September 21, 2017
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The Cincinnati Red and the bandwagon fan will, in this crisis, shrink from the pressure of the playoff chase; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of Tom AND Laura Ricketts. Ryan Braun, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Theo knows how to put a proper price upon such goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as a DIVISION TITLE should not be highly rated. Milwaukee, with a ball club to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to CHALLENGE OUR CUBS) but to BIND us to OUR SEATS FOR A LONG, CLOSE GAME ON A SCHOOL NIGHT...Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to Frank Chance.
Sorry about that (not sorry), but late baseball and a long week somehow caused me to recall excerpts from Thomas Paine's "The Crisis," which I was forced to memorize in Mr. Cormack's 8th Grade US History class. God bless him, and Central Junior High School.
This one was a biggie, folks. As Jim Deshais said during the broadcast, "This is the biggest game of the season...until tomorrow."
The Cubs decided to go after Brewers starter Zach Davies aggressively tonight. That led to a quick first inning that saw the Cubs retired on just 7 pitches. We did get to see a one-out single by Kris Bryant, but he was quickly erased on a double play ball hit by Anthony Rizzo.
With a poor performance by Jon Lester last night, all eyes were anxiously on returning Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. I would be lying if I told you I feel a lot of confidence in our starting rotation outside of Kyle Hendricks right now - and that my stomach was churning a bit with Jake returning from injury...especially considering the quick first inning by Davies. Turns out Jake was pretty crisp, all things considered. He did allow a one-out single to Neil Walker, but got Ryan Braun to fly out before Travis Shaw popped up to Javier Baez to end the inning.
The second inning looked like it might follow the same suit as the first, with Willson Contreras grounding out on the first pitch. Then, after taking a called strike (that was outside), Kyle Schwarber waited on an elevated curve ball, and, well...did what he does, murdering the ball to the opposite field for his 29th home run. Addison Russell had a nice at bat up next, getting ahead 2-0, then singling to center. For a brief moment, I thought maybe the guys had figured things out, and might settle in for a nice offensive night. Such optimism was, of course, folly. Jason Heyward popped out weakly to third, and Javy Baez struck out on three pitches to end the inning.
Arrieta kept the Brewers scoreless in the bottom of the second. By this time, home plate umpire Paul Nauert had established an odd strike zone. He appeared to be giving a few extra inches on the outside to left-handed hitters, while not calling strikes on the bottom part of the zone. On top of that, there must be a slightly funky camera angle used at Miller Park, as pitches didn't appear to line up particularly well with the CSN Pitch Cast feature. At any rate, we got to see yet another game with a questionable, and inconsistent strike zone.
After a lead-off strike out by Arrieta in the top of the third, Jon Jay looped a single to right. Kris Bryant followed with a broken-bat liner up the middle, which was fielded by second-baseman Walker with his momentum taking him out of a solid throw to first. If it weren't for the fact that the Brewers were shifted to Bryant's pull side, it may have been a double play ball to the shortstop. Bryant beat it easily, however, and the Cubs were in business. Rizzo followed with a solid single to right field. Jay ran through a stop sign by third base coach Gary Jones, and scored when the throw was high and slightly up the third base line. Bryant, who had initially slowed at second, was ultimately called out trying to advance to third on a play where he was initially ruled safe. With two outs, and only one on, Contreras grounded into a force to end the inning. The lead was 2-0, which was nice, but the out at third was a downer.
Arrieta got through the third unscathed, though he allowed another hit to Walker. The Cubs would again threaten in the top of the fourth, only to be disappointed. Schwarber drew a walk after a nice at bat. Addison Russell flew out, but the Cubs caught a break when Heyward's taylor-made double play ball was bobbled by Walker at second. Heyward was thrown out at first, but Schwarber stood in scoring position with Baez up. The Brewers elected to intentionally walk Baez to get to Jake Arrieta, but Davies fell behind in the count 2-0. After a strike made the count 2-1, Schwarber took off for third base, and was thrown out easily by Davies, who stepped off the rubber and tossed to third. Schwarber was caught in the rundown, and the inning ended.
Of course, there's nothing that says a pitcher will come through in that situation, but Jake does handle the bat pretty well, and has been known to help his own cause on occasion. I'm not sure what Schwarber was doing, but it ended up being a worst-case scenario situation for the Cubs. Instead of, at worst, the pitcher Arrieta ending the inning and having Jay lead off the fifth, the inning was over, and Jake had to lead off.
And, because the Brewers are better than we like to admit, and because in baseball you tend to get punished for poor plays, the Brewers cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Domingo Santiago got a hold of an Arrieta offering and knocked it over the center field wall. The Cubs went 1-2-3 in the fifth.
Jake made it through the bottom of the fifth, though there were some anxious moments. With no outs and a runner on first, Davies bunted a foul ball off of Willson Contreras. He rolled on the ground for a little bit, and eventually got back up to continue play. Davies struck out, and Brett Phillips ended up stealing second anyway. Eric Sogard walked to put runners on first and second with Cub-killer Walker up next. Arrieta induced a ground ball to Rizzo at first. Anthony whipped it to Russell at second, and back to Arrieta streaking to first to cover. Initially Walker was called safe, but was called out after review. Jake left the game after the fifth inning and 71 pitches. Overall, it was a promising night, allowing just one run on five hits. He only struck out two, but didn't give up much hard contact, outside of the Santiago homer.
What else is there to tell? The Cubs offense went cold, continuing the aggressive approach with Davies. He managed to pitch through 7 innings, on just 77 pitches. Meanwhile, the Cubs went to Carl Edward Jr. early. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning and had a strike out on a filthy breaking ball. Brian Duensing started the bottom of the 7th, and was greeted with a single by Eric Thames. He was erased quickly, however, as Manny Pina hit a grounder right at Russell at short, for a 6-4-3 double play. Duensing walked Keon Broxton - Davies was due up next. It seemed that it was somewhat intentional, in order to get Davies out of the game. Pedro Strop was summoned to get the third out, and he struggled. He walked pinch hitter Jesus Aguilar to put runners on first and second, and got frustrated by a couple of calls (the "outside" corner tightened up, and the umpire flat-out missed a pitch in the lower part of the strike zone). On 2-1, Eric Sogard lined a single to right that tied up the game. Strop eventually got out of the inning, but not before walking another batter (and needing to be calmed down by Contreras, of all people).
Can we skip the 8th inning?
I suppose I can't. It kinda sets up the nice finish.
Back-to-back walks to Jon Jay and Kris Bryant made one feel like the Cubs might take the momentum right back. Unfortunately, Rizzo struck out and Contreras hit a sharp ground ball - right at the shortstop Sogard, who turned the 6-4-3 to end the inning.
Justin Wilson got the bottom of the 8th, and...well, he struck out the first guy he faced. Then Santana doubled down the left field line, and stole third to really put the pressure on. With the infield drawn in, Eric Thames hit a ground ball that would have been the second out, but Baez couldn't handle it. Santana scored easily, and the Brewers led 3-2. Justin Grimm struck out two batters to clean up some of Wilson's mess to keep it close enough to give the Cubs a chance in the 9th.
The Brewers went with Jeremy Jeffress to close out the game, which was to the Cubs' advantage. Ian Happ led off with a chopper to Neil Walker at first. Thankfully, Jeffress didn't quite hustle to the bag, and Happ was called safe on a bang-bang play. It was also advantageous that the call was safe, because the replay guys in New York found that there was not conclusive evidence to overturn the call. Let's be clear. If Happ had been ruled out, there's no way he is on first base as a result of any review. Addison Russell worked the count to 3-2 before striking out swinging on a borderline pitch at the top of the zone. The Cubs got a little more luck, as pinch hitter Alex Avila did NOT hit one of his characteristic hard grounders, but instead chopped a ball to the left of Sogard, who had switched to second. Making the safe play, Sogard got the second out at first, with Javy Baez on deck. Jeffress got ahead of Javy 1-2, making him look pretty bad on a splitter at one point of the at bat. But Javy always does *something* in a game, and you haven't seen me mention that *something* yet. Down to the last strike, Javy stroked a ball past shortstop Orlando Arcia to drive in Happ for a tie ballgame.
As good as that felt, it only tied the game, with the Brewers still to bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Grimm started the 9th, and got Sogard to ground out. Neil Walker hits Cubs pitching, though, and singled. Joe went to the closer, Wade Davis to get out of the inning - so he promptly hit Ryan Braun to put runners on first and second. The situation worsened when Travis Shaw lined a single to right field. Luckily, it was hit hard enough that Walker could not even think about scoring. With the bases loaded and just one out, Maddon brought Ian Happ in to the infield to prevent a ground ball, run-scoring hit. Domingo Santana apparently felt it wasn't enough to simply knock in a run, but end it on a grand slam. Thanks to a few home run swings (and misses), Davis got him to strike out. That brought Orlando Arcia to the plate...and Davis couldn't find the zone. He got behind 3-1. With Arcia taking all the way, he grooved a 95 mph fastball down the center of the plate for strike two. At 3-2 Arcia hit a weak comebacker to Davis to end the inning.
To the tenth we went, and Oliver Drake came in to pitch for the Brewers. Oliver Drake, you'll remember was acquired by the Brady family in 1974 to bolster the lineup when Tiger went down with a hammy. Or not, you decide.
At any rate, he was equally as effective as "Cousin Oliver" was for the Brady Bunch, immediately giving up a double to Jon Jay. Usually dependable Keon Broxton probably should have made the catch on a run, but it glanced off of his glove as he leaped into the air. The un-clutch Kris Bryant did the clutchiest of things, and crushed a homer to center to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead. Rizzo followed with a ball off the top of the wall that went for a triple. The Cubs weren't able to add on from there, but they'd managed to re-take momentum.
And remember those shaky, earlier innings by the Cubs bullpen? Forget about them, because Wade Davis was smokin' in the bottom of the 10th. He struck out the side, 1-2-3 to end the game. If it weren't the Brewers, you'd almost feel bad for them, having come back to take the lead late in ballgames two nights in a row, only to lose both games.
Three Stars of the Game
#3 Jon Jay has struggled a bit more of late after a very good first half, but tonight he was a key guy in the lineup. He was 2-for-4 with a walk, and scored two runs, including the go-ahead run in the 10th.
#2 Javy Baez obviously came up huge in the 9th, driving in the tying run. He also was 2-for-3 on the night, and played a solid second base.
#1 The reigning MVP, Kris Bryant, came up big in the "biggest game of the year" tonight.
This one was huge, as the lead in the NL Central went from (nearly) 2.5 games to 4.5 games in the 9th and 10th innings. If the Cubs let this one slip away, it gives the Brewers THAT much more hope/momentum/mojo...whatever you want to call it. Instead, they have to live with the fact that they've blown two straight games, and could be just 1.5 back if it weren't for blown saves.
Tomorrow night John Lackey will take the mound for Chicago against rookie Brandon Woodruff. It feels a lot better going into this one with a veteran pitcher pitted against a 24 year-old kid pitching in the biggest game of his life.
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