ATLANTA — Finally, the Cubs got some good relief pitching, six innings’ worth of two-hit, one-run (unearned) ball with eight strikeouts.
Unfortunately, because Marcus Stroman couldn’t get past the second inning and once again the Cubs forgot how to play defense, they lost 5-3 to the Braves. The series sweep put them on the brink of staying home this October.
The Cubs scored first in this game. They scored first in all three games of this series, for all the good it did. Mike Tauchman drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on an infield out.
That lead lasted about five minutes. Marcus Stroman got the first two Braves on easy ground balls on only five pitches. Then Austin Riley singled and Matt Olson smashed his 54th home run of the season to make it 2-1 Atlanta.
In the second inning, Ian Happ dropped a catchable fly ball off the bat of Eddie Rosario, one of a litany of defensive miscues the Cubs have made over the last couple of weeks. One out later, Michael Harris II doubled him in and after Stroman recorded another out, a single by Ronald Acuña Jr. scored Harris to make it 4-1.
The game was over right then, though we didn’t know it at the time.
In the third, Javier Assad relieved Stroman, throwing for the second time in this series. He allowed a leadoff triple to Riley and one out later, a walk.
Once Assad dropped that ball, he had no chance to get Riley at the plate, it was a contact play. But you can see him turn to home, and in doing so he lost any chance to get Rosario at first.
No further Braves runs scored after that one. The run was recorded as earned because it’s assumed Riley would have scored even if Assad makes a clean pickup. Obviously we’ll never know. But the two runs in the second inning were unearned due to Happ’s error, and those were the difference in the game.
The Cubs did attempt to come back. In the sixth, Nico Hoerner led off with a single, but was forced at second by Happ. One out later, Seiya Suzuki doubled in Happ [VIDEO].
Dansby Swanson was hit by a pitch, bringing Jeimer Candelario to the plate as the tying run. Unfortunately, he struck out.
After a 1-2-3 seventh, the Cubs put another run on the board in the eighth. Hoerner again led off with a single. One out later, Cody Bellinger singled him to third, and Suzuki again drove in a run [VIDEO].
The tying runs are now on base, but Swanson hit into an inning-ending double play. The Cubs went down meekly in the ninth and that, as they say, was that.
The Braves are a really good team and once the postseason begins they should be installed as favorites to win the World Series. The Cubs competed with them through the entire series, but as noted above and on previous days, the lack of good relief pitching and the failure of the Cubs to play the strong defense they’ve had all year doomed their chances in this series. This quote from Stroman sums up the Atlanta series:
Stroman after Cubs swept in ATL: “We just seem defeated at times you know? Things don’t feel like they’re going our way at all. I feel like everything that could be going wrong is going wrong.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) September 29, 2023
“I don’t think the confidence is dinged. Everyone still knows we can get the job done”
Now, what about the postseason? Am I saying there’s still a chance?
Yes, until mathematical elimination, there’s still a chance. The Cubs must sweep the Brewers or win two of three while the Marlins either win no games or just one against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. And then, there’s the game that the Marlins haven’t quite finished that got delayed in the top of the ninth due to torrential rain in New York Thursday with Miami having just taken a 2-1 lead. The game was suspended just before 1 a.m. ET and, at the moment at least, is scheduled to be resumed at 1:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field Monday. (I would imagine if the Marlins clinch a playoff berth before then and don’t need that win to change seeding, the resumption would be cancelled.)
Now that would be a heck of a thing, wouldn’t it? If the Cubs’ postseason chances hinged on a Mets comeback in the bottom of the ninth of a suspended game?
I’ll have more details on the weekend’s activities relating to the postseason in a separate article at 12 noon CT.
Kyle Hendricks, who has pitched well in two starts against the Brewers this year, will take the mound Friday evening in the series opener. Former Cub Colin Rea will start for Milwaukee. (If you don’t remember Rea as a Cub, it’s probably because he pitched only 14 innings for them in the 2020 pandemic season.) Game time Monday is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Brewers market territories).