There’s no arguing that the Cubs are making progress. Their youthful core is growing together, and they’ve become a competent baseball team with the potential to contend for something important this year.
Yet there will also be days when they look like a young team, one that needs more seasoning and experience before they realize whatever potential they have.
Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers was one of those days where it’s obvious they have plenty of growth left.
Already leading 5-1 in the top of the ninth, the Brewers’ Logan Schafer hit a ground ball to Starlin Castro, whose throw was in the dirt and got past Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo then retrieved the ball and threw to third to try to get Schafer, but the base was uncovered, allowing Schafer to trot home.
Joe Maddon called it a “routine ground ball” on a play he said Castro makes “101 out of 100 times,” but it turned out to be anything but. Kris Bryant wasn’t at third base because he was looking to cover second, and neither Edwin Jackson or Miguel Montero backed up Bryant at third.
“Just hold the ball and don’t throw and we would have been fine,” Maddon said. “It looked awful and it was, but it just comes down to a play that we normally should make.”
Nobody would disagree. It was a play that didn’t reflect well on the Cubs, and one that will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
“A lot of things wrong happened there,” Rizzo said. “Just going to have to learn from it.”
That play, however, was far from the reason the Cubs lost to a Brewers team that improved to 6-18.
Jake Arrieta allowed a season-high four runs in five innings and Ryan Braun hit a two-run home run in the first and Jean Segura went 4 for 5 to hand the Cubs only their second loss in seven games. Arrieta had won his previous two decisions, allowing only three runs in those appearances, but gave up more than that by the end of the second against Milwaukee.
The Cubs offense, a group that’s scored only one run in each of its last three games, struggled against Mike Fiers. Fiers entered Saturday with a 5.79 earned-run average but struck out 12 and allowed three hits in six innings and didn’t surrender his first hit until the fifth.
As a team, the Cubs struck out 18 times and left seven runners on base. Kris Bryant struck out four times and saw his average drop to .280.
“That’s what happens in the major leagues – you have to adjust,” Maddon said of Bryant. “He was swinging at some pitches out of the zone today, too. He was. Just get back into the zone because that’s something he had been doing well coming out of spring training.”
Out of spring training and early in the season, the Cubs have found ways to win. There have been rallies and strong pitching performances and games they’ve won despite some of their deficiencies.
They couldn’t do that Saturday.
“There’s always something to learn, regardless of the outcome,” Arrieta said. “We’ll come out to win a series tomorrow and be ready for St. Louis.”
That’s the attitude Maddon desires from his players. He wants them to enjoy wins and not get too beaten up about losses, even ones like Saturday when not much went right.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on,” Maddon said. “In the beginning, the home run early on by Braun really set the tone for them. And we were just unable to answer anything.”