Cubs come away with an unnecessarily dramatic series-opening win

Jon Lester / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Jon Lester / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Cubs took a huge early lead and nearly squandered it on Monday night.

Talk about experiencing the full range of emotions. Cubs baseball is definitely back. Need proof? Just check your heart rate monitor measurements on your Apple Watch or Fitbit from last night. The Chicago bullpen inherited an 8-1 seventh-inning lead and did everything in its power to blow it and hand the Reds a wholly undeserved victory in the series opener.

Chicago (3-1) came out swinging against Reds southpaw Wade Miley, who was nothing short of a disaster in his Cincinnati debut. The veteran failed to get out of the second, allowing four earned runs (six total), walking two and hitting a pair. The Cubs’ bats capitalized, scoring six runs between the first two innings.

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But when it comes to sickening pitching performances, top honors undoubtedly belong to Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel.

Last year, Kimbrel looked like a shell of former self. Baseball’s active saves leader instilled little to no confidence in fans when he took the ball with the game on the line and represented a major liability in Joe Maddon’s bullpen. But most folks within the organization chalked it up to a lack of spring training and an unusually short ramp-up period.

Now, while he didn’t get a full traditional spring training and the Summer Camp ramp-up was pretty abbreviated, Kimbrel has now had nearly nine months to get himself right and figure out where the 2019 season went wrong. If Monday’s outing is any indication, he failed to do so. He utterly failed to do so.

"“He hadn’t had work in six days,” manager David Ross told after the game. “Part of that is just he’s got to knock off some rust and then continue to trust his stuff.”"

Rust? No, my 10-year-old Toyota sedan has some rust on it. But you know what? Fire it up and it gets me from A-to-B every time I turn the key. Kimbrel looked like he had absolutely no confidence in what he was throwing – and Reds hitters knew it.

The right-hander threw 15 curveballs in the ninth inning. Do you know how many induced a swing? Zero. That’s right. Not one. So something wasn’t right. Was Kimbrel tipping pitches? Maybe. I’m sure it’s something the Cubs brass is going to dig into. And while his fastball velocity was notably up from what we saw last summer, Kimbrel just could not locate it (evidenced by his four walks, one hit by pitch and one walk).

That’s not to say the rest of the Chicago relievers were overly impressive. My hat’s off to Jeremy Jeffress, who came on with the bases loaded in a one-run game after Kimbrel imploded and somehow worked out of the jam by getting Philip Ervin to chase a pitch out of the zone and getting lucky the rocket that Joey Votto ripped to center was right at Albert Almora. But all told, the bullpen becomes a more glaring issue by the day.

Duane Underwood allowed a home run for the second consecutive outing – this one off the bat off Reds rookie Tyler Stephenson in his first big league at-bat. Ryan Tepera’s stuff looked good and he struck out three but every single Cubs reliever outside of Jeffress and Rowan Wick allowed a run. That’s not a sustainable recipe for success – end of story.

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Chicago Cubs: By The Numbers

  • 13 – The number of games it took Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo to hit four home runs last season. He hit his fourth of the year in Monday’s game in Cincinnati – the team’s fourth contest of the year.
  • 76 – The number of pitches Jon Lester threw across his five no-hit innings in his 2020 debut. The veteran southpaw became the first Cubs pitcher to leave a game after throwing five or more no-hit innings since Mark Prior in 2006.
  • 1 – Kimbrel is the first pitcher to walk four or more batters and hit a guy while also recording one out or fewer since former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster achieved this… feat back in April 2011.