At long last the Chicago Cubs get to enjoy another off day, and the timing couldn’t be much better.
A dismal outcome against the worst team in the National League again lessens the margin for error with 15 games remaining.
With their 7-3 loss Wednesday, the Cubs dropped their second consecutive series and have lost five of seven games. The Cubs (78-69) finished their stretch of 27 games in 27 days going 16-11.
“These guys are at the back end and grinding with everything they have, giving us everything they’ve got,” manager David Ross said. “Some things didn’t show up that we’re normally better at this series. But we’re at the back end of the season. … Keep the big picture at hand. We’ve got a nice off day tomorrow and got Arizona ahead of us, so (we’re) looking forward to that series. Should be a good one.”
1. Bad time for one of their worst series of the season.
Pick an area of the game and the Cubs gave the Rockies, who are trying to avoid a 100-loss season, ample opportunities to take the series.
Bad risks on the bases, defensive miscues and stranding runners on base with a chance either to put the game away or chip away at the deficit. It’s uncharacteristic of a team in playoff position and yet potentially costly. The series at Coors Field was one of three in their last six against below-.500 teams. After heading to Arizona this weekend, the Cubs welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rockies to Wrigley Field for the final homestand next week before ending the season at Atlanta and Milwaukee.
In Wednesday’s loss, the Cubs left 11 runners on base and went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position. They couldn’t take advantage early to add to their 3-0 lead, similar to Tuesday’s game when they led 2-0 in the fourth. In both games, the Rockies used a four-run inning to erase the Cubs’ advantage.
“The last two days and really the whole series was similar-feeling games as far as the importance of adding on to leads here in this ballpark is obviously a big deal with the run-scoring environment and not a lack of quality at-bats, just felt like we never really had the game-changing swing the last couple days,” Nico Hoerner said. “And as well as some outs on the bases, myself included and those are never great, but especially here when you’ve got to let your hitters work as much as possible.”
Thursday is one of three off days in the next 12, including two over the next five. It will give a depleted bullpen a much-needed reset and help the everyday players get a breather for the final stretch.
The Cubs cannot afford another series loss as they cling to the second National League wild-card spot. They have too much talent and veteran players to produce another performance like they did in Denver.
2. Jameson Taillon is burned by unearned runs.
Taillon was on the verge of getting out of the fifth inning Wednesday with the game at least tied.
Ian Happ appeared positioned to catch a fly to left-center field to end the inning when at the last moment he couldn’t hold onto the ball, landing for an error. Taillon’s next pitch landed over the left-field wall for a go-ahead two-run homer by Elehuris Montero.
The two runs that scored on the homer were unearned, adding to Taillon’s career-high unearned runs total this season. After allowing just one unearned run in 177 1/3 innings last year with the Yankees, Taillon’s 13 with the Cubs trail only the Los Angeles Angels’ Patrick Sandoval (19) for most in the majors (minimum 20 starts).
Taillon said the issue starts with the fact he hasn’t had the same level of pitch execution as previous seasons.
“It does feel like if we give extra opportunities this year, that coupled with me not always being at my best I’m used to, I feel that’s a bad recipe,” Taillon said. “I’m a guy too in the past. If there’s an error I love picking someone up, and that’s a good way to build camaraderie and stuff. You have a guy make a mistake and you pick them up and then that builds that momentum. and when you can’t pick someone up, it hurts a little extra.
“We don’t ever get mad at people for errors, like physical errors, they happen. But I’m frustrated with myself, just that’s an opportunity for me to make a statement that I have your back and let’s get back in the dugout and hit and then they obviously capitalized on it, which hurts.”
3. Resiliency must resurface in Arizona.
At the time of the Cubs’ loss Wednesday, six NL teams remained within striking distance for the three wild-card spots.
“We’re still in a good spot, we’re in a great spot,” Taillon said. “It’s obvious today’s a pretty bad loss. It felt like early on we’re going to get after it, get out of here with a nice win and then obviously we just fell apart there.”
Beyond the Diamondbacks sitting only 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs before their game Wednesday, the teams’ postseason head-to-head tiebreaker will be on the line at Chase Field. The Cubs must sweep the Diamondbacks in the three-game series to secure the tiebreaker after Arizona took three of four games last weekend at Wrigley.
The Cubs don’t want to put any pressure on themselves, but a poor showing would knock them out of the No. 2 wild-card position and potentially out of a playoff spot altogether.
The Cubs wouldn’t even be in their current position without the resiliency they’ve shown since June. They must tap into that again this weekend.