Can you imagine feeling anymore angsty about a first-place team than you do right now?
Some series losses are more painful than others, and this one was positively excruciating. The relief of a win on getaway day softens the blow, but it’s worth reflecting on just how difficult this set was. In their two losses, the Cubs treated us to smörgåsbord of suffering that included three blown saves.
Though I lack Theo Epstein’s Ivy League credentials, I’m pretty sure blowing more saves than games played is an not accomplishment you want to boast about. If Saturday’s candid shot of the Cubs front office duo following Christian Yelich‘s game tying home run is any indication, they are very much included in that royal you.
Len Kasper said it best following that home run: “Oh my goodness.” It suddenly felt as if every single thing that could go wrong for the Cubs was going to do just that. Briefly becoming the lone occupants of second place in the NL Central seemed an appropriate fate for the group. Luckily for them, that Sunday win and a cooperative Houston Astros team helped make that stay a temporary one.
So while Sunday’s resounding victory cannot erase the roster’s glaring flaws or the fanbase’s growing anxiety, it does allow the Cubs to walk away from a very difficult series right where they started it: In a first-place tie with the Cardinals and with this bunch of Brewers breathing down their necks.
Fasten those seatbelts!
The first two games of this series featured some absolutely brutal moments for the Cubs. In games that might as well have been replays of on another, the Cubs carried a pair of runs and a lead into the 8th inning before coughing those leads right up.
On Friday, they weren’t even able to protect the tie and and on Saturday we were treated to the privilege of a second blown save two innings later, as Craig Kimbrel was unable to hold a one-run lead generated by an Albert Almora Jr. home run In the top of the 10th. Almora deserves major credit for that home run, though.
With both he and his team scuffling, he was able to generate a huge boost that ended up not being enough.
Almora, David Bote, and Anthony Rizzo generated the entirety of the Cubs’ run production over 19 innings in the series’ first two games. They carried their weight and so did Cubs starters Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, the latter of whom was particularly masterful. Lester pitched seven shutout innings before asking out of the game and giving way to a bullpen that didn’t protect his win.
As painful as the first two losses of the series were, Sunday’s win was the best answer you could hope for. The Cubs scored 11 runs, largely on the strength of an outstanding day by Kyle Schwarber. The outfielder got things started in the 2nd inning with the longest home run hit at Miller Park this year, a massive dong that started a seven-RBI day.
Schwarber added another three-run shot in his very next at-bat to giving the Cubs a 7-0 lead. After the Brewers briefly fought their way back into the game against a struggling José Quintana, the Cubs got their seven-run lead right back thanks to another three-run home run by Victor Caratini.
Would you have preferred for some of that offense to show up in the previous two days? Sure. But the difference between dropping two out of three and getting swept is a critical one, and the Cubs were able to step up and emphatically avoid the lesser of the two fates.
- After a very rough stretch earlier in the year, Kyle Ryan has established himself as a staple of this bullpen that so badly stability. The lefty struck out three Brewers and didn’t surrender an earned run in 2.1 solid innings on Sunday. Along with the suddenly spectacular Rowan Wick, Ryan has established himself as someone the Cubs can count on.
- Another note on Schwarber from Cubs.com writer Jordan Bastian. At 473 happy feet, his grand slam was the longest slam of the Statcast era. Whoa.
- The Cubs bullpen has not been reliable on this road-trip and was a complete mess in the first two games of this series. Kimbrel, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler all played key parts in blowing would-be wins. With the trade deadline approaching and Strop in particular looking like he cannot be counted on to play his expected role, it’d be surprising if the Cubs aren’t kicking the tires on the relief pitcher market.
- It wasn’t a particularly fruitful series for Kris Bryant, who recorded just two hits in 13 at-bats. Both hits and a walk came in the opening game, but Bryant did not otherwise reach base.
While it felt good to win, this was still a particularly rough series for the Cubs. It may feel like they could have walked away winning two of three or even with a sweep if they had been able to hold onto late leads, but you can only play the hypothetical game for so long.
There’s no particular rhyme or reason for why the Cubs are struggling to win road games like those that they’ve dropped in this trip through San Francisco and Milwaukee. This is more or less the same group as last year’s squad, a team that did not have these kinds of issues on the road. In a division this tight, they’re really going to have figure that out.
Even with those struggles, the Cubs still find themselves with a 9-6 second-half record and in a first place tie. You desperately want them to be in a better spot than they are, but that’s not the way the cookie appears to be crumbling. And if those long faces from Saturday’s loss are any indication, the front office knows this team needs some help in order to win baseball’s tightest division.
With only a few days until the deadline, we’re just going to have to stay tuned to see what those change are.