Cubs

Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

At one point, there were almost more seagulls (and ducks!) on the field than fans in the stands while the game was still being played.

That's how awful the weather got at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, where the Cubs dropped an ugly, rain-soaked game 6-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs walked 10 batters, committed three errors (leading to two unearned runs), had only six hits and struck out 10 times in a game that took more than five-and-a-half hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay).

Every ball in the air became an adventure for both teams.

"That was a very awkward day to play baseball," said Joe Maddon, who compared Friday's elements to some of the worst weather he's ever played/managed through.

The announced crowd of 36,923 never quite materialized thanks to a first-pitch temperature that felt like 37 degrees thanks to 17 mph winds. Throw in the constant smattering of rain and the conditions were downright miserable to watch a game in.

But with a ton of rain forecasted for Saturday, the Cubs and Brewers didn't want to take the chance they'd have to make up two games later in the season.

Things were tough for the Cubs from the outset as Eddie Butler walked the first two batters of the game, both of whom came around to score on a two-out single up the middle by Milwaukee catcher Jett Bandy.

Butler — coming off an impressive debut (six shutout innings) in St. Louis over the weekend — only allowed those two runs, but also recorded just nine outs, needing 92 pitches to do so. The 26-year-old walked five batters and allowed three hits, striking out three.

He admitted he couldn't get a good feel on the baseball due to the conditions, but also didn't use that as an excuse.

"Both teams were playing in it," Butler said. "I needed to find a way to get it done and I didn't do that today."

The Cubs battled back in the third when Keon Broxton dropped Javy Baez's fly ball in center field, allowing the Cubs shortstop to motor into second base. Two batters later, Jon Jay singled Baez home.

Willson Contreras added a two-run single in the fourth and the Cubs held the lead as the rains started to pick up.

But Mike Montgomery struggled with his command in the top of the fifth, allowing two runs to score, giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead.

The conditions only continued to worsen and the game was finally delayed after Kyle Schwarber had to range all the way into the infield dirt for a fly ball that clanked off his glove. He compounded the initial error by trying to get a force at second base, but his diving throw wound up in right field instead, leading to two errors on the same play.

As the Brewers runners settled into second and third to start out the sixth inning, the game was finally suspended and the tarp stretched out over the infield.

"That ball should never happen," Maddon said. "That's why they pulled the tarp. ... When a play like that occurs, that also points in the direction that probably the conditions weren't baseball-esque. Please don't blame Schwarber. That's very unjust. The wind and where that ball blew back to, he made a great attempt on it, actually. That's normally the shortstop's ball, but under the circumstances, it was up for grabs, basically."

But after the ball smacked off his glove, should Schwarber have tried to flip it to second?

"He doesn't practice a backhand flip from 40 feet away on a daily basis," Maddon deadpanned. "He was just trying to make a play. If he had made it, it would've been outstanding. But I'm not gonna criticize that." 

When play resumed one hour and 59 minutes later, Domingo Santana greeted Cubs rookie Pierce Johnson — making his MLB debut — with another two-run single to close out the scoring in the afternoon/evening.

Johnson said he couldn't really tell how bad the conditions truly were since he was tucked away in the Cubs bullpen under the left-field bleachers. But when he walked through the doors onto the playing field, he was hit with the wind and rain and said his glasses/goggles actually fogged up initially.

Still, he was happy-go-lucky about the opportunity to make his big-league debut, even if the weather was dreadful.

"That's not how I drew it up," Johnson said. "What an amazing experience. That was so much fun to be out there and finally get out the for the first time and really kinda calm those nerves a bit. Had an absolute blast and got the first one out of the way."

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel stuck with what was working. He pounded the strike zone with one high fastball after another against Manny Pina. Kimbrel was rewarded with a strikeout to end the inning.

In the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Friday, Kimbrel pitched a shutout ninth inning to give his team the chance to rally. Instead, the Cubs’ bats went cold. But the stadium lights illuminated Kimbrel’s progress.

“He looked really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I’ve been trying to find a spot for him, and the feedback has been great every time I talk to the pitching guys, and his bullpens and the work he’s put in. I think you saw that tonight. The ball was exploding out of his hand really well. Some bad swings. Looked sharp.”

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It should be noted that the spot Ross found for him was in a one-run game. Kimbrel, who entered the season as the Cubs closer, at least temporarily lost that job after a string of rough outings. The Cubs blamed mechanical issues.

On Friday, Kimbrel didn’t allow a hit with the game on the line.

One of the biggest developments for Kimbrel is that he’s now throwing his curve ball for a strike, therefore not allowing opposing hitters to simply gear up for a fastball.

The third pitch he threw on Friday was a curve ball. Avisail Garcia already had two strikes on him, and then he fouled off a curve at the bottom of the strikezone.  Kimbrel sat him down with a high fastball clocking in at almost 98 mph.

“I don’t think he was far off (all year),” Cubs starting pitcher Alec Mills said, “and I think tonight he started putting a few more things together, fastball up in the zone and some good curve balls. It was good to see, for sure.”

As Kimbrel’s teammate, Mills may not be speaking from a position of objectivity. But he knows pitching, and he said he’s been excited about Kimbrel’s fastball all year.

“Even that first inning in Cincinnati,” Mills said. “The ball was coming out really good. It was electric. It was more like the Craig that I remember from past years.”

The Kimbrel from past years was a seven-time All-Star from 2011 to 2018, the year he won the World Series with the Red Sox.

But from 2017 to 2019, the average speed of Kimbrel’s fastball dropped from 98 mph to 96mph. It has remained right around 96 mph this year. On Friday, Kimbrel was locating it more effectively, while his curve ball helped put batters off balance.

Kimbrel still walked a batter – he stopped short of overpowering. But even against the one batter he walked, Justin Smoak, Kimbrel got ahead in the count early. He threw two curve balls for strikes. The first Smoak watched. The second he whiffed.

One outing isn’t a guarantee that Kimbrel will win back his role as closer. But it does show that the positive feedback Ross is getting translates into games. And that Ross is ready to trust him in close games. 

“I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said earlier this month.

On Saturday, he sure did.

 

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Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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