Any momentum created by the Chicago Cubs after their series win over the reigning World Series champions quickly evaporated.
The Cubs lost for the 14th time in 18 games on Thursday, trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 8–7 in the final of the four-game series.
A five-run scrimmage in the eighth inning allowed the Cubs to earn a split in the series when forward Alfonso Rivas put up a two-out, two-run single to give them a one-rank lead. But the comeback attempt did not last even a step. Michael Chavis took right-hander David Robertson deep for a tying home run and the Cubs ultimately lost in 10th place.
In a scary moment one inning at the bottom of the first, the Cubs coaches went to the bullpen due to an apparent medical problem. Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young felt dizzy during the pitch, prompting a visit from coaches, including the Pirates’ medical staff, and a six-minute delay to play.
Young went to the hospital, was checked out and will be fine, manager David Ross said after the game. Ross appreciated the patience of the referees and the pirates.
“In the bullpen, you don’t know if it’s a player or a coach, it’s kind of stopped – you see the worry on people’s faces,” Ross said. “There’s just a lot going on. The medical staff was excellent.”
The Cubs (26-44) go to St. Louis with the fifth-worst record in baseball. Here are three thoughts on the state of the team.
1. Forward Ethan Roberts needs Tommy John surgery at the end of the season.
The right-hander was one of the best stories to come out of Spring Training.
The 24-year-old rookie’s performance in camp for the first time in his career earned him a spot on the major league roster after a nasty slider. Roberts was put on the injured list at the end of April with a sore right shoulder but was working on a return to the Cubs as his season took a bad turn. He left his first rehab appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday after throwing one pitch and signaling to a coach in pain.
Examination revealed a rupture of the ulnar collateral ligament. Roberts needs Tommy John’s season-ending surgery. The procedure has not yet been scheduled.
“Even if you go back to last calendar year, what he did to make a name for himself and the reason we put him in the top 40 this offseason is because we believe in him and what he can do, and I think he showed really good glimpses of that at the start of the year,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s a shame he didn’t get the chance to really show us what he’s capable of during the year. This does not change anything. We believe in him.
“And no matter what happens before the end of this year, that moment in the dugout at spring training when we told him he made the team is one of those things you will never forget.”
Hottovy said he was unclear as to whether Roberts’ injury happened on the only pitch or if something changed as he may have adjusted to a shoulder problem. Hottovy was remotely watching Roberts’ last workout live and thought he looked great.
“Everything we got from the reports was just one of those things,” Hottovy said.
Roberts is the second young pitcher the Cubs have lost to Tommy John surgery this year after being acquired on time. Cody Hoyer has surgery in March. Although this is an unexpected setback for Roberts, the Cubs clearly hold him in high regard, both as a pitcher and as a person, having seen him in camp and nine games in April. He should be able to recover as soon as he recovers.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ethan and he really does have something from the big leagues,” Ross said. “I know he will work hard to come back.”
2. Problems in defense harm the team.
The Cubs defense didn’t help their pitchers this week.
After Thursday’s four-fault game, the Cubs committed 10 errors in a four-game streak. Mistakes forced the Cubs to take more shots and gave the Pirates extra chances on offense. Entering Thursday, five active Cubs players averted negative runs, led by minus-6 fielder Jonathan Villar. Villar, who made a mistake on a loss, is also last on the team with minus 8 strikeouts above average. It also ties it to the second worst in large companies.
With 43 errors in 70 games, the Cubs rank ninth in major tournaments. Ross said the Cubs needed to “lock things down” defensively.
“We have to keep getting back to work,” Ross said.
For a Cubs team that lacks stars, it is necessary to follow the basic principles. Too many times this season, especially in four games in Pittsburgh, the Cubs have played sloppy on the field, from missing the underdog to not feeling the ball clean. And given how many one-run games they’ve played that were on the wrong side, the defense could be a game-changer. In the case of the Cubs, this contributes to the casualty column.
3. Notable is Justin Steel’s use of the slider.
Steele didn’t hesitate to attack the area against the pirates on Thursday.
He finished with 78% hits, mostly relying on his slider to try and neutralize them. His slider accounted for 42% of his 100 losses, significantly higher than his season average of 25.9% with innings. Steel got 10 whiffs on his slider and he could use it in any situation against the pirates.
Steele’s use of the slider is a reassuring development, a sign that he feels comfortable using it frequently when it’s on, and is also producing some positive results.
“I felt like I put it in for a kick whenever I want, put it in the dirt when I want and back it up when I want, so when you own a field like that and you need a kick or you need something for the chase, that’s what you need,” Steele said.
Steele’s pitching line of six runs (five earned) and seven hits in 5 ⅔ innings with no walks and eight strikeouts did not fully reflect how well the southpaw pitched.
“He was as clean and efficient as I’ve ever seen him,” Ross said. “His material played well, crossed in a 0-2 smasher that cost him a homer. But for the most part he played very well. We didn’t give him any favors.”