Saturday’s Frustrating Loss Serves as Sad Microcosm of Cubs’ Season

Saturday’s loss came because the offense couldn’t push runs across and the bullpen couldn’t hold two separate leads. That’s the most basic version of a story we’ve already heard way too many times over the past season. Past two seasons, really. And since you’ve already developed an unfortunate familiarity with these tropes, I’ll keep this short

The Cubs failed to score more than one run against Gio González, which was to be expected given the way they’ve hit him in the past. Then they failed to score more than one run with the bases loaded and no outs in 8th inning, which was to be expected given the way they’ve performed this season. Then came the bullpen decisions, which were plenty questionable even before they led to disappointing results.

Joe Maddon played hunches, inexplicably batting Albert Almora Jr. in the leadoff spot again despite heaps of data screaming against it. After saying earlier in the season that he thought Almora’s poor performance against lefties — he went into the game with a .533 OPS against them — was a product of small sample size, Maddon had the center fielder in the top spot, ostensibly based upon his 1.260 OPS in 11 previous plate appearances against González.

Those numbers all dropped by a little bit Saturday night. Not that Almora was the only one who struggled against González by any means, since the mediocre southpaw made the entire Cubs lineup look foolish yet again. Only Addison Russell, who’s been brutally bad at the plate since being brought back from Iowa, was able to do anything.

But as if the karmic scales needed to be tipped back to balance after Russell’s homer in the 5th inning, the replacement shortstop made his third errant throw in as many games to open the door for the Brewers in the 9th.

Though criticizing Maddon’s bullpen moves is often a matter of bias and has become too easy to be worthwhile, Saturday’s choices were so puzzling that even the beat writers were questioning them publicly. Maddon said after the game that he “liked” David Phelps against Yasmani Grandal, a choice that ended up costing them a game-tying homer to lead off the 8th.

Then the manager said Derek Holland was the Cubs’ “best matchup” for Christian Yelich, which is laughable at best and actually lands closer to downright irresponsible. Picked up as a lefty specialist, Holland has too often been deployed in the kind of high-leverage situations he should never be in, leading to awful results. Since joining the Cubs, he’s given up a .929 OPS to the 20 left-handed batters he’s faced. Neat.

Holland has no business pitching in a tight game like that, especially not against one of the best hitters in the majors, and his brief outing consisted of a four-pitch walk. Only then did Maddon go to Rowan Wick, who probably should have been the choice at the start of the inning. Rather than going with his high-leverage guys and figuring out subsequent innings as they come, Maddon crossed his fingers and hoped to make it to end with a lead intact.

The result was a game that simmered for hours in a Dutch oven and still managed to come out cold and smelling worse than one of the farts for which Holland is so notorious. And with that, I’ve gone too long. The Cubs need a win Sunday, no two ways about it, and they’re going to need a better effort in every facet of the game — save for starting pitching, which was good Saturday — to get it.

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