ATLANTA — The summary of the Cubs’ September in one tweet:
The Cubs have now lost 5 games this month after holding a lead in the 8th inning or later.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 28, 2023
That's tied for their most such losses in any single month over the last 50 seasons (June 1991 & September 1992).
Trust me, you do not want to know what the team’s overall record was in those months. I looked it up. If you really do want to know, you can too.
It’s just this simple: The Cubs’ bullpen is depleted by injuries, the guys in David Ross’ “circle of trust” have missed most of the month, and what’s left is simply not good enough to get the job done.
I could stop here regarding the Cubs’ 6-5, 10-inning loss to the Braves Wednesday in Truist Park, but you come here for a recap and so, you shall have one.
The Cubs went down in order in the first inning and then Jameson Taillon served up a home run to the second batter he faced, Ozzie Albies. This did not start things out very well.
But the Cubs got that run back, and let’s be honest, it was a gift. Cody Belllinger led off the second with a single and Seiya Suzuki walked. Bellinger moved to third on a fly ball by Dansby Swanson.
I mean... that’s a foul ball. You can even hear it hit Jeimer Candelario’s bat on that clip. But plate umpire Shane Livensparger ruled it a passed ball. Braves manager Brian Snitker asked the umpires to confer about it. They did so and the ruling did not change and Snitker got himself tossed as a result. He wasn’t wrong [VIDEO].
Plays like this are not reviewable. Should they be? Maybe, but in this case the Cubs got a break.
Literally two pitches after that, the Braves pulled off a two-man catch in foul territory off the bat of Candelario [VIDEO].
The Cubs got two more in the third, both on solo home runs.
That was Happ’s 20th of the year, giving the Cubs six players with 20 (also Bellinger, Swanson, Suzuki, Christopher Morel and Patrick Wisdom).
The Cubs led 3-1.
Taillon was magnificent after the first-inning homer by Albies. From there through the sixth he retired 17 of the next 18 hitters, including 15 in a row, allowing only a leadoff double in the second by Marcell Ozuna.
But the Cubs offense just couldn’t do anything either after Happ’s homer, with just two more baserunners through the seventh and just one beyond first base (Swanson, after singling in the fourth, went to second on a walk by Yan Gomes. Both were stranded).
In the bottom of the seventh, Taillon walked Austin Riley and Matt Olson singled, with Riley taking third.
Maybe you can explain to me how this team, which has been so outstanding defensively all year, suddenly over the last week or two cannot field the baseball properly. That’s a double play ball, only it wasn’t, and a run scored. Granted, the Cubs were conceding a run at that point to turn the DP, but still.
Drew Smyly then relieved Taillon, who finishes his season with a 4.97 ERA. This game represents the first time since Taillon threw five shutout innings against the Rangers April 15 — after which he hit the IL — that his ERA got under 5. So... progress, perhaps.
The Cubs still led 3-2 after seven. Six more outs...
Didn’t happen. Julian Merryweather, perhaps the only really trustworthy reliever right now, allowed the Braves the tying run in the eighth. The Cubs did get out of that inning with the game still tied on this strikeout/throw-out double play [VIDEO].
Give this Cubs team credit. They do not quit. They didn’t quit early in this game after the devastating loss Tuesday, and they didn’t quit after that tying run. They took the lead in the top of the ninth. With one out, Swanson was hit by a pitch and Candelario walked. Pete Crow-Armstrong ran for Candelario.
PCA took third, and there’s only one out, but Miles Mastrobuoni struck out and Tauchman flied to left to end the inning.
Three outs to go. Could the Cubs get them?
Well, you already know the answer is “No.” Mark Leiter Jr. retired the first hitter in the bottom of the ninth, but Ozuna smashed a long homer to left to tie the game 4-4. Leiter served up a double and then was removed for Jose Cuas, who sent the game to extras on a pair of ground outs.
The Cubs entered this game 3-4 in extra-inning affairs. The Braves were 7-3. So what do you think was going to happen?
The Cubs did manage a run. Tauchman, the placed runner, went to third on a fly to right and scored on this sac fly by Happ [VIDEO].
Bellinger then singled, but Suzuki struck out to end the inning.
So, again, three outs and the Cubs win.
Again, didn’t happen. Kevin Pillar was the Braves’ placed runner and Daniel Palencia entered to pitch — seriously, you see how depleted the Cubs’ bullpen is. Pillar advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a single by Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña then stole second, his 70th, and a grand little ceremony followed, with the base replaced and given to Acuña for becoming a member of the “40/70 Club,” which as of now has exactly one member.
Albies singled in Acuña to end the game.
So I have two questions here.
First — and we have seen this many times in recent years — in that situation, winning run on second, one out, why did the Cubs not simply intentionally pass Albies? That run meant nothing and would have put a double play in order.
Second: Why is Keegan Thompson on this roster if Ross is not going to use him? Thompson was recalled last Saturday when Brad Boxberger was placed on the injured list. He has not pitched in any of the four games played since his recall. Granted, Thompson did not pitch well for the Cubs in two previous stints and didn’t really throw well at Iowa. But not using him at all essentially leaves the already depleted pitching staff one further man short.
So. Here’s where we stand. With the Marlins splitting a doubleheader with the Mets Wednesday, they and the Cubs are tied at 82-76. The Marlins, as you know, have the tiebreaker. With four games remaining for both teams, to get into the postseason the Cubs must win one more game than the Marlins do. It’s just that simple. Yes, I know the Reds are technically still not eliminated, but they have one fewer game remaining and two more losses (78).
The Cubs and Braves will play again in Atlanta Thursday evening. Marcus Stroman will start for the Cubs in what is the most important start he’s made for the team in his two years here. And here’s who’s going to start for the Braves:
Snit says AJ Smith-Shawver will be called up to make the start tomorrow— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) September 28, 2023
Hey, look, it’s Kelly Crull, formerly of NBC Sports Chicago, now a reporter on Braves TV broadcasts.
AJ Smith-Shawver is a 20-year-old rookie who’s split time between Atlanta and Triple-A Gwinnett this year. His last MLB appearance was July 30.
Game time is again 6:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Braves market territories).
Just win, baby.