During a rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning this evening, a huge bolt of lightning struck near Wrigley Field, emitting an ear splitting crack and sending Kris Bryant scurrying for cover.
It would be incredibly dramatic to report that Willson Contreras walked over to the site of the strike, fashioned a bat from the remains of a Wrigleyville tree, named it “Wonderboy,” and used it to hit a walk off home run. But since this is the Ricketts era, we all know the much likelier ending is Crane Kenney selling it for $300 at the Cubs Authentics stand.
A couple of games ago, Yu Darvish had what we all hoped would be a season-defining brilliant start against the Dodgers. Which was a few games after he had what we all hoped would be a season defining start against Jake Arrieta. At this point, it’s fair to say that Darvish’s walk up music should be from Lili Von Shtupp. Because he is a TEASE.
Although based on the way Braves hitters handled him tonight, everything above the waist was kaput.
Darvish began the game by working a full count to the absurdly impressive Ronald Acuña Jr. His 3-2 pitch appeared to catch the bottom of the zone. But unfortunately for Yu, Ted Barrett was tonight’s home plate umpire. And it’s appropriate that Barrett is an ordained minister because when he’s behind the plate, the strike zone is an eternal mystery of faith. Barrett called it ball four and the game was off to a rough start.
On the very next pitch, Acuña broke for second base. Contreras unleashed a throw that one hopped its way to the bag. Addison Russell played it like a matador instead of an infielder, waving his glove at it as if trying to avoid all contact as the ball careened into center field and Acuña continued on to third. After Darvish induced a popup from Dansby Swanson providing a small reason to hope, his subsequent pitch clanked off Contreras’s glove and rolled through his legs, gifting the Braves a very easy first run.
A word about Russell. It’s time to send him elsewhere. For a lot of us, it’s long past time to do so. When he can’t even be bothered to stop what appeared to be an easy hop in front of the bag, it’s also time to break out the “What exactly is it you do here?” gif. His WRC+ is still so low, you’d assume it measured human decency. And although he had a decent couple of at bats at the start of the game, he still crushed a rally with an overmatched eighth inning strikeout.
Even giving Theo Epstein every benefit of the doubt as to his motivations for keeping Russell around, the fact remains that this isn’t a social experiment--it’s a baseball team. The Cubs sent Ian Happ to Iowa because they were evaluating purely on performance. Based on that criteria, Addison Russell should be in Eugene.
With just one run scoring in what felt like a first inning of bad omens, there was a bit of hope that Darvish could still settle in and pitch a good game. Unfortunately, the Braves lineup wasn’t about to let him up for air. Just as WGN was broadcasting a severe thunderstorm warning, Brian McCann launched a home run off the right field scoreboard. Which was appropriate since McCann wants baseball to be exactly as fun as sitting by yourself in a windowless room. After two innings, it was 2-0.
The coup de gras for Darvish came in the third. With one out, Freddie Freeman lined a double to left and Josh Donaldson walked. After going 2-0 on Nick Markakis, Tommy Hottovy went to visit the mound to offer a bit of advice. Unfortunately, he forgot to add “Hey, don’t throw this next pitch right down the middle so this guy can pulverize it for a three run homer.” Might want to put that on a post-it note for next time.
Up to this point, while the Braves were scoring in every inning, Dallas Keuchel was inducing the Cubs to hit into a double play in the bottom of each frame. It seemed an appropriate way to sum up the month of June: the offense was doing just enough to be the most frustrating it could possibly be.
So why has this month been so obnoxiously inconsistent? Well, let’s look at the June numbers for the three biggest hitters in the lineup going into tonight...
Kris Bryant: .284/.376/.432
Anthony Rizzo: .235/.340/.407
Javy Báez: .247/.272/.517
None of them are doing awful. And there are some good numbers in there like Bryant and Rizzo’s on base and Javy’s slugging. But the biggest takeaway is that none of them are performing at anywhere close to their best. That goes a bit of way toward explaining why it seems like the Cubs can’t get any kind of sustainable winning streak going.
The good news is that Contreras appears to be operating at full Willy the Beast mode and he made a valiant effort to bring them back in the game. With one out in the fourth, Willson unleashed fury on a 2-0 fastball from Keuchel for a long home run to left field. Also noteworthy was that Brian McCann didn’t yell at Contreras after his home run trot. Which means he did it wrong. Nonetheless, the Cubs were on the board and it was 5-1.
Also encouraging was that Bryant turned in a three hit game and played some stellar defense in left field, third base, and shifted over to the second base position. KB did Willson one better in the fifth, demolishing a 1-0 fastball like it had written a tweet about him after grounding into a double play last night. It ended up glancing off the bottom of the left field jumbotron, making it 5-2.
Things got even closer in the sixth and Contreras was again in the middle of it with a one out line drive triple to right. Jason Heyward followed with a ground ball to second that for once we were happy to see and it was 5-3. The Cubs had three innings left against the Atlanta bullpen to try and come all the way back.
Sadly, that was it for the scoring on the night. The patented fake rally™ happened in the eighth instead of the ninth and was foiled with back-to-back strikeouts from Russell and Victor Caratini.
Through it all, the Cubs managed to stubbornly cling to first place as both the Brewers and Cardinals lost as well. Nonetheless, baseball logic dictates that they’re going to have to start winning at some point if they want to hold it for another three months. And it will probably happen once one or more of the big three finds himself in another hot streak.
As for Darvish? Let’s face it, I’m tired.
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