The Rundown: Maddon Loyal to a Fault, Cubs Can’t Score, Strasburg Changed Things, Mist Opportunities

“If Carl throws a first-pitch ball, I’d go out and pull him right away.”

Those were my (only half-joking) words as Carl Edwards Jr. trotted in from the bullpen to relieve Jon Lester with two outs in the top of the 8th inning. Lester had struck out Bryce Harper to open the inning and had picked Ryan Zimmerman off — I know, right? — after walking him, but had then allowed a single to Daniel Murphy. Right-handed Anthony Rendon was coming up, so Joe Maddon figured he’d go with a righty to close the inning.

I understood the move at the time and I still do; Lester had done a great job, but he was at 55 pitches and Edwards was ready to go. The lanky reliever was also running high on confidence just two days after retiring the side, including Rendon, to preserve the tie and set up Anthony Rizzo’s game-winning bloop.

The thing about Edwards, though, is that you can pretty much tell what you’re going to get from that first batter he faces. Sometimes it’s even the first pitch. A 96 mph fastball sailed wide and a not-entirely-irrational flower of fear bloomed somewhere in my mind. It wilted as subsequent pitches found their target, but then grew again as Edwards fell apart.

Three of his last four pitches to Rendon were nowhere near the zone, same with four of five to the light-hitting Matt Wieters. While pitching around the former hitter wasn’t desirable, there are worse outcomes to worry about. Failing to throw strikes to Wieters, on the other hand, is flat-out blasphemy.

Edwards was allowed to remain in the game even after walking Wieters, though he was summarily removed after throwing a first-pitch ball to Michael A. Taylor. No, Joe, that’s not what I meant when I said I’d pull him after throwing that first ball. By letting things play out the way they did, Joe Maddon showed both his ass and his unflagging loyalty to his players. Which is to say there’s no reason Edwards should have been in there throwing that pitch to Taylor.

I’d have pulled the Jekyll-and-Hyde reliever after the first walk, truth be told, as it was clear he wasn’t on his game. Whether Maddon is blind to that or sees something different than seemingly everyone else, I’m not sure. What I do know is that it was exceedingly bad to bring Wade Davis into not just a dirty inning, but a dirty count. Up 1-0 in both the count and on the scoreboard, Taylor was in swing mode as soon as Davis entered.

You know the rest of the story, so you don’t need me to tell you about the grand slam that silenced a crowd that had only minutes before been in full throat following Lester’s unlikely pickoff. I was among those who’d been struck dumb, not just by the hit but by the decisions that had led to it. And we won’t even discuss the idea of replacing Jason Heyward with Ian Happ, rather than putting the rookie in left for Ben Zobrist.

I’m not usually one to criticize certain “heartbeat” decisions because I know Maddon knows his players better than we do. In the case of Edwards, however, pretty much everyone listening could detect an arrhythmia that needed to be corrected posthaste.

Of course, none of that really matters when you don’t score any runs.

No offense, but…

No, seriously, the Cubs have had no offense this series. They’ve scored only eight total runs in four games and have somehow managed to win two of them. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have supplied most of what little offense we’ve seen, yet the pair combined to go 0-for-7 with six strikeouts and a walk.

What’s more, neither hitter even came close to figuring out Stephen Strasburg’s offspeed and breaking stuff Wednesday night, with KB’s two fouls representing the only contact of any kind Bryzzo had against the Nats’ starter. They took two called strikes apiece and each whiffed at five more. Both went down swinging against the curve in the 1st inning and then then fell victim to the change in subsequent at-bats.

The Cubs managed to get themselves into a couple decent spots here and there, but it was an overall disappointing effort from an offense that hasn’t been immune to them over the course of the season.

Strasburg’s changeup

Whether he was really ill or was simply guilt-tripped into making the start, Stephen Strasburg was very much on his game Wednesday night. And in keeping with the altered date and different pitcher, the changeup was Strasburg’s best weapon.

He threw the offspeed pitch 31 times, 15 of which generated swinging strikes. And eight of those ended at-bats with strikeouts; two more resulted in balls being put in play for outs. Though nine of his changeups were called balls, only one sent a man to first base with a walk (Jason Heyward in the 2nd inning). It took Strasburg a while to settle in, but it was all over once he did.

Consider that of those nine changes that were called balls, seven came in the first two innings. His first four strikeouts came on a combination of the curve and four-seam, but the changeup came into its own with Bryant’s inning-ending K in the 3rd. Strasburg struck out eight of the final 15 Cubs he faced, all on the change. It was just a sick pitch that Cubs hitters simply couldn’t do anything with.

Very funny, TBS

What’s worse than having to listen to the tired tropes peddled by national broadcasters forced to bone up on the games and the participants in a short period of time? How about having the interest of said national channel outweighing those of the teams and their fans.

The Cubs and Nats could have easily played their scheduled Tuesday contest earlier in the afternoon, a prospect both teams had reportedly pushed for. Though TBS has denied nixing the move, MLB exec Joe Torre indicated Tuesday that it was indeed the network that had kept the 4:38 pm CT start time that resulted in a postponement. And that meant the Nats being able to start Strasburg on normal rest.

It’s entirely possible that Tanner Roark would have been just as good on Tuesday and that we’d be prepping for a winner-take-all Game 5 either way, but having the desires of a TV broadcast fundamentally altering the course of a series is a bunch of hooey. Sorry for the strong language, folks, but I’ve really got my dander up here.

There certainly would have been logistical challenges in terms of moving the start time up on Tuesday, but they’d have paled in comparison to having fans, part-time employees, and dozens of police officers all rescheduled to the next day. I really feel for those who had to change flights and hotel reservations in light of the change.

And it’s not like the rainout was a surprise; most of us had assumed since Tuesday morning that they’d have to bang the game. Hell, many people were worried about it the previous evening. Then you have the fact that the weather was still pretty crappy Wednesday afternoon, with a steady mist making Wrigley feel like a grocery-store produce section the whole game.

Oh well, c’est la vie.

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Nothing for today, just gotta get that W.

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and lead writer for Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana’s foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan’s greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College. You can follow him on Twitter @DEvanAltman.

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