Well, I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
After starting the week off on a good note by taking two of three games from the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley, the Chicago Cubs concluded the week by getting swept in Cincinnati.
It’s worth noting that the last-place Reds have been playing some pretty good baseball as of late. Jim Riggleman’s club had won six of its last eight games heading into the series thanks to solid pitching mixed with an offense that’s been dangerous all season.
But, the Cubs arrived in Great American Ballpark with momentum of their own and probably felt that if Brandon Morrow was available to pitch in game one against LA, they would have swept the Dodgers earlier in the week.
Wins have also not been hard to come by for the Cubs against the Reds. In fact, the four-game sweep by Cincinnati was its first over the Cubs since April 1983.
It goes without saying that the Reds were beyond due to get the best of Chicago. It had to happen sooner or later. And that’s baseball for you. Even the best teams get swept here and there.
Since playing under Joe Maddon, the Cubs have been exceptional at shaking off losses and maintaining a positive clubhouse. So, there’s no reason to think that the wheels are going to fall off. However, this most recent series was undoubtedly the ugliest one of the season so far for the Cubs.
So what went wrong? Just about everything.
The Cubs pitching was far from effective in the series and Chicago simply couldn’t keep up with Cincinnati’s offense. The Reds scored 31 runs in the series and not only did they score at least six in each game, there were three separate innings in which Cincinnati plated at least six runs. The Cubs were only able to squeeze across 13 runs in the four games.
Chicago’s ERA in the series was 8.27 while coming through with runners in scoring position continued to be a problem on offense. Chicago went 5-23 with RISP (.217).
Though game four against the Reds was the closest, it may have been the toughest one to watch for Cubs fans.
In the fifth inning of a scoreless game, Chicago put together a five-run rally and still led 6-1 in the seventh inning. As we’ve become accustomed to seeing, Mike Montgomery was cruising and came out to pitch the seventh with a considerably low pitch count.
It seemed the Cubs were finally going to silence the Reds’ bats for the first time in four games. But, an absolute meltdown proceeded. “Monty” began the frame by letting up a run on three consecutive hits and then was pulled for Pedro Strop, who had not pitched in five days.
Strop entered the game with no outs and runners at the corners. Unfortunately, just as Brian Duensing did the game before, “Stropy” was basically serving BP to the Reds hitters. They took full advantage.
Strop immediately let up a home run to Jesse Winker and was unable to record an out until Cincinnati gained a 7-6 lead. The first eight Reds hitters in the inning reached base and Cincinnati sent a ridiculous 13 men to the plate in the nightmarish frame.
Considering Strop hadn’t pitched for five days, it made complete sense that Maddon wanted to get the righty some work with a somewhat comfortable lead. Strop not pitching for so long may have also had something do with the reliever allowing four earned runs out of the pen for the first time since July of 2013.
It’s understandable that Strop was rusty. But why did Maddon leave him in after the first five batters he faced reached base? Who knows. That just adds to the list of questionable in-game managerial decisions made by Maddon this season, something Cubs fans have become noticeably frustrated about.
It’s fortunate for the Cubs that while they went 2-5 last week, the Brewers only went 3-3. After a series like that, Chicago has to be happy that it is still just two games out of first in the division.
If this week tells me anything, it’s that injuries are finally catching up to the Cubs. Luckily the injuries aren’t long-term. But, they’ve clearly made an impact.
Since Carl Edwards Jr is still out, Morrow hitting the 10-day DL leaves the Cubs without depth in the back-end of the bullpen.
With two key relievers on the DL, Maddon has been forced to rely on guys like Brian Duensing and Justin Wilson in high-pressure situations. With that being said, those guys need to step up. That’s been the opposite of what has happened.
Kyle came through for ya.
1-1, bottom 7. pic.twitter.com/j3FdvJfct1
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 20, 2018
Duensing, in particular, has been pitiful lately. The veteran lefty has let up nine earned runs over his last three ⅔ innings. His ERA has skyrocketed from 2.29 to 6.17 during that stretch.
Wilson still holds a respectable 2.93 ERA and has clearly been more effective than he was in the second half of last season. But, he’s still yet to prove that he can be trusted in key situations. Wilson was a strike away from earning his first save of the season against the Dodgers on Tuesday before letting up a tragic game-winning two-run double to pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer.
Even though Kris Bryant’s shoulder injury doesn’t look like it will require a DL stint, any time without Bryant in the lineup is undesirable. Especially considering that Kris is still attempting to get into a rhythm. Sitting on the bench certainly won’t help that.
It may have been a poor week for the Cubs, but there were some positive things mixed in to admire.
Albert Almora Jr is the best defensive center fielder we’ve seen wearing Cubby blue in quite some time. To go along with his countless highlight-reel catches, Almora has looked better and better at the plate. After going 6-20 at the plate last week Almora has raised his batting average to a team-leading .323.
Almora lined a walk-off single to left in the nightcap of Chicago’s doubleheader against the Dodgers, a game the Cubs really needed after letting game one slip. The center fielder also lifted a home run to right on Sunday, his third of the season.
Jon Lester keeps on rolling and has lowered his ERA to 2.10 after another fantastic outing. Lester has won five consecutive games for the first time since September 2016 and has thrown four straight quality starts.
Following a brutal week for Javier Baez in which he struck out more times than he recorded a hit, the Cubs’ second baseman responded in great fashion. Baez went 9-17 last week and pounded five extra-base hits. “Javy” led the Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers on Thursday by hitting two doubles, one triple, scoring twice, and swiping a base.
Finally, Jason Heyward has still shown no signs of slowing down at the plate. Heyward recorded at least one hit in five of the six games he played in last week, including a four-hit game on Friday. The right fielder is hitting .303 this month, the highest average he’s hit for in a single month as a Cub. Not to mention an OPS of .811, his best monthly-total by a longshot.
Chicago heads right back to LA on Monday for a four-game series with the Dodgers. With Tyler Chatwood away from the club to be with his new child and Yu Darvish still on the DL, the Cubs’ rotations remains a little out of sorts.
2012 second-round pick Duane Underwood will make his big league debut on the mound for the Cubs on Monday. Underwood is 3-7 and sports a 4.27 ERA at AAA Iowa this season.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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