One cross-country pajama jammy jam and everything falls apart. I’m guessing the cross-country flight spawned more than a couple attempts at Wade Boggs’ record and maybe even a juicy story or three. So I’m not too surprised that the Cubs laid a bit of an egg on Monday night. Call it Mark Grace Syndrome.
The legendary lush was known for his hard-partying ways, professing that the real problem isn’t a day game after a night game, but a day game after a day game. You know, because the latter afforded you the ability to drink for an extra 6 hours or so. Solid strategy. But Gracie didn’t wear batting gloves and he had a catalog of bawdy tales, so his old-timey grit quotient was high enough to absolve him in they eyes of the fans.
Granted, this was night game after a night game, but the first half of the circuit was the last of a West Coast road trip, which means the team was well-acclimated to the time change and the players were able to stay up into the wee hours.. Oh, then there’s the matter of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter, which was enough to keep me up until nearly 2am even without the prospect of mile-high shenanigans. Joe Maddon mentioned that there’d be no early arrival times for his players, but he didn’t say many of them would fail to show up at all.
The Cincinnati Reds had been 5-20 in the 25 games prior to Monday and have nothing to play for at this point. Easy pickings, right? Well, it kind of seemed that way at the outset, what with Dexter Fowler shooting his career-high 15th homer into the basket in left to start the scoring in the 3rd. BABIP singles* by Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant put the Cubs up 5-3 in the bottom of the 5th and the Cubs were looking good.
But that’s when things got Grimm. One of the most reliable members of the bullpen, Justin Grimm hadn’t allowed a run since July 20th, a span of 17 appearances and 15 innings. I guess no-name players from bottom-feeding teams are just his kryptonite. Grimmer opened the 6th with a walk to Ivan DeJesus Jr, then gave up a long home run to Eugenio Suarez. The reliever then allowed a single to Tucker Barnhart before giving up a lined shot to left by Adam Duvall in his first at-bat as a Red.
It was one of those outings that you just need to shrug off and forget about. Grimm was having trouble getting a feel for anything and it seemed as though his pitches were either way off the plate or right over its heart. His third of an inning would prove to be sort of a microcosm for the game as a whole.
Starlin Castro had been looking much better at the plate in August, slashing .296/.315/.437 with only a 9.6% K rate and a wRC+ of 101 in 73 plate appearances. His defense on the right side of the infield hasn’t been terrible either, though I maintain that he’s looked a bit stiff and tentative at times in his new position. His two 9th-inning errors (3 total), however, paved the way for a big Reds rally that effectively closed the door on the Cubs.
While I don’t believe his play Monday day is indicative of his overall skill level, I do believe that Castro has shown this season that he’s just not fully engaged mentally. I’ll not deign to cast aspersions on his psychological well-being or to speculate on any phantom diagnoses, I simply think Castro is sort of a man apart at this point. My hope is that he can continue to be a useful bench bat against lefty pitching, though I’m not sure how big his role will be now that Javy Baez is back.
One of Castro’s errors came when Aroldis Chapman actually took an at-bat after coming on to get two outs in the 8th. Castro missed a relay throw from Addison Russell, allowing a run to score. Jason Bourgeois, living proof of the Reds’ continued mistreatment of the proletariat, then capped the revolt with a 2-run double.
Make no mistake, this was an awful game and it sucks to lose to a bad team. There’s nothing fun about giving up a baker’s dozen, particularly to an organization that holds onto a valuable closer who means nothing to them at this point and that then puts a bat in said closer’s hand with a 5-run lead. Does anyone else get the feeling that Bryan Price is just like, “Screw it, I’m getting fired when they blow this thing up in the offseason. Why not have a little fun?”
This game struck me as one of those weird aberrations that are unavoidable over the course of a season. Sure, the Cubs’ odds of laying an egg were perhaps increased a bit by the fallout — read: hangover — from the previous evening and early morning, but you’ve got little choice but to laugh this one off and move forward. At the end of the day, this loss counts just as much as the no-hitter; the latter feels bigger, but neither counts for more than six tenths of a percent of the season.
It’s taken some time, but I’m learning to level out the inevitable ups and downs of a long season, to stop drawing conclusions from a single play or game. More importantly, the Cubs aren’t going to let a single game impact their outlook, which is a testament to Joe Maddon’s mantra: “Never allow the pressure to exceed the pleasure.” In a case like last night, that’s as much about letting go of the bad games and pushing forward.
Today’s roster expansion should provide a nice injection of both depth and energy for the final push and it’ll be interesting to see how Maddon conducts the musical chairs over these remaining few weeks.
*Batting average on balls in play is considered a measurement of how lucky a hitter is, so when little bleeders or bloops fall in, they’re considered signs of good fortune.