I’m…not sure what that game was. Unfortunately, the one thing that I know was that it was not a Division Clincher.
Here’s why it would be really nice to do it at Busch Stadium…on one of the crowd shots tonight, the CSN cameras found a fan seated in the first base side box seats wearing a Cubs replica jersey with “BARTMAN 03” on the back. Because there’s no better way for a Cardinal fan to totally pwn the Cubs than spending $125 in their official team store.
The jersey, of course, commemorates the most infamous postseason bobble in team history. So if Cub fans want to answer back in kind, someone needs to buy a Cardinals jersey that reads “Matt Holliday’s Dong.”
What You Need to Know: That was a full three hours and fifty minutes of almost non-stop weirdness. The Cubs began the game by apparently deciding to remind us how far they’ve come during the 2017 season by flashing back to every other game they played in May and June. Jake Arrieta’s location was off and that combined with some pretty unfortunate defense and a Tommy Pham moonshot to put the Cubs in an early 5-1 hole.
For his part, Carlos Martinez turned in a performance that Jim Deshaies called “sloppy” and Len Kasper described as “itchy.” It’s never a good sign when one’s pitching is described using terms that normally end in the phrase “consult your physician.”
Unfortunately, despite some tantalizing scoring opportunities early on, the Cubs mostly failed to cash in and create a big inning. The game lulled its way through the middle innings, Felix Peña gave up a couple homers, and it felt like a lost opportunity.
Then Jason Heyward crushed a three-run homer in the eighth to make it 8-6. When Ben Zobrist followed up with a solo shot to make it a one-run game, that forced us all to care again. Kris Bryant greeted Juan Nicasio with another long drive but hit it off the end of the bat and had to settle for a double, only to be stranded by an Anthony Rizzo pop up.
It was at times exciting, bizarre, and frustrating. And in the end, ultimately for naught.
Next Level: We probably could have guessed this was going to be a strange one once @cubs posted the lineup. Because Joe Maddon managed this game like he was unclear about the concept of a magic number.
First and foremost, it is downright disconcerting to go into a potential division-clinching game and see Mike Freeman’s name in the starting line-up. Honestly, when it appeared, it looked for a second like someone with the team’s Twitter account had mistakenly figured out how to access MLB.com’s secret “Create a Player” function.
Not only that, Maddon was starting an outfield featuring Ian Happ in center field and Kyle Schwarber in left. These are usually the kind of choices you make if you’re trying to create defense on par with the NBA All-Star Game. Compounding this, Arrieta is currently sporting a 45.3 percent ground ball rate, the lowest number he has put up since his 2013 season. Oh…and Busch Stadium sports one of the biggest outfields in all of baseball.
So what happened in the first inning should not be too surprising. Arrieta looked like he was going to strand Dexter Fowler at third base by getting Paul DeJong to squib one to shortstop. Unfortunately, Freeman charged and clanked it off the heel of his glove, allowing Fowler to score.
Randal Grichuk followed by smashing a fly ball to deep center. Happ looked like he would have to take a very precise route back and to his left to catch up to it. Unfortunately, the one he chose was less “experienced centerfielder” and more “West Side Story rumble.” It was the first play in the history of StatCast whose route efficiency was an imaginary number.
Grichuk’s hit flew over Happ’s outstretched glove and scored DeJong with the third run of the inning. All this led to a 35 pitch first for Arrieta. Since he was on a pitch count, that meant it was going to be a very short night.
Then there were other decisions like sitting the scorching hot Jon Jay and leading off with Zobrist (three strikeouts, including one with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth). And after the Cubs had cut it to one, Maddon brought in Justin Wilson, only to remove him in the middle of an at-bat when he suddenly couldn’t throw strikes because it turned out that he was, in fact, Justin Wilson.
These were the kind of decisions a manager makes after his team has clinched the division and wants to find playing time for all of his roster. Perhaps someone should remind Maddon that the Cubs haven’t technically done that yet.
Top Play (WPA): Willson Contreras’s third walk of the night led off the ninth inning rally (+.115). After taking ball four, Contreras celebrated like he got a new message notification in his DMs. This was followed later by a two-out walk to Jason Heyward and the Cubs found themselves with the tying and winning runs on base…
Bottom Play (WPA): …whereupon Javy Baez struck out to end the game (-.139). So it goes.
Up Next: The Cubs will try to put it away again tomorrow. John Lackey revisits his old stomping grounds to face Michael Wacha. There’s currently a big graphic above the NL Central standings that says “FINISH THEM.” That sounds like good advice.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports