Williams K's 8, but bats and bullpen fall short

April 28th, 2021

It was not the kind of blast that required a quick turn on the mound to see if the ball might stay in the yard. No, Cubs starter looked off to the side, while Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. flipped his bat and pounded his chest.

One mistake by Williams -- an ill-fated offering that soared 481 projected feet -- was all it took to send the Cubs on their way to a 5-0 loss on Tuesday night at Truist Park. With an absence of offense for Chicago, Acuña's mammoth home run marred an otherwise solid start for the righty.

"You make one mistake to him," Williams said, "he hits it out of the ballpark."

Here are three takeaways from Chicago's loss to Atlanta:

1. Williams' solid showing
A crucial moment arrived for Williams in the second inning. The righty had just struck out Braves starter Ian Anderson, setting up a battle with Acuña with two outs and the bases loaded.

Acuña worked to a 3-1 count and then Williams challenged the Braves’ star with an elevated 92 mph fastball. Acuña swung through it.

"At that point," Williams said, "it's my best stuff against his best stuff."

Williams came back with another four-seamer, which Acuña popped up to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to end the threat. That came as part of a 1-for-10 stretch with five strikeouts against Williams, who generated 15 swinging strikes in his 86-pitch effort.

"I thought he moved the fastball around really well," Cubs manager David Ross said. "And the slider looked like it had some bite tonight."

In five innings, Williams struck out eight, including four in a row before Acuña's solo homer in the fifth. The pitcher was trying to go up and in with a fastball -- a pitch that Acuña struck out looking against in the first -- but Williams said he "pulled it a hair."

"The first one he just pulled, right?" Ross said. "I thought he looked really good, to be honest with you."

2. Another offensive drought
The Cubs pounded out seven runs in a tough loss on Monday night. Within the past week, Chicago enjoyed a 15-run game and a 16-run outpouring. There has undoubtedly been progress from the early-April hitting famine.

And then comes along an arm like Anderson, making all those strides feel moot.

"First of all, he's got great stuff," Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward said. "He threw the ball all over the zone. He was able to make different pitches each at-bat to get ahead and he got it going."

Anderson logged seven shutout innings, limiting the Cubs to one Jake Marisnick single and nothing else. The over-the-top righty piled up eight strikeouts, leaning heavily on elevated heaters and balancing that with changeups and curves.

Anderson was a tough matchup for Chicago before the night even began.

Entering the day, the Cubs ranked 26th in slugging (.243) and 30th in average (.135) against changeups this year. The North Siders also ranked 26th in slugging (.377) and 29th in average (.186) against four-seamers.

The Cubs finished 0-for-14 against Anderson's changeup, including an 0-for-9 showing from the righty batters.

"He looked really sharp," Ross said. "I thought the changeup was the difference-maker, especially to our righties. I don't think we've seen too many guys that are able to do that."

3. Keeping the score close
Ross knows what he has in veteran closer Craig Kimbrel. The manager knows how and when to use him, and tries to avoid leaning on him outside of certain situations.

The bulk of the rest of the bullpen remains a work in progress.

"We're still trying to figure out," Ross said, "when we're behind in games, guys that we can use to keep it right there. I think we've got some guys that have built some trust when we're tied or ahead."

One of the wild cards has been right-hander , who is still working to gain Ross' trust. Workman had strung together five straight scoreless outings leading up to Monday, when he allowed a game-changing three-run homer to Freddie Freeman.

With Atlanta holding a 2-0 advantage in the eighth on Tuesday, Ross gave Workman another chance. An error behind the reliever did not help his cause, but he wound up toiling through eight batters, laboring with his command and ending his outing with a bases-loaded walk to Freeman.

The eighth developed into a three-run collapse that essentially eliminated the Cubs' comeback bid. It was just three games ago on Sunday when the bullpen yielded five runs in the ninth of what had been a 1-0 game against the Brewers.

"We definitely have to be better," Ross said. "And keep the game closer when the guys battle all game and keep it right there, so we can have some sort of rally there later in games."