Losing three out of a four-game series stings. Doing so at home hurts. When it happens against the Milwaukee Brewers, it is agonizing. There’s no point in sugarcoating this. The Cubs had an ugly weekend against their division rivals.
Game four of the series felt a lot like games two and three. The Cubs had a lead then coughed it up. It was their second consecutive day where they squandered early three-run leads. The offense had its moments, but it also had a metric ton of strikeouts: fifty-three total whiffs in four games. Yikes.
Jon Lester had an odd start. His final line wasn’t particularly pretty: 6.0 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 5 K. Those numbers don’t tell the complete, strange tale. He retired the side in order three times and just missed a fourth in his final inning. Two bad innings did him in.
There wasn’t much to write home about for the Cubs in this one. Jason Kipnis came through with a clutch two-run single in the sixth, but he also struck out twice. Steven Souza, Jr. had a two-run double in the first but also had two strikeouts and left three on base. That seemed to be the story of the day: moments of good mixed with more of the bad.
There were a couple of Brewers at the end of the lineup who had outstanding days, but I absolutely refuse to give “The Good” to a Brewer, so I am going with Craig Kimbrel. If the Cubs want to have a legitimate chance at a deep run in the postseason (assuming they get there), it stands to reason that they are going to need substantial contributions from their high-priced, one-time closer. He has had some positive outings lately, and in this game, he might have actually had his first really good one. Entering in the eighth, he retired all three hitters he faced, the first two on strikeouts. He had his velocity, movement, and control all working for him at the same time, a very positive development. If he can start stringing appearances like this together, the Cubs bullpen could push the needle from question mark to strength.
It is no secret that the Cubs are not a fast team. Quite the opposite, so it was a bit strange to see sudden aggression from the Cubs runners when the Brewers had their best run stopper, Manny Pina, behind the plate. Ian Happ was caught stealing in the fourth, and a few innings later, speedster Anthony Rizzo was thrown out in a strike-him-out, throw-him-out in the seventh. Selectively aggressive base running isn’t always a bad thing, especially when an offense is struggling, but both Happ and Rizzo were out by a country mile. All it did was add insult to injury on a day the offense looked particularly bad (which I realize is strange to type when they scored five runs).
I published a piece on Opening Day, highlighting three Cubs that needed to start hot. Of those three, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo have had their moments. Schwarber is currently slashing .238/.351/.429 with 3 HR and 8 RBI. Rizzo has the most success, slashing .246/.410/.492 with a team-high 5 HR and 9 RBI.
The third of this trio was Kris Bryant, and thus far, 2020 has not been kind. He is currently slashing .182/.286/.345 with 2 HR and just 4 RBI. To add to his misery, Bryant is dealing with a couple of small nagging injuries, which seems fitting because he is just not comfortable out there. This game was full of evidence of that.
Bryant was 0-4 with two rather ugly-looking strikeouts and weak contact. He’s taking pitches over the heart of the plate and swinging at fastballs up and out of the zone. His timing is off. His usually lethal sense of the strike zone has vanished. There is no need to hit the panic button. There is no question that Bryant is a generational talent, but this season is only sixty games long. The Cubs don’t have an abundance of time for Kris to keep running out games like this one.
It is tempting to hit the panic button (as much of the Cubs Twitterverse is currently doing), but there a few important things to keep in mind. First, injuries forced the Cubs to go with their “sixth” starter in game two (though Alec Mills is at worst a fifth starter in my book) and an emergency seventh starter in game three. Second, it is still early. There is a lot of baseball left to be played. Third, the Cubs did yeoman’s work in the early going and have built the exact kind of cushion they needed to weather slumps like the one they currently find themselves in.
The Cubs won’t have time to get away and clear their heads. Starting on Monday, the Cubs begin a stretch of five games in three days against longtime rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. After over two weeks off due to a rash of positive COVID-19 tests, the Cardinals finally returned to action by sweeping a doubleheader against the White Sox before losing the series finale on Sunday.
Kyle Hendricks has been named the starter for Game 1, but a back injury that landed Tyler Chatwood on the IL has left the starter for Game 2 still to be determined. First pitch will be on the Marquee Network at 4:15 pm CT with Game 2 following roughly thirty minutes after the conclusion of Game 1.
Featured Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images
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