May 4, 2017 | Cubs Farm Watch | LEAVE A COMMENT
Weather permitting, the first-place Chicago Cubs (15-12) will play host to the Philadelphia Phillies (12-14) in the finale of their four-game series. The Cubs lost the first game of the series before rallying to win each of the last two. John Lackey (2-3 record, 5.10 ERA) will start for the Cubs. The Phillies will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Zach Eflin (0-0, 1.89 ERA). Eflin, a former first-round selection of the San Diego Padres in 2012, was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Phillies legend Jimmy Rollins in December 2014. Eflin debuted in the major leagues for Philadelphia last season and produced a 5.54 ERA in 11 starts.
Even after Jake Arrieta’s quality start in yesterday’s win, the Cubs enter play today with the sixth-worst starters ERA (4.65), which is in stark contrast to last season when they led the league in starters ERA (2.96). The Cubs are also seeking to end an inauspicious streak of allowing the opposition to score in the first inning in four consecutive games. A win today would be a nice springboard into a weekend series with the AL East-leading New York Yankees.
The Cubs drew first blood in the bottom of the first on a double by shortstop Addison Russell to deep right field. Fortuitously for the Cubs, there were two outs, allowing Bryant to run on contact and score all the way from first base.
The Philles’ Cesar Hernandez recalls Vince Coleman in his salad days. After reaching on a bunt single, he stole second base and scored on Aaron Altherr’s single, cutting the Cubs lead to 2-1. Coleman used to score on Tommy Herr’s singles. Maybe Altherr should drop the “Alt” from his surname to make the Coleman comparison more symmetrical.
On a more serious note, Lackey’s pitch count is north of 50, and the Cubs are playing the seventh of 13 consecutive games without a day off.
After allowing the first two Phillies to reach in the top of the fifth, Lackey showed some veteran guile in inducing soft contact to the next three Phillies hitters. But the Phillies still plated a run, and I would be surprised if Lackey is not lifted after throwing 96 pitches through five innings. The Cubs are going to have to come from behind, like they did the last two evenings, to win the game and the series.
As the Cubs bat in the bottom of the sixth of a 3-3 game, it is worth noting that Lackey has not had a quality start since April 12. He was hit hard and often today, which on the heels of Jon Lester’s and Brett Anderson’s poor outings in this series, creates even more consternation about the Cubs starting rotation. Joe Maddon faced a difficult choice: lift Lackey and summon an overused bullpen or try to coax another inning out the big right-hander and save the bullpen. He chose to go to the Lackey well, and there was no water left there.
If the game, tied after seven innings, becomes a battle of the bullpens, the advantage should go to the Cubs. Their bullpen has the fifth-best ERA at 2.81. The Phllies bullpen’s ERA is 4.57.
The Cubs have allowed a bad Philadelphia bullpen off the hook.
Hector Rondon has pitched the last two evenings. Koji Uehara just threw a scoreless inning to keep the game tied at four entering the Cubs’ half of the 13th. This might be the Cubs last best chance to win this game. The bullpen has been heavily taxed, and there is not an off day in sight.
Recap: The Cubs were victorious today despite squandering several opportunities. Two Cub base runners were picked off. Yet the biggest issues being masked by the first-place Cubs 16-12 record is their starting pitchers are not going deep enough into games and the bullpen is being used too much as a result. Entering play today, Cubs starters had thrown the eight fewest innings. Their bullpen had thrown the 11th most and was forced to pitch eight innings today.
Justin Grimm continues to scuffle, forcing Maddon to rely on Edwards, Uehara, Rondon, Strop, Montgomery and Davis. If the Cubs starters do not begin tallying more innings, the bullpen is going to be more and more susceptible to injury or implosion.
The Cubs might need to do some roster reshuffling for this weekend’s series against the first-place Yankees. The current trend is simply unsustainable.