A losing series in Denver that saw the Cubs narrowly escape a sweep thanks to some clutch hitting late in the first game left a sour taste that even Altoids may not completely mask. Monday’s contest was the only one in which they scored more than four runs and it was also the only time they managed to score after the 6th inning. I’m inclined to believe that’s been a season-long trend, but the Mandela Effect is apparently at work in that regard.
Over the course of the season, the Cubs are actually third in MLB with an average of 1.62 runs scored over the last three innings of their games. Only the Dodgers (1.73) and Astros (1.69) boast better production. When you narrow it to the last two innings, the Cubs (1.10) trail only the Dodgers (1.11). In order to reconcile this with my belief prior to doing the research, I’m just going to say a large number of those runs were of the pile-on variety.
In any case, they only averaged .22 runs over the final three innings in their disappointing matchup with the Rockies. David Ross said the Cubs “didn’t play our type of baseball,” and that’s more than fair. Their lack of scoring came in spite of 33 hits, a function of only getting two balls past the warning track in the thin mountain air.
That same sort of dissonance I feel with their run-scoring can likewise be applied to their defense, which looked like dogshit despite being charged with just one error. I still don’t believe it and I’ve gone back to look at each box score multiple times. Part of my cognitive struggle comes from Pete Crow-Armstrong covering the entirety of Coors Field’s 121,486 square feet of outfield with a series of incredible catches while also losing a routine fly in the sun.
Then there’s Jameson Taillon, whose numbers didn’t really match the visuals and often haven’t during various other starts. Though he allowed only three earned runs with five strikeouts and one walk, two of the seven hits he allowed went for two-run homers. Both came in the 5th inning with the latter immediately following that aforementioned error, a drop by Ian Happ on a Kris Bryant fly.
Taillon is no stranger to such misfortune, as his 13 unearned runs lead the NL. It’s almost as though he’s uniquely ill-suited to pitch in front of a defense that has otherwise been stout. Though the Cubs are fourth in MLB with 39 defensive runs saved and fifth with 22 outs above average, they went into Wednesday’s game with 27 OAA on the season. And as Jordan Bastian noted, they had already produced -2 OAA across Taillon’s previous starts.
Even if some defensive metrics are a little murky and not entirely reliable in small samples, they don’t contradict the eye test. Taillon’s strikeout and walk rates are nearly identical to his career marks and his .302 BABIP allowed isn’t way out of whack, but his 11.1% barrel rate is nearly three points higher than in either of his seasons with the Yankees. Taillon limited barrels to just a 4.0% clip across four seasons in Pittsburgh, nearly one-third of what he’s giving up now.
“It starts with [my execution],” Taillon told reporters after the loss. “But it does feel like if we give extra opportunities this year, that coupled with me not always being at my best like I’m used to this year, I feel like that’s kind of a bad recipe.”
We’ve talked a lot about Kyle Hendricks having limited margin for error due to his lack of velocity and what for a long while there was spotty command, but Taillon may have negative margin. Like, he doesn’t just need the defense to perform at a standard level behind him. If he’s not nearly perfect, which he was in his previous start against the Diamondbacks, the Cubs have to play elite defense to keep them in the game.
Am I being a little hyperbolic? Probably. But is it a problem when a playoff contender drops two of three to the worst team in the league? Definitely. The pitching matchups align really well for the Cubs in Arizona because they’ll miss both Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, so they really need to take care of business to prevent the last two series from hijacking the reality that they are indeed a good baseball team.
I’m already struggling to comprehend some of the other stuff above, so continuing to soil the bed offensively while also scoring the third-most total runs in the NL might break me.