped a catchable fly ball that was ruled a double for Ke’Bryan Hayes. Two singles later, it was 3-0 Pirates.
Once again in the bottom of the fifth, for the third straight inning, the Cubs had lots of traffic on the bases, this time with nobody out on a leadoff single by Hoerner and walk by Happ. Three fly balls later, the inning was over. That, again, is nine men left on base in just five innings. The Cubs left another man on base in the sixth, when Gomes was hit by a pitch with one out. (Gomes, who rarely shows much emotion on the field, looked really unhappy about that HBP, too.)
Hendricks finished off his outing with a five-pitch sixth. In all, he allowed eight hits and one earned run, with the four strikeouts I noted earlier. That should be enough to win most games, especially if the Cubs had played better defense.
Drew Smyly threw a scoreless seventh, with just a two-out walk against his ledger.
The Cubs finally got on the board in the seventh. With one out, Happ singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on a ground out, and scored on this single by Swanson [VIDEO].
Now it’s 3-1 and the game, perhaps, is within reach.
Perhaps David Ross should have left Smyly in for multiple innings, because Brad Boxberger did not have a good outing. He issued a leadoff walk and after Hoerner made a great stab on a line drive by Endy Rodriguez and a fly to right, Ji Hwan Bae laced a triple to right, making it 4-1. That was followed by an RBI single by Connor Joe, which might have been worse if Tauchman hadn’t thrown him out trying to stretch that to a double [VIDEO].
It’s 5-1 and a lot of people left Wrigley after that. The Cubs decided to make things interesting. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Gomes walked and Mastrobuoni singled.
Mastrobuoni stopped at third, but scored on this wild pitch to make it 5-3 [VIDEO].
Tauchman moved up on that play and scored on this ground out [VIDEO].
Happ flied to center to end the inning, but now it’s 5-4... that’s a close game!
Not after Julian Merryweather and some bad Cubs defense got involved. Merryweather, who has generally pitched well this year, often has trouble with walks, and he walked Bryan Reynolds to lead off the ninth.
The Cubs made a really nice defensive play and a really bad defensive play in the space of about five seconds. Happ, Hoerner and Gomes combined to throw Reynolds out at the plate, but they had Ke’Bryan Hayes caught in a rundown and Mastrobuoni just threw the ball away. Sorry, there’s no sugarcoating it, that’s just a terrible throw.
So instead of having two out and nobody on base, there’s one out and a runner on third.
It’s still 5-4, but Merryweather issued another walk and then Joshua Palacios sent a ball into the bleachers. Yikes.
Daniel Palencia relieved Merryweather and struck out the next two hitters, but... four runs down going to the bottom of the ninth and one of the league’s best closers, David Bednar, is coming in. Much of the rest of the crowd cleared out after that.
They missed a bit of excitement when Bellinger doubled and Swanson hit his 22nd homer [VIDEO].
Hopes, briefly raised, were dashed when Seiya Suzuki and Christopher Morel struck out.
On the other had, no, Suzuki did not actually strike out, because pitch 8 below, the called third strike, was not a strike:
Seriously, bring the ball-and-strike challenge system to MLB next year. This is a perfect example of where a team would use it, win the challenge, and have a ninth-inning baserunner and the tying run at the plate.
After Morel’s K, Gomes flied to right to end it [VIDEO].
The Cubs aren’t going to win the N.L. Central — this loss plus the Brewers win Thursday reduced Milwaukee’s magic number to 2. The Cubs aren’t going to finish as the top wild card — the Phillies’ elimination number for the Cubs for that is 5. They likely aren’t going to make the second wild card either, as the Diamondbacks now lead them by two full games.
So that makes things very simple from here on out.
The Cubs, Marlins and Reds all have 79 wins. The Cubs and Marlins have nine games left and the Reds eight. If the Cubs win one more game than Miami and Cincinnati do the rest of the way, they’re in. Otherwise they’re out.
The Cubs really miss Adbert Alzolay, Michael Fulmer and Jeimer Candelario, all on the injured list right now. Candelario is eligible to return today, but there’s no indication that he will do so. The others won’t be back till next week at the earliest.
The season continues, and there are, for now, meaningful games yet to be played. The Colorado Rockies begin a three-game set at Wrigley Friday afternoon. Jameson Taillon will start for the Cubs and Noah Davis will go for the Rox. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.