Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

Cubs fall short in sloppy, rain-soaked game at Wrigley

At one point, there were almost more seagulls (and ducks!) on the field than fans in the stands while the game was still being played.

That's how awful the weather got at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon, where the Cubs dropped an ugly, rain-soaked game 6-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs walked 10 batters, committed three errors (leading to two unearned runs), had only six hits and struck out 10 times in a game that took more than five-and-a-half hours to complete (including a two-hour rain delay).

Every ball in the air became an adventure for both teams.

"That was a very awkward day to play baseball," said Joe Maddon, who compared Friday's elements to some of the worst weather he's ever played/managed through.

The announced crowd of 36,923 never quite materialized thanks to a first-pitch temperature that felt like 37 degrees thanks to 17 mph winds. Throw in the constant smattering of rain and the conditions were downright miserable to watch a game in.

But with a ton of rain forecasted for Saturday, the Cubs and Brewers didn't want to take the chance they'd have to make up two games later in the season.

Things were tough for the Cubs from the outset as Eddie Butler walked the first two batters of the game, both of whom came around to score on a two-out single up the middle by Milwaukee catcher Jett Bandy.

Butler — coming off an impressive debut (six shutout innings) in St. Louis over the weekend — only allowed those two runs, but also recorded just nine outs, needing 92 pitches to do so. The 26-year-old walked five batters and allowed three hits, striking out three.

He admitted he couldn't get a good feel on the baseball due to the conditions, but also didn't use that as an excuse.

"Both teams were playing in it," Butler said. "I needed to find a way to get it done and I didn't do that today."

The Cubs battled back in the third when Keon Broxton dropped Javy Baez's fly ball in center field, allowing the Cubs shortstop to motor into second base. Two batters later, Jon Jay singled Baez home.

Willson Contreras added a two-run single in the fourth and the Cubs held the lead as the rains started to pick up.

But Mike Montgomery struggled with his command in the top of the fifth, allowing two runs to score, giving the Brewers a 4-3 lead.

The conditions only continued to worsen and the game was finally delayed after Kyle Schwarber had to range all the way into the infield dirt for a fly ball that clanked off his glove. He compounded the initial error by trying to get a force at second base, but his diving throw wound up in right field instead, leading to two errors on the same play.

As the Brewers runners settled into second and third to start out the sixth inning, the game was finally suspended and the tarp stretched out over the infield.

"That ball should never happen," Maddon said. "That's why they pulled the tarp. ... When a play like that occurs, that also points in the direction that probably the conditions weren't baseball-esque. Please don't blame Schwarber. That's very unjust. The wind and where that ball blew back to, he made a great attempt on it, actually. That's normally the shortstop's ball, but under the circumstances, it was up for grabs, basically."

But after the ball smacked off his glove, should Schwarber have tried to flip it to second?

"He doesn't practice a backhand flip from 40 feet away on a daily basis," Maddon deadpanned. "He was just trying to make a play. If he had made it, it would've been outstanding. But I'm not gonna criticize that." 

When play resumed one hour and 59 minutes later, Domingo Santana greeted Cubs rookie Pierce Johnson — making his MLB debut — with another two-run single to close out the scoring in the afternoon/evening.

Johnson said he couldn't really tell how bad the conditions truly were since he was tucked away in the Cubs bullpen under the left-field bleachers. But when he walked through the doors onto the playing field, he was hit with the wind and rain and said his glasses/goggles actually fogged up initially.

Still, he was happy-go-lucky about the opportunity to make his big-league debut, even if the weather was dreadful.

"That's not how I drew it up," Johnson said. "What an amazing experience. That was so much fun to be out there and finally get out the for the first time and really kinda calm those nerves a bit. Had an absolute blast and got the first one out of the way."

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”