Whoof. Let’s keep this quick, shall we? If there’s any mercy in the Cubs’ ugly loss today, it’s that it didn’t drag out. This wasn’t Friday night’s/Saturday morning’s grueling, rain delayed, 11-inning loss, where if you stayed up for six and a half hours after the scheduled start, you were rewarded with a heartbreaking, last-minute loss. This was the kind of game where, if you turned on the game a few minutes late, you did an immediate double take at the scoreboard and its lopsided display, despite being only the top of the first. It was ugly, and hopefully you didn’t spend your afternoon watching it. The TV broadcast spent a lot of time on shots of the lovely Rocky Mountains which lie beyond Coors Field, and their Play of the Game was the pregame ceremony in which a falcon flew around the field a few times. Hopefully you took a cue from them, and spent your day enjoying some lovely weather somewhere, not suffering through this game.
Top Play (WPA): There was no grace period in this game, not really, but after three batters, the game wasn’t yet out of control. After the Cubs went quietly in the top of the first, Jason Hammel gave up two quick singles to David Dahl and DJ LeMahieu, and with runners at first and third, the Rockies were already threatening. But when he induced a short fly ball from Carlos Gonzalez (+.052 WPA), there seemed to be a real prospect of a clean getaway, and Hammel’s 22-inning scoreless streak staying intact. Just a double play, or a couple short grounders, maybe a strikeout, and this game goes to the second still tied. Alas. When this mundane a play is the brightest moment of the game, it’s not a good sign.
Bottom Play (WPA): And indeed, the very next batter, Nolan Arenado, broke this game wide open. A 2-2 offspeed pitch from Hammel broke back over the plate, and Arenado smashed it down the left field line, where it stayed fair just long enough to get out and put the Cubs down 3–0 (-.161 WPA). Hammel is having a good season, to be sure, but probably not as good as his 2.75 ERA was making it look. His FIP (4.09) and DRA (4.47) are those of a solid-but-unexceptional pitcher, the kind of pitcher Hammel has been for nearly his whole career. Those kinds of pitchers have the occasional awful game, and so while Hammel had mostly managed to dodge that kind of afternoon this season, it was perhaps a bit overdue. That doesn’t make it feel any better, though.
Key Moment: We can be pretty confident at this point in the season that the Cubs offense is tremendously good. As a result, after the disastrous first inning, I found myself wondering if the Cubs could come back, even with a seven-run deficit. They’ve scored eight or more runs 27 times, or in more than 20 percent of their games, so even with the massive hole they had dug, the 93.4 percent chance of losing assigned to the Cubs by WPA felt perhaps a bit pessimistic, especially after Hammel held the line for the next couple innings. Then, in the fourth, DJ LaMahieu walked, CarGo doubled, and Nolan Arenado returned to the plate. This time, it was a fastball, but it caught the inside part of the plate again, and it was crushed to left field again, and in a moment any traces of optimism had vanished. Today was Nolan Arenado bobblehead day at Coors, and he presumably wanted to make the most of it. Judging by his performance today, however, he’s probably got a lot of bobblehead days in his future.
Oh, also, Travis Wood played left field for a few innings, and Ben Zobrist closed out the game at shortstop. That was kinda cool.
Trend to Watch: The biggest bright spot of the game, by far, was Addison Russell. He might’ve been the only bright spot, to be honest. He led off the fifth while Jorge De La Rosa was in the middle of a bit of a gem, with four strikeouts, one walk, and no runs. Russell changed that, quickly, hitting a blast to deep center that just snuck over the wall (and landed in a trash can). Between that plate appearance and Russell’s next, in the seventh, the Cubs had no hits, so yeah, “only bright spot” feels like an apt description. That next PA featured a 465-foot dinger pulled to left, a no-doubter as soon as it left the bat. Russell is already hitting better than he was last year, and looking like a very good player as-is. With three home runs in the last few games, however, it’s getting easier and easier to imagine him hitting his enormous upside as a powerful and elite shortstop, both offensively and defensively excellent. When you think about this game, focus on that. There’s nothing else worth paying attention to.
Coming Next: The Cubs head to lovely San Diego for a three-game set against the Padres. The opener is tomorrow night at 9:10 PM CST, with Jon Lester (13–4, 3.53 DRA) facing off against old friend Edwin Jackson (3–2, 6.69 DRA). The game will be televised on CSN-C, and broadcast on 670 The Score.
Lead photo courtesy Ron Chenoy—USA Today Sports