3 takeaways from Cubs 'terrible' loss to Mets

June 22nd, 2019

CHICAGO -- hustled off the mound in the ninth inning on Saturday, gloved a roller off Wilson Ramos' bat and made a leaping throw across the infield to first baseman . The Cubs' backup catcher -- making a rare appearance as a pitcher -- kept running to the dugout, hoisting his hat in the air before heading down the steps.

At the tail end of a 10-2 blowout loss to the Mets, it was a moment of levity for Chicago's players, helping turn the page on a long, sloppy afternoon in the field. Inside the dugout, Tyler Chatwood laughed and Kyle Hendricks slapped the green railing in response to Caratini's highlight-reel play. It was something fun on an otherwise forgettable day, and it was welcomed.

"You just have to enjoy it. It was just one of those days," Hendricks said. "It was athletic as hell, man. It was very athletic. We were impressed. Walk it right into the dugout. It just made us laugh. It was great."

The loss, on the other hand, was no laughing matter.

Cubs starter was roughed up for nine runs (eight earned) in 4 1/3 innings. The defense made some poor plays, including a missed-catch error by Caratini, who started the game at first base. The lineup had a slew of opportunities and could not cash in with runners in scoring position.

The Cubs remain in first place atop the National League Central, but the team has dropped eight of 12 games and the space between the rest of the division rivals is shrinking.

"We played a terrible game. There's no question," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We had a bad game. We have to do better than that. We are better than that. I cannot defend some of the plays -- I can't. We just, we're better than that."

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's loss.

1) Righting the rotation

The bulk of the runs allowed by Quintana on Saturday came via home runs.

Pete Alonso got things rolling with a solo shot in the first inning, helping the Mets first baseman set a National League rookie record with 26 homers before the All-Star break. Todd Frazier added a two-run blast in the third inning and Ramos launched a two-run homer of his own to end Quintana's day in the fifth. The Cubs' rotation entered Saturday tied for the most homers allowed in the Majors (14) since June 12, when Chicago's 4-8 run began.

"Rough day. It was pretty frustrating for me," said Quintana, who had not given up nine runs in a start since April 19, 2015. "I'm trying to get results and every start, I try to win the game. Then to have a day like that, it's really tough, man. I feel really bad, but I never quit."

Right now, Chicago's starting staff is trying to patch the hole left by Hendricks, who is on the injured list with a right shoulder injury. Hendricks has resumed playing light catch -- he did so Friday and Saturday -- but there is no firm timetable for his return. In the meantime, the Cubs need their veterans (Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Quintana) to stay steady, with fill-ins like Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay helping out.

Over the past 12 games, the rotation has turned in a 5.32 ERA with 72 hits allowed in 66 innings.

"This is a good offensive club," Maddon said of the Mets. "And we've got Atlanta coming in -- they're not bad, either. And then it's Cincinnati after that, and they’re not bad, either. I still anticipate that we're going to pitch better. The biggest thing is we have to play a complete game. We will. We will get back to the normalcy on the field."

2) RISP problems persist

Maddon felt Saturday's game started to unravel for the Cubs in the first two innings.

"The beginning of the game really was the tale of the tape," Maddon said. "It could've been a different result."

The Cubs manager was referring to the fact that the offense put runners on first and second with no outs in each of the first two frames. In the first, Javier Baez grounded into a double play and Willson Contreras struck out. In the second, Caratini struck out, Quintana used a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners and then Addison Russell flew out to center to end the threat.

That trend -- and it has been a trend for the Cubs -- continued later in the game. Chicago loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh and scored one run on a double-play groundout. Jason Heyward doubled to lead off the ninth, but he only crossed the plate thanks to a passed ball and a wild pitch.

The Cubs entered the game with an NL-low .244 average with runners in scoring position, and that dropped to .240 after Saturday's 0-for-10 showing. Heading into the afternoon, Chicago ranked first in walks (97) and ninth in OPS (.794) with RISP. The club has been getting runners on, but struggling to bring them home.

"We've got to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities," Maddon said. "It's not easy. The league's gotten better and there are no pushovers."

3) Rest for the relievers

As the Mets were piling up the runs, Maddon was thinking ahead to how the afternoon would unfold for his bullpen.

Left-hander Mike Montgomery was unavailable, as were Alzolay and Chatwood, who are slated to start on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. As the game became more lopsided, Maddon also decided that he wanted to avoid his main late-inning arms: Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop. That left Brad Brach, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick at his disposal.

"I'm just trying to figure out how to utilize the bullpen," Maddon said. "It was just one of those days, man. It was just one of those days where it's very limited what you can do against it."

That explains why Quintana stayed in for 79 pitches and worked into the fifth inning. Wick then got the Cubs through the sixth, and Brach and Ryan handled the next two frames. Then, it was decision time for Maddon, who was also hoping to give Rizzo a full day off. Under the circumstances, the manager let Rizzo pinch-hit in the eighth in order to call upon Caratini as an emergency pitcher for the ninth.

In his fourth career pitching appearance, and second this season, Caratini set down Frazier, Michael Conforto and Ramos in order. That led to the defensive gem, the hat tip and perhaps now the Cubs' pitching staff will be in solid shape for whatever arises on Sunday.

"They beat us. They beat us soundly today," Maddon said. "Every which way, they beat us. But I want our guys to play to the last drop. I think we do."