First off, an apology is needed for the recap appearing now. I have been a bit under the weather lately, and it wasn't just the actual weather the Cubs have been through or the Cubs performance when they have played. I also got suckered into watching the Bears for the first time in years, and I had learned my lesson by the end of that night. Anyways here is your belated recap of another night of pain for the Northside nine.
There are a few ways to look at the current Cubs situation. The Cubs are struggling hard right now. This is a team that has been dealt a terrible hand by extenuating circumstances. The team is clearly tired and worn down with only a single offday remaining on the calendar that is over a week away. The Brewers are peaking at exactly the right time and could easily leave town with a divison lead they never relinquish.
It is also true that the Cubs are a very talented team that has dealt with all kinds of adversity to achieve the best record in the NL to this point. The Cubs control their fate, and do so largely from the comfort of their own home. The Cubs have performed well down the stretch every year Maddon has been here, and the odds are still overwhelming that this is a playoff team.
Both of these things can be true at the same time as it turns out, and I find myself oscillating between those two poles this morning. The game itself last night wasn't a fun one to watch. Jon Lester was greeted by a Brewers team that was eager to swing early. When Lester is on those are some of the special nights he has had in his career. Unfortunately, Jon Lester was not on at the start of the game. The Brewers hit him hard with those early swings with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich hit back to back singles to start the game. Lester struck out Jesús Aguilar to for the first out, but walked Ryan Braun to load the bases. Jonathan Schoop hit a ball hard but at a Cubs outfielder for the first out. It also scored the first run of the game. Yelich was caught stealing on his Theriot-esque TOOTBLAN to end the inning and keep the Cubs in it.
Daniel Murphy flew out to start the inning, but Kris Bryant hit a hustle double against the shift for the Cubs first baserunner. Wade Miley fired a wild pickoff attempt to allow Bryant to advance to third base. Anthony Rizzo hit a groundball to Aguilar, who thought about going home before stepping on first for the second out. Javier Báez drew a full count walk and Ben Zobrist continues to hit with a groundball single. Albert Almora Jr. made weak contact on a 3-1 pitch to end the inning with the game tied.
The Brewers were still hitting Lester hard in the second inning. Mike Moustakas doubled on a hard hit ball. Dr. Katz-I mean Erik Kratz hit the ball hard, but the wind helped the ball stay in the ballpark. Moustakas was able to tag and advance to third on the play. The Cubs brought the infield in with one out and the runner at third. The Cubs were burnt by this strategy as Orlando Arcia hit a soft single over a leaping Addison Russell to put the Brewers back ahead right away. Lester struck out Miley and Yelich to end the inning with the Cubs still very much in the game.
The starting pitchers actually settled into the game at this point. From the bottom of the second through the top of the fifth inning there was a combined three base runners. With each team bouncing into a double play during this stretch it meant that only once did either starter not face the minimum as the game began to move along quickly.
The Cubs bats came to life in the bottom of the fifth inning against Miley. Willson Contreras started the inning off with a groundball double. Jon Lester hit the ball hard, but the speedy Cain managed to track the ball down running into deep right center. Contreras advanced easily on the play. Miley walked Russell and Murphy to load the bases with just one out. Kris Bryant hit a ball hard, but it was the wrong night for that as it was caught in deep left. Contreras scored the tying run on the play, but it was an important missed opportunity when Rizzo grounded out to end the inning.
Lester went back out in the top of the sixth inning. Big Jon recorded two outs pretty easily, but Moustakas hit a ball back up the middle for a single. Moustakas reached third on Erik Kratz hard hit double. That would be it for Lester who left the game with back tightness. Thankfully the early reports suggest it was a minor issue that shouldn't prevent him from making his next start. Joe Maddon attempting to get Carl Edwards Jr. on track once again, inserted the electric righty into the pressure situation. First pitch Edwards spiked and Moustakas scored the go ahead run. Edwards, understandably frustrated with himself, made a critical error by not immediately breaking to home. Contreras made an ill-advised throw to the late breaking Edwards that had no chance of being successful. Thankfully nothing more wacky happened on that play. Edwards walked Arcia, but struck out pinch hitter Curtis Granderson to avoid further damage.
The Cubs offense looked inept at the very good Brewers bullpen. Corbin Burnes pitched the sixth inning. Almora hit a two out groundball single for the Cubs only hit of the inning. The Cubs bullpen managed to match the Brewers efforts in the most important category, but the Brewers had traffic in every inning against Jesse Chavez, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Brandon Kintzler.
Josh Hader entered the game in the seventh inning. Maddon inserted Kyle Schwarber into the game in the top of the seventh inning. That made Craig Counsell counter with Hader. After the game, Maddon said that Schwarber was not available to hit tonight due to his own back issues and that Maddon wanted to force the move to Hader then. David Bote was the pinch hitter, but it didn't matter as Hader struck out him and the next five batters he faced.
The Cubs faced Jeremy Jeffress in the ninth inning, and two outs happened pretty quickly. Contreras drew the two out walk to keep the Cubs hopes alive. Terrance Gore continued to make his case for the surely this isn't 2004 we will need a postseason roster. Gore stole second for his now second on the team fifth stolen base. Tommy La Stella struck out to end the threat, and the Brewers are now within a single game.
The math still hasn't changed much though, and a win tonight erases a lot of the bad feelings. I am cautiously optimistic about a team that has gotten two decent nights of rest in a row for the first time in over a week. Jose Quintana has performed at his best against the Brewers. But who can predict baseball?
No additonal comment needed.