Baseball

The HBP Drama Heats Up – Cubs/Brewers Series Review: Cubs Lose Series 3-6/3-2/0-7

The start of the season continues to slog on as the Cubs continue to suck offensively and lose by multiple runs, just like the old days. The games are honestly hard to watch when other sports are going on — the Hawks were winning this week and there was even a no-hitter across town. But here we are with the summary of the games, in case you didn’t catch them, or if you did catch them and you wanted to relive it all.

Besides pitchers being sick or in COVID protocols, this was the Willson Contreras series, as the hit by pitch saga hopefully ends with his home run to win the game. There aren’t a lot of positives to take out of this series, but that’s one. Additionally, Justin Steele and Pedro Strop made their season debuts and looked pretty good — Strop even got the win on Tuesday. Let’s break down each game.

April 12, 2021
Cubs 3, Brewers 6
WP: Peralta (2-0) LP: Alzolay (0-2)
Box Score

Things don’t get any easier for the Cubs since their atrocious last series, as Jason Adam, Dan Winkler, and Brandon Workman got placed on the COVID-19-related injured list because the Cubs’ bullpen coach Chris Young received a positive test. This didn’t stop Adbert Alzolay from starting, however, trying his best to redeem himself after his horrendous first start that put him at a 7.20 ERA. Although he did get some contact on his pitches early, the Cubs defense behind him was able to field it so there were no hits through the 1st inning.

The Cubs, surprise surprise, got on the board first with a solo homer by Kris Bryant. Bryant leads the team in slugging percentage and OPS, and he came out of this game 2nd on the team with a .233 batting average and a .361 OBP. These numbers are all about average or below average compared to all MLB players last season, which just shows you how much the Cubs offense is currently suffering.

Alzolay seemed to feel more comfortable as the game went on, surprisingly, as he continued to keep the Brewers from staying on the board for the first five innings of the game. By the 6th, however, Alzolay abruptly unraveled, as he gave up two singles and a walk. Rossy replaced him with Andrew Chafin in a bases loaded situation, and on his first pitch Luis Urias immediately hit a double that scored three runners. Then Chafin threw a wild pitch and another runner scored. Then the Brewers tripled and hit another single and suddenly, after just 12 pitches, the score became 6-1 Brewers.

So now’s as good as time as any to bring out Justin Steele on his MLB debut. Justin Steele was able to throw three strikes to finish the inning. This was just the 2nd inning in 2 games in which the Cubs have given up 6 runs, an accomplishment that encompasses the true meaning of the Cubbie Way. Steele continued through the 7th inning to try his very best: strikeout, single, groundout, strikeout, walk, HBP, and groundout was the extent of his inning. (Brad Wieck also made his season debut, in which his fastball is now hitting 93 mph instead of 91 mph like last season. He was able to get the three outs eventually.)

Meanwhile, the Cubs decided that finally, during the 9th inning, they’d try to generate offense. Bryant singled, Pederson walked, a wild pitch sent them to 2nd and 3rd base, Baez doubled to score them both, and then Josh Hader was put into the game to end it quickly and mercilessly.

April 13, 2021
Cubs 3, Brewers 2
WP: Strop (1-0) LP: Suter (0-1)
Box Score

Now that one of the Cubs’ bullpen coaches has COVID-19, the story continued to evolve when we learned that Kyle Hendricks wasn’t going to start this game because he was exhibiting symptoms of congestion, which is a symptom of COVID-19, but also just the regular cold or flu. Although he ended up testing negative, they put him out of the lineup just to be safe and he was able to drive home to Chicago.

In his place they put Alec Mills, who came up on short notice and pitched four innings this game and gave up a glorious two runs, one of them being a home run that scored the two Brewers runs of the night. By the 5th inning, it was time to head to the bullpen, where faces new and old threw some innings for the Cubs.

First, Ryan Tepera came out in the 5th and had a pretty good inning. He walked a pitcher but the defense behind him was able to get him a double play after a ground ball hit. He then closed the inning by throwing behind Brandon Woodruff after Woodruff hit Willson Contreras by yet another pitch the inning before. Woodruff was understandably angry, and it seemed to get in his head because Tepera was able to strike him out — his only strikeout of the inning. Rex Brothers came in the inning after that and was able to record a strikeout of his own.

Kris Bryant, although he did not record a hit this game, had the sacrifice fly in the 4th to score Willson Contreras after he got hit. Bryant now leads the team in batting average and OPS at .243 and .936, respectively. Rizzo also had two hits on the game, leading the team, although he was stranded on base for both of them. His batting average is still a very abysmal .162, which only gives the Rickettses more of a reason to gear up to let him walk.

Pedro Strop made his season debut, and although he recorded a walk and was the only bullpen pitcher to allow a hit, he also got the win for the day. He threw four different kinds of pitches: slider, cutter, sinker and fastball. His slider especially was his most popular pitch and had the highest whiff percentage of any of his pitches at 66.7%. That’s the same number as last year, and it’s definitely been his best pitch over time. I’m sure we’ll see more of it later this season.

The Cubs barely eeked out enough offense in this game to win it, but Willson Contreras was the hero of this game. Having three hit by pitches so far this year and after getting fined by the league for starting the bases-clearing brawl last series because of the COVID-19 protections in place, his home run at the top of the 8th that also scored Happ was what shut the Brewers up for good.

Since this is the first time in four games that the Cubs actually had a lead heading into the last few innings of the game, it was time to bring out Craig Kimbrel to get the save with one out to go in the 8th inning. And because Kimbrel seems to be back to his elite form, he didn’t disappoint. He walked only one batter and only had one strikeout. Even though the other three batters he faced made contact, the defense behind him was solid to win the game.

April 14, 2021
Cubs 0, Brewers 7
WP: Burnes (1-1) LP: Arrieta (2-1)
Box Score

Does anyone actually want to talk about this game? What a disaster, and a game that was a disaster early.

Compared to the previous game, the Brewers struck out 12 of the Cubs batters as opposed to 10. 10 of those 12 strikeouts came from their starter, Corbin Burnes, who currently has a 0.49 ERA after splitting his two starts. Burnes only allowed 2 hits and didn’t walk any batters.

Because Kyle Hendricks is still sick, Jake Arrieta took over the starter’s role. He allowed four hits, three runs, one home run, one walk, and 5 strikeouts for an ERA of 3.18. If the Cubs had any hitting ability at all they would’ve been able to overcome Arrieta’s completely average performance to at least be in this game, but that’s not what happened at all. After five innings, he was pulled for Shelby Miller for his season debut and that’s when things really went off the rails.

Miller immediately allowed the Brewers to load the bases after throwing just two strikes. Then he walked two batters to make it 5-0 Brewers. He didn’t even finish the inning after walking three batters total, allowing two hits, four of the seven Brewers runs, and recording no strikeouts at all.

Time for Justin Steele to come back out again, perhaps because Ross knew there was no getting out of this game with a win thanks with our .163 collective team batting average. Steele gave up a single immediately, scoring the 6th runner for Milwaukee, but at this point all hope was lost and nothing mattered anymore. He was able to strikeout the top of the Brewers’ batting order in Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Robertson, so all in all he put on a pretty good performance and seemed to improve on Monday’s appearance.

The Cubs have a bad habit of leaving runners on base in scoring position. Joc Pederson was at 3rd base with one out in the 2nd inning, but David Bote struck out and Austin Romine flied out after him. In the 9th inning, Rizzo also found himself in scoring position after getting one of the very few Cubs hits this game, but David Bote once again was not able to deliver offensively, unceremoniously grounding out to end the game.

The Cubs have been too reliant on their home runs. Home runs are grand and all, but singles, doubles and triples are just fine too. Again, so is batting in those RISP. I have no idea how, or even if, this offense will ever get fixed. This team just seems completely broken on this end, putting in numbers that are far and away the ugliest in baseball. At this point, I’m fine blowing this all up and starting over, but can the Rickettses even be trusted to shell out money for exciting, offensively-talented players? I don’t think so.

The Cubs have a day off today, and then they will take on a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, who have also struggled to live up to their preseason expectations. The Braves are 4-8, last in the NL East. They are also the 25th-ranked MLB team offensively. Don’t get excited, though — that puts them three spots ahead of the Brewers, who just crushed us offensively for most of this series, so take with that what you will.

Onward.

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