Any momentum built by the Chicago Cubs after a series win over the defending World Series champions quickly evaporated.
The Cubs lost for the 14th time in 18 games Thursday, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in the final of a four-game series.
A five-run rally in the eighth inning positioned the Cubs to win a series when pinch hitter Alfonso Rivas delivered a two-out, two-run single to give them a one-run lead. But the comeback attempt didn’t even last a pitch. Michael Chavis took right-hander David Robertson deep for a game-tying home run, and the Cubs ultimately lost on a bloop single in the 10th.
In a scary moment, a pitch down the first, the Cubs coaches went to the bullpen due to an apparent medical issue. Cubs bullpen coach Chris Young became dizzy during the inning, causing visiting coaches, including the Pirates’ medical staff, and a six-minute delay in the game.
Young went to hospital, was checked and will be fine, manager David Ross said after the game. Ross appreciated the patience of the referees and pirates.
“In the bullpen, you don’t know if it’s a player or a coach, it kind of all stopped – you see the worry on people’s faces,” Ross said. “There’s just a lot going on. The medical staff was above that.
The Cubs (26-44) head to St. Louis with the fifth-worst record in baseball. Here are three thoughts on the state of the team.
1. Reliever Ethan Roberts needs Tommy John surgery to finish the season.
The right-hander was one of the best stories in spring training.
The 24-year-old’s rookie camp performance earned him a spot on a major league roster for the first time in his career behind a mean slider. Roberts landed on the injured list in late April with an inflamed right shoulder, but was struggling to join the Cubs when his season took an unfortunate turn. He left his first appearance in rehab with Triple-A Iowa on Sunday after throwing a pitch and reporting pain for a coach.
An evaluation revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Roberts needs Tommy John surgery to end the season. The procedure has not yet been scheduled.
“Even going back to the last calendar year, what he’s done to put himself on the map and why we put him on the 40 man in the offseason because we believe in him and what he’s been doing. ‘he can do, and I think he really showed some good glimpses of that early in the year,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s just a shame he didn’t had the opportunity to really show us what he can do during the year. It doesn’t change anything. We believe in him.
“And no matter what happens the rest of this year, that moment in the dugout at spring training where we told him he was on the team, that’s one of those things you don’t. ‘never forget.’
Hottovy said he’s not sure if Roberts’ injury happened on the singular pitch or if something changed as he eventually adjusted to the shoulder issue. Hottovy watched Roberts’ latest live batting practice from a distance and thought he looked great.
“Everything we got from the reports was kind of one of those things,” Hottovy said.
Roberts is the second young reliever the Cubs have lost to Tommy John surgery this year after the trade deadline acquisition of Codi Heuer went through in March. Although it’s an unexpected obstacle for Roberts, the Cubs clearly think highly of him, both as a pitcher and as a person, after seeing him in camp and nine appearances in April. He should have the opportunity to recover once he is healthy.
“We have a lot of faith in Ethan, and he’s got some real major league stuff in there,” Ross said. “I know he will work hard to come back.”
2. Defensive issues hurt the team.
The Cubs’ defense hasn’t helped its pitchers this week.
After a game with four errors on Thursday, the Cubs committed 10 over the course of the four-game series. The errors forced more pitches for the Cubs and gave the Pirates extra chances offensively. Entering Thursday, five players on the Cubs’ active roster had negatives prevented, led by infielder Jonathan Villar’s minus-6. Villar, who made a field error in the loss, also ranks last on the team with minus-8 Outs Above Average. This also ties it to the second tier of the majors.
The Cubs’ 43 errors in 70 games are ninth in the majors. Ross said the Cubs needed to “lock things down” defensively.
“We have to keep going back to work,” Ross said.
For a star-starved Cubs team, the fundamentals need to be executed. Too many times this season, especially in their four games in Pittsburgh, the Cubs have made reckless plays on the field, ranging from not hitting the cut-off man to not feeling the ball cleanly. And given how many one-point games they’ve played that they’ve been on the wrong end of, the defense can be a game-changer. In the case of the Cubs, this contributes to the loss column.
3. Justin Steele’s use of the cursor is remarkable.
Steele didn’t hesitate to attack the zone against the Pirates on Thursday.
He finished with a 78% hit rate, relying heavily on his cursor to try to neutralize them. His slider was 42% of his 100 shots thrown in the loss, significantly higher than his 25.9% season average with the field. Steele got 10 puffs on his slider, a throw he could use in any situation against the Pirates.
Steele’s use of the slider is an encouraging development, a sign that he feels comfortable going there often when activated while still generating positive results.
“I felt like putting it in for a strike when I wanted to, putting it in the dirt when I wanted to and putting it in the back when I wanted to so when you have control of a pitch like that and you need a strike or you need something to hunt, that’s where you go,” Steele said.
Steele’s throwing line—six runs (five earned) and seven hits in 5⅔ innings without a walk and eight strikeouts—wasn’t fully indicative of the southpaw’s pitching quality.
“He was as clean and efficient as I’ve ever seen him,” Ross said. “His thing was playing well, hooked a 0-2 break ball that cost him a home run. But for the most part he played very well. We gave him no respite.