Leave it to Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs skipper, to make things interesting whenever possible. He chose to play Wilson Contreras in right field against the Pirates on July 3. Even I had to do a double-take when I saw it wasn’t Jason Heyward in the outfield. No, it was Contreras, who made the NL All-Star team in his primary catcher spot. Nevertheless, it almost worked out. Until it didn’t.
Needless to say, Contreras was putting together an all-around terrific night. For a guy who’s crouching a majority of the game, he showed off his ability to track down fly balls, though it was still evident he wasn’t used to the position. One of the interesting things about opting to put Contreras in the outfield was not only taking out Heyward, a multiple Gold Glove winner but also taking away a pinpoint arm for throwing out runners.
Well, Contreras proved he can do that too. It must’ve felt different, considering he’s usually on the other end of a laser throw. He and Victor Carratini must’ve had some catcher connection vibe going on, but it all worked out when they executed a perfect play of throwing out Melky Cabrera to end the eighth inning.
Combine that defensive effort with Contreras going 2-4 at the dish and scoring twice, it seemed it was a good move to play him. After all, he is hitting .287 and putting up his best numbers in his career at this point in the season. Props to using him somehow, someway. Playing Caratini at home in the same game? That’s Maddon’s Magic for you. Caratini made the doubters sorry by going yard twice and driving in three runs.
Certainly, with all those factors coming into play, one would think the Cubs pulled out the “W” flag right? Wrong. Unfortunately, there were a couple of mistakes that occurred in the bottom of the ninth, and the Pirates wound up walking it off with the 6-5 win. One of those plays rested on Contreras’ shoulders.
With a man on first, he played for a deep liner by Jung Ho Kang, who ended up hitting a blooper in shallow right and near the foul line. Contreras had to sprint over to cover the ground in time and nearly made the play, but the ball glanced off his glove and Kang made it to second.
To make matters worse, the next batter, Adam Frazier, hit a chopper into the shifted Addison Russell, who then hesitated and tried to throw it to home but was too late. What could’ve been two outs with the game-winning run on third ended up being just the one out. That would be critical as Corey Dickerson lined out to left but Kang was able to score before the throw made it in, and the Pirates walked it off.
Apparently, Maddon had other thoughts on what was conveyed to the infield on that particular play when asked by the media post game.
Two pitchers who’ve yet to prove themselves..
The Cubs not only lost the game, but they blew a quality chance at Yu Darvish picking up a win. He has shown some improvement since the beginning of the season, but his record doesn’t show it. Darvish, as any Cubs fan knows, was expected to be a stud in their rotation. They’re paying him big bucks to deliver, and so far, he hasn’t.
Last season was a disaster and, as a Cubs fan (I’m sure Cubs Nation will agree) it was pure frustration to see the money they spent on Darvish only to see him land on the IL most of the season. With that being said, it was still entering new territory this year with Darvish being on the shelf for so long. Yes, he started out pretty abysmal, but he’s slowly gotten better and has many quality starts that his team couldn’t hang on to or provide the run support needed. He, in my mind, has still yet to prove his worth in terms of the money he’s making for the results the Cubs are getting.
The Pirates have been dealing with their own struggles. Chris Archer was expected to be one of their best pitchers in the rotation, but he’s been anything but this season. He pitched just over six seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays where he was a strikeout machine, even if he didn’t earn the wins. During those years, Archer compiled a 54-68 record with the Rays but did make it to the All-Star Game twice.
Since being traded to the Pirates in 2018, Archer has compiled a 6-9 record with some of his highest ERA averages of his career. It’s safe to say the Pirates have yet to get the vintage Archer to return, and their team has suffered most games when he’s pitched.
Both Darvish and Archer got off to positive starts on July 3 with Archer giving up a solo dinger to Caratini early, then settled down. Darvish pitched into the seventh inning and finished with four runs given up, two homers allowed and six strikeouts while not walking one Pirate. Those last two stats are the most important for him, usually struggling with command and walking too many batters.
Archer had a similar night going, lasting five innings, allowed five hits, three earned runs, allowed two home runs, walked two and struck out eight. At one point, both pitchers were in line for the win but a solo homer by Javy Baez tied it up in the fifth and ended Archer’s chances.
Darvish, on the other hand, left the game with a lead, but the Cubs lost it and eventually lost the game. Long story short, a pair of quality efforts went by the wayside and neither got the win.
The Chicago Cubs are hoping they can limp to the All-Star break by finishing their series at Pittsburgh before playing their crosstown rival White Sox for a two-game series. They’ve now lost four straight and seven of their last 10. Pittsburgh wraps up their series with the Cubs before hosting the Milwaukee Brewers before the All-Star break. The Pirates have won three straight and seven of their last 10.