The Cubs entered Wednesday evening’s contest against the Reds on an absolute tear, fresh off another brilliant performance by the surging Kyle Hendricks. Suddenly two and a half games in first place and 11 games above .500 before first pitch, they looked to lock up yet another series victory while maintaining a solid grasp over first place in the National League Central.
Kris Bryant slid over to first base for the third straight game as Anthony Rizzo continued to rest with back tightness. We’ve since this before with Rizzo, and to this point there’s no indication that he’ll be heading to the IL. With no significant updates as of this writing it’s too early to be concerned this injury is anything but a blip on the radar.
Yu Darvish started for the Cubs, following up an abbreviated outing against Miami in which he walked six batters in just four innings. While only surrendering one run off one hit in that contest Yu’s control issues remain, continuously skyrocketing his pitch count regardless of the game’s outcome. In fact, Darvish entered Wednesday’s game with an outlandish 19.3 percent walk rate, by far the highest number for pitchers with 30 or more innings pitched.
This evening, though, Darvish walked a fine line with regard to his control. While he gave up an early run in the first — a leadoff single to Nick Senzel, who later stole a base and advanced on a passed ball before Eugenio Suarez drove him in — he generally dominated Reds hitters, tallying eight strikeouts through the first four frames against just two earned runs.
That Yu did not surrender a free pass tonight belied the notion he had a grasp of his arsenal. It took 80 pitches to get through four innings, including seven at-bats in which the count ran full. While Darvish was successful in each of those instances (five punch outs, two outs on balls in play) they drove his pitch count up, signifying that once again he wouldn’t be pitching terribly deep into the game.
Indeed, Joe Maddon opted to bring in Mike Montgomery with one out in the sixth inning — a role that we may be seeing more and more of as an insurance policy for Darvish. All told Yu’s line was solid, if not spectacular: 5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 11 K over 102 pitches.
It’s hard to be upset with Darvish tonight given the adversity that has been his Cubs career, and hopefully he can utilize this start as a springboard into more consistent starts. The 11:0 K:BB ratio was absolutely stellar, and if he can attack the zone with more frequency, limiting not just walks but also full counts, it’s not impossible to think he could be pitching into the seventh inning with a bit of commonality. After all, his 2019 season has been a bit of a puzzle; hopefully he can put the pieces together before it’s too late.
Sonny Gray maintained a similar evening for the Reds, striking out seven while also failing to yield a free pass. While he scattered just five hits, two of those went for home runs: a two run shot by Addison Russell, his first of the season, and a solo shot by Albert Almora. Gray ended his evening after just five innings, surrendering three runs over 88 pitches.
As with Darvish, Gray’s outing was commensurate of a former Ace looking to rediscover his groove.
Trailing 4-2, the Reds pushed back in the bottom half of the seventh, a solo homerun by Jose Iglesias that narrowed the Cubs lead to 4-3. Brandon Kintzler shut the door from there, however, and a Kyle Schwarber solo shot in the top half of the eighth pushed the Cubs lead back to 5-3.
The Reds fought back again in the eighth. Kyle Ryan gave up a leadoff single to Joey Votto, and Maddon immediately pulled him in favor of Carl Edwards, Jr. Suarez greeted Carl with a game-tying, two run blast to right center, momentum suddenly shifting toward the Reds as the game was squared at five apiece.
Edwards had been brilliant in his first few appearances since being recalled, throwing three consecutive shutout frames, allowing no hits, no walks, and striking out four in those three outings. While the home run was difficult to stomach it’s important to note he followed that up with three quick outs — a signal that he might be overcoming his control issues along with the mental block that has stymied his young career.
After a clean ninth, Maddon elected to allow Brad Brach to hit for himself in the tenth. While a curious move, it seemed he was insistent on giving Willson Contreras a full night off (who could have been used in a double switch), and because of Rizzo nursing his back, the options were limited as to what Maddon might do.
After back-to-back singles by Bryant and Javier Baez, Maddon reversed course and pinch-hit Contreras for Schwarber — combating the Reds’ employment of hard-throwing lefty Amir Garrett. Contreras grounded out on the first pitch, and stayed in the game to play first while Bryant shifted to left field.
Criticism of Maddon’s handling of the tenth is justified, though there’s space to understand his line of thinking. The use of Contreras was a last-ditch effort, after a two out rally provided a scoring opportunity. It’s understandable to believe Contreras would fare better against Garrett than Schwarber, and while the move didn’t ultimately pay off Contreras isn’t immune to handling defensive duties at first base.
The bottom half of the tenth was filled with drama. A one out walk by Votto precipitated a Suarez single to left (his third hit of the night). Votto’s aggressive base running paid off, as he safely slid into third after David Bote mishandled Bryant’s throw from left. Yasiel Puig followed up an intentional walk with a game winning drive to right center field, a long “single” that netted the Reds the 6-5 victory.
This was the Cubs first loss in extra innings in 2019, and despite the loss they’ll remain at least one and a half games ahead of Milwaukee in the National League Central, with a chance to win yet another series on Thursday evening.
This loss wasn’t ideal as they blew a late lead, but these things happen over the course of a long season. The way things have been going for this team there’s little to worry about.
Next Up for the Cubs
The Cubs will wrap up their three game set in the Queen City on Thursday night at 5:40 CST. Jose Quintana will toe the rubber for the Cubs, who has been on fire of late with a 4-1 record and 2.29 ERA in his last six starts. Q continues to utilize his changeup with more frequency, which has helped to revive his standing is a top-of-rotation presence.
On the bump for Cincinnati will be Luis Castillo, off to a brilliant campaign in 2019 with 4-1 record and 1.76 ERA. Castillo pairs a mid 90’s fastball with a brilliant changeup, a pitch he generates plenty of swings and misses while throwing ~32 percent of the time. If Castillo has exhibited any weakness this season it’s his tendency to walk batters (11 percent) at a clip higher than league average (nine percent). A patient approach, with appropriate aggression when Castillo misses, would go a long way in making inroads against one of the best pitchers in the league to date.
Catch the game on NBC Sports Chicago or, as always, on the radio on 670 The Score.