Cubs’ nation was a-Twitter before the team faced off with the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 24 due to Yu Darvish throwing a 16-pitch bullpen session and Ian Happ getting the start at third base (his eighth time in the big leagues) for Kris Bryant, who got the night off due to ongoing shoulder soreness. The limited information made available pre-game regarding Bryant’s status was less than reassuring, and manager Joe Maddon’s cautionary tone left for plenty of second guessing. Willson Contreras also got most of the night off with Victor Caratini handling the starting catching duties and filling the nine spot in the batting order. Maddon opted to bat Kyle Hendricks eighth to potentially give Anthony Rizzo additional RBI opportunities from the lead off spot, but Rizzo would walk in his only real RBI chance.
Two-time All-Star right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-1, 2.56 ERA) made his eighth start of the year, and first in a month after missing time with an oblique strain, for the Diamondbacks. Bryant’s absence was disappointing given Buchholz’s recent success against left-handed batters, who are hitting only .181 with a .512 OPS in 2018.
Cubs’ starter Kyle Hendricks (6-8, 3.99 ERA) is doing his best to get back on track, delivering a 3.13 ERA in the month of July even after giving up three earned runs in just 4.2 innings pitched July 19 against the Cardinals.
Despite back-to-back two out singles, Hendricks was able to get out of the first inning unscathed. He has been downright bad in opening frames this year, allowing an OPS of .969 to go along with an 8.55 ERA. The right-hander still needed 26 pitches to get out of the inning, but he did hit 90 mph on the radar gun!
Hendricks found himself in hot water again in the third as Jon Jay singled down the left field line and Paul Goldschmidt walked after Buchholz struck out to start the inning. Steven Souza took a two-out walk to load the bases, a situation in which Hendricks has struggled in his career (.294 batting average against, .968 OPS allowed and two grand slams given up), but Jake Lamb struck out to end the threat. Hendricks recorded seven strikeouts through three innings, but needed 71 pitches to do so, which is not ideal for a pitching staff as depleted as that of the Cubs. Credit the Diamondbacks for being patient and working counts, despite appearing to be kept off-balance by Hendricks’ stellar change-up and what was a largely generous (or perhaps inconsistent) strike zone from home plate ump Bruce Dreckman.
The patience of the Diamondbacks paid off in the top of the fifth as Jay split the shallow-playing Cubs’ outfielders for a one-out triple to right-center, and Paul Goldschmidt promptly singled him home. David Peralta tapped out to the catcher, but Steven Souza did his best Javy impression to avoid Addison Russell’s tag at the tail end of his two-out double that scored Goldschmidt. Souza then scored on Jake Lamb’s bouncing single to left field before Hendricks was able to get out of the inning, which would be his final of the night. He finished with five innings pitched, seven hits and two walks surrendered, three runs allowed and eight strikeouts.
Hendricks may have been done, but the Diamondbacks’ offense wasn’t. Eddie Butler returned from the 60-day disabled list (groin) to pitch the top of the sixth, and Diamondbacks’ shortstop Nick Ahmed welcomed him back with a lead-off single to left. Alex Avila then hit a high fly ball down the left field line, just out of the reach of a leaping Kyle Schwarber, but Ahmed was only able to advance to second on account of Schwarber’s proximity to the ball (a tough play but one that likely should have been made). Buchholz advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Jay plated Ahmed with a sacrifice fly before David Peralta flied out to the bricks and ivy in left field with a couple of runners on base.
Peralta also started a two-out rally for the Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth with a base hit to left off Steve Cishek. Souza was then hit in the thigh by a pitch, to which he took exception and exchanged words with Anthony Rizzo at first, apparently expecting retaliation after getting innocently tied up with Baez at second base earlier in the game. Luckily for everyone involved, however, the bullpens never made it past the warning track. Pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso walked to load the bases and Ketel Marte gave the Diamondbacks an insurance run with an infield single back up the middle. Cishek’s long ninth inning (30 pitches) likely means one of the bullpen workhorses will be out of commission tomorrow as the Cubs work to split the four-game series.
Diamondbacks’ starter Buchholz fared far better than Hendricks, cruising through the first several innings with a relatively high-level of efficiency. In the bottom of the fourth, Baez reached on a two-out infield single to third for the Cubs first hit of the night, and he went first-to-third on Ian Happ’s single to right. Schwarber’s ground-out out ended the short two-out rally quickly, however.
The Cubs finally got to Buchholz in the bottom of the sixth as Jason Heyward hit an opposite-field solo shot with one out, his seventh home run of the season. Buchholz quickly retired Baez and Happ to finish the inning and required 80 pitches to get through six innings.
The bottom of the seventh brought the Cubs’ best scoring chance of the night. Goldschmidt made a diving stop to rob Schwarber of potentially extra bases on a hard hit ball up the first base line. Pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist lined over the shift for a two-out single to center and Caratini followed with a softer-hit twin of Zobrist’s hit, which would be the end of the line for Buchholz. His strong outing consisted of 6.2 innings of one-run work with five strikeouts, six hits and two walks surrendered.
Reliever Andrew Chafin then walked Rizzo, the only batter he would face, after an eight-pitch battle that would be the lead off hitter’s only real RBI chance of the night. Archie Bradley came on to face Albert Almora and made quick work of the center fielder, who went down swinging on four pitches to kill the two-out rally. Bradley then worked a one-two-three eighth, helping shut the door on the Cubs. Diamondbacks’ closer Brad Boxberger stuck out the side in the bottom of the ninth as five of the final six Cubs’ batters of the game struck out as the home team went down with a whimper.
What’s Next for the Cubs
The Cubs and Diamondbacks continue their four-game series at Wrigley with a 1:20 p.m. start time on Wednesday. Jon Lester (12-3, 3.14 ERA) will take the ball for the Cubs, while the Diamondbacks will send lefty Robbie Ray (3-2, 5.37 ERA) to the mound. The Cubs hope to give Lester much improved run support after managing to score just two runs in the first two games of the series.
Follow Kris Rosemann on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Heightline