The Chicago Cubs have been a staple of “Sunday Night Baseball” TV shows for years, thanks in part to star-studded programming, a national following and the photogenic ballpark they call home.
Wrigley Field is looking better than ever, and fans still turn out in droves if the weather is nice and the beer is cold.
But Sunday night’s ESPN game against the Los Angeles Dodgers could be one of the Cubs’ last appearances of 2022, depending on their season’s trend.
There are only so many ways to talk about Wrigley before admitting the obvious: The Cubs aren’t ready for prime time.
The Dodgers swept the Cubs 7-0, 6-2 in a split doubleheader on Saturday, leaving them with four straight losses and 13 in their last 16 games.
Clayton Kershaw topped the Cubs with seven shutout innings in Game 1 before the Dodgers won the final drink with just three hits, including Mookie Betts’ brace in punting in the second against Keegan Thompson and his two-run homer points against David Robertson in the ninth.
Cubs pitchers walked nine in the last drink, including five by starter Daniel Norris and Thompson in the Dodgers’ second inning. The Cubs fell to eight games under .500 at 9-17.
They have a .341 (42-81) winning percentage since June 14, 2021, picking up where they left off last season.
After a day off on Thursday and postponed to Friday, the sun finally came out in Wrigley on a cold Saturday afternoon, so it was not a total loss for the announced crowd of 37,594 – helped by a large contingent of Dodgers fans.
Even Dodger-hating Cubs fans should have been happy to have the opportunity to see Kershaw, 34, a future Hall of Famer, defy his age with another dominating performance.
“At some point you feel like the ball is going to bounce off us or some of these balls are going to fall,” said manager David Ross, who pointed to several hard-hit balls from the Dodgers veteran.
Maybe, but Kershaw scatter five hits in seven innings to make it 4-0. He has a 1.00 ERA in his last three starts and is one of only three starters this season with 30 or more strikeouts and three or fewer walks.
Hitting aside, the Cubs’ base-running blunders were also on display early in the opener.
“Getting out on base, we can’t do that when you’re facing a good pitcher like that,” Ross said.
After Kershaw picked Seiya Suzuki from first base to end the first inning, Nico Hoerner was tagged rushing into second base to end the second. After hitting a hit in the field, Hoerner apparently believed the errant pitch had entered a camera well and bounced, earning him a free base. Ross said Hoerner should have waited for the referee to make the call.
“Just one of those tough lessons,” Ross said.
Drew Smyly went 4⅓ innings in Game 1, allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks in his return from the roster. Command issues in the first put the Cubs in a quick holeshot, and its only other error was a fourth-inning home run by Austin Barnes.
Ross said Smyly threw “extremely well,” but Smyly conceded he “wasn’t very snappy today…and threw a ton of pitches” in the first.
“They’re probably the worst team to face when you’re not aggressive in the zone and not attacking,” Smyly said. “They don’t really hunt.”
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Ross acknowledged before the game that the Cubs’ starters collectively haven’t reached their potential, but he still believes they can become “a strong pitching staff if we continue on the trajectory we’re on.”
But the Cubs can no longer use the excuse of a short spring training to explain their 5.16 ERA at the start of the day or the lack of quality starts. The Cubs’ starters have lasted five or more innings in just nine of the first 26 games after Norris went 1⅓ innings as the nightcap “opener.” The only starters who have pitched more than five innings are Marcus Stroman (twice) and Kyle Hendricks (three times).
Justin Steele, who has compiled a 9.35 ERA in his last three starts and hasn’t lasted more than three innings in any of them, was ruled out of Monday night’s game in San Diego. The Cubs have just four starters on the roster, though Ross said Steele’s move “was a product of how our roster is shaped.”
Wade Miley said he’ll pitch a bullpen session on Sunday after throwing four scoreless innings Thursday during a rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. Miley might be ready to join the team on the upcoming trip to San Diego and Arizona.
It won’t save the season. But at this point, the Cubs can use all the help they can get.
“It takes a lot to win a game,” Smyly said. “They are never easy.”
And it’s harder than ever for the Cubs.