Cubs @ Cardinals Series Review: Same Old Road Trip Song and Dance

This series featured much of what we’ve seen of late for the Cubs on the road: little offense, suspect bullpen work, and more losses than wins. Now winless in their last 10 road series, the Cubs need to undo the voodoo. Whether it’s live chickens or rum for Jobu, they need to bring something on the road with them next week. Five or six wins here at home the next six days would be a good start.

Despite the series loss to the Redbirds, the Cubs still stand just one game out of first place in the NL Central and there’s reason for optimism. For starters (pun intended), the rotation has been really good. They also have some reinforcements, including “the best bat available” at the deadline in Nick Castellanos, who already showed fans why he could be an extremely valuable asset down the stretch.

Results

Key Moments

The first two games in the series were good old-fashioned pitchers’ duels, while the third game saw Jon Lester run out of bullets a bit prematurely. It didn’t help he was facing Jack Flaherty, who decided to bring photon torpedoes to the gunfight.

Yu Darvish didn’t make many mistakes in the opener, but he made a costly one in the 6th inning against one of the best all-around players in the game for nearly a decade. Paul Goldschmidt’s bomb in the series opener gave him seven home runs in eight games. With the way the offense has been going, it was basically a death knell when the ball left the bat.

In the second game, Kyle Hendricks was just toying with St. Louis, allowing leadoff runner after leadoff runner to reach second base. They didn’t get much farther, as Hendricks was masterful in getting weak contact and strikeouts all night long.

He struck out the side in the 1st inning, struck out two more after a leadoff double to Goldschmidt in the 2nd, and then got two weakly hit balls right back to him in the 3rd as he escaped a Matt Wieters leadoff double. He also escaped a Goldschmidt leadoff double in the 4th and a Dexter Fowler two-out double in the 5th.

The Cubs got their first run on an Ian Happ single that scored Kris Bryant, which was a great sight to see. Happ had looked foolish on the pitch earlier in the night, and it was his first hit of the season, despite numerous walks so far.

In the 8th inning, while David Ross was discussing “jug runs” and “F the closer” (going for the jugular, and trying to screw the closer out of a save opportunity) on the ESPN broadcast, Javier Báez did what he does. After hitting an overturned-on-review ground rule double that the umpire somehow got wrong originally, Báez drew a double-pumped pick-off throw from Wieters that sailed into center, easily allowing El Mago to score. The jug run wasn’t ultimately needed, but Craig Kimbrel almost needed it in his exciting finish.

Can I just skip the finale? There just wasn’t much of anything going on for the Cubs in this one, despite the new-look lineup that may have been the deepest of the season for the Cubs. Figures they almost got no-hit.

Castellanos broke up a Jack Flaherty no-no in the 6th inning with the Cubs’ only hit and showed what kind of hitter the Cubs have added. He works good at-bats, has some pop, and goes the other way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very exciting coming in the midst of an 8-0 thumping. But hey, at least he broke up the no-hitter.

Who’s Hot

  • Goldschmidt. I told you in the series preview… Did Joe listen? (why would he? It’s not like any of us fans actually know anything about the complexities of the game, right?) Goldy Cubkiller was 5-for-13 in the series and hit the game-winning bomb in the opener.
  • Hendricks looks like he’s in 2016 form right now. He somehow lost three games in July despite giving up only eight earned runs in 32 innings.
  • Darvish looks like the guy the Cubs were looking for when they signed him last offseason. Darvish has been locked in since the break, going 24 innings (six in each of his four starts) and striking out 30 batters. He’s given up only 16 hits since the break to go along with six earned runs.
  • Castellanos got the Cubs’ only hit  after joining the team for the series finale. In a fun trade-deadline tale, his acquisition was finalized 40 seconds before the deadline on Wednesday.
  • The good guys in the Cubs ‘pen. Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan, Brandon Kintzler, Steve Cishek, and Kimbrel combined to throw four innings, giving up only three hits and striking out five.

Who’s Not

  • Can I put everyone on this list other than the starting pitchers?
  • Robel Garcia got sent down to make way for newcomer Castellanos, so he’s not doing too swell anymore after showcasing his talents in his first couple games. But, maybe he’ll figure things out with some consistent at bats in Iowa and give us a spark in September (or sooner).
  • Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were 3-for-21 with 6 strikeouts in the series. If Bryant’s knee needs time off, the Cubs need to make that happen before he exacerbates it.
  • Báez, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber didn’t help out either. They were a combined 4-for-27 in the three-game set. If these guys don’t hit, it’s going to be tough for the Cubs to win ballgames.
  • The bad guys in the ‘pen. Brad Brach, Derek Holland, and Tyler Chatwood all gave up runs in the series finale and seem to be loitering far, far away from Joe Maddon’s circle of trust.

Bottom Line

The Cubs’ road woes may change next week when they visit the Reds and the Pennsylvania squads, but it has been very evident that something is off. The good news is that they’re still only one game out of first place in the NL Central and will be playing at Wrigley Field for the next six games.

The Cubs sport MLB’s fourth-best home record (36-18) and seem to look and play a totally different brand of baseball on the North Side. If they can come home to their own beds for a week and win both series at home, they’ll probably find themselves right back atop the division.

If the starting pitching continues to chuck the way they have been in the second half, you have to think — or hope — the bats will come alive at some point and see the Cubs to an extended winning streak in the very near future. Oh, and Cole Hamels will be back too.

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