Cubs vs. Reds Series Review: Cubs Pitching Falters in Forgettable Series Loss

In a series defined by anxiety-inducing pitching and high-flying home runs, the Cubs lost their second set in as many weeks to the last-place Reds. Both Friday and Saturday’s contests featured late leads squandered by Cubs pitching, with the team managing to recover for a win only in the latter. Sunday’s game produced decidedly less anxiety, as Cubs relievers never had a lead to protect.

It was the kind of series where no amount of Pepto-Bismol could ease the upset stomachs of fans who repeatedly watched Cubs pitching give up leads. One could be forgiven for mistaking their efforts this weekend for this year’s early season struggles. The bullpen in particular has been exposed as a group that Joe Maddon hasn’t yet found reason to trust.

Sunday’s finale took the stress out of any late bullpen management decisions as starter José Quintana gave up six runs before the Cubs could put up one. While the ‘pen might have been the focal point of ire, Quintana was not alone among starters in giving up runs in bunches to a Cincinnati lineup that is suddenly coming to life. Kyle Hendricks managed to record a quality start, but just barely, serving up three late runs in six innings. In an encouraging sign, Yu Darvish managed to pitch into the 8th inning, but not before giving up six earned runs.

While Cubs bats didn’t show up in a meaningful way on Sunday, they put up 13 runs in the series’ first two games, which makes it all the more frustrating that they only managed to split them. Still, the lineup continues to click and has demonstrated itself to be the club’s unquestioned strength.

Things didn’t go the Cubs way this weekend, but one can reasonably hope that the team can at least win two of three more often than not when they put up 15 runs. Here’s to hoping.


Key Moments

Two blown saves in a single game can take the luster out of anything else good that happened that day, but it’s still worth recognizing Kyle Schwarber‘s first career leadoff home run on Friday. The titanic blast went 449 feet before touching down, kicking off a game that started far better than it ended. Schwarber has been thriving in the leadoff spot, making his ill-fated 2017 foray into the role seem like a distant memory.

Saturday’s win had a number of key moments, too.

David Bote‘s game-winning double and Tyler Chatwood‘s first save as a Cub certainly grab the headlines, but  Darvish managed to achieve a milestone by pitching past the 7th inning for the first time since 2017. He did surrender six runs including a game tying home run in the 8th inning, but in a game that featured difficult pitching conditions and a dangerous Reds lineup, there’s still reason to be encouraged by his efforts.

It’s hard to find a key moment in an eight run loss like the one the team suffered on Sunday, but if there was one it actually came after the game. Kris Bryant, who had left the game following an outfield collision with Jason Heyward was cleared to travel with the team to Houston. It’s not clear if he’ll be able to play at the start of the series in Houston, but at least he’s healthy enough to travel.

Who’s hot

  • Anthony Rizzo is in the midst of what is on pace to be perhaps his best season as a Cub. He’s currently on an eight-game hitting streak and was consistently in the middle of the Cubs’ offensive efforts all weekend.
  • The aforementioned Chatwood deserves some serious praise for the work he’s put in as a reliever. The walks have remained an issue, but Chatwood has otherwise excelled in a role that common sense suggests he’d rather not be in given his history of starting. If Saturday is any indication, the Cubs may be starting to increase their willingness to use the former starter in high-leverage situations.

Who’s not

  • The Cubs bullpen is in a rut. There’s no sense in picking on specific players because it doesn’t seem Maddon trusts anyone but Steve Cishek, and even he blew a save on Friday. Pedro Strop may be back soon and the Cubs could certainly use him, as Friday’s blown save dropped the Cubs to just 9-for-19 in save opportunities. They would have added another blown save on Saturday, except it was Darvish who gave up an 8th inning game tying blast. Oof.
  • Starters didn’t fare particularly well, with only Hendricks managing to record a quality start.
  • Javy Báez had hit a bit of a cold streak coming into Sunday’s contest, but did show signs of snapping out of it by recording three hits, including an 8th inning home run. I’m as worried about Javy as you should be, which is to say that I’m not worried at all.

Bottom line

Following a season in which the Cubs lost their division by only one game, it’s tempting to turn every game or every series into a referendum on their commitment to the new marketing slogan of “every game matters.” This series was frustrating and forgettable, but baseball seasons are going to have those in abundance.

The bullpen is in a tough spot at the moment, especially since they haven’t had the benefit of an off day since May 13. Both the upcoming off day and the return of pseudo-closer Strop are in sight and, despite a tough series loss, the Cubs have managed to stay afloat and in first place during what will probably end up being one of the more difficult stretches of their season.

Even the 2016 season had moments like this that you’d just as soon forget ever happened. Problems may linger, but the only thing the Cubs can do is move on and attempt to finish this long stretch on a high note against the perennial powerhouse Astros. If their attitudes and outfits for their first themed road trip of the year are any indication, I’d say they’ve already put this weekend in the rear view mirror.

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