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  • Braves 7, Cubs 6: As Bad as Cubs Losses Get

    Steve Trefz

    The game started with hope and optimism, as Justin Steele held the prolific Braves offense in check into the sixth inning. From there a six-run lead evaporated, along with the Cubs' handle on the Wild Card. By the time the game-winning Braves runs laughed their way home following an inexpliable missed fly ball, the season had turned in less than three innings.

    Image courtesy of Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Cubs Video

    Box Score:
    Starting Pitcher: Justin Steele - 5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K (90 pitches, 56 Strikes, 62%)
    Home Runs: None
    Bottom 3 WPA: Drew Smyly (-.522), Javier Assad (-.122), Ian Happ (-.117)
    Win Probability Chart (Via Fangraphs):


    The Cubs entered Tuesday night's matchup against the NL leading Atlanta Braves nursing a one game lead for the final Wild Card spot. Justin Steele took the mound having lost two straight decisions, but having an August victory over the Braves already on his resume. The final week of the season kicked off in earnest at Truist Park in Hotlanta, and it was the Cubs bats that brought the heat to start things off.

    Attacking Early and Often
    Bryce Elder has put together a solid rookie campaign for the Braves, but he was hit hard in his first start against the Cubs this season, and that trend continued Tuesday night. Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki led off the top of the second inning with singles. A fielder's choice grounder and a strike out quickly put the rally on notice, but Yan Gomes delivered another single with two outs to give the Cubs an early 1-0 lead. Not to be undone, Miles Mastrobuoni followed up with the fourth single of the inning, and it was 2-0 Cubs.

    The top of the third saw more of the same from the Cubs offense, this time with Suzuki cashing in a pair of walks for two more runs on an opposite field line drive that Ronald Acuna Jr. wishes he could re-do his route on. 

    The Cubs still weren't done attacking Elder. In the top of the fourth inning, Bellinger again delivered a single to set the score at 5-0. Pete Crow-Armstrong had entered the game as a pinch runner, and found his way to third base on the Bellinger knock. After a pitching change, the Cubs sent Bellinger and Crow-Armstrong learned what a Sean Murphy pump fake looks like, and got caught in no man's land, ending the rally.

    For good measure, Ian Happ singled in another run in the top of the sixth, and the Cubs and Steele found themselves cruising along into the bottom of the sixth with a 6-0 lead.

    There is a Reason the Braves are Amazing
    As good as the first six innings started for the Cubs, the ensuing innings were just as terrible. Kevin Pillar led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo shot, and by the time Jose Cuas entered the game to relieve Steele, he had to deal with two men on and Marcell Ozuna at the plate. Ozuna didn't stay at the plate for long, as he ripped a two-run double to cut the lead in half at 6-3.

    While the Cubs bats failed to cash in against the Braves bullpen, the Cubs bullpen was not so lucky. Javier Assad got the call for the seventh inning, and after granting Murphy a lead-off walk, Acuna Jr. atoned for his earlier miscue with a two-run blast to close the gap to 6-5.

    As Bad as it Gets...or Worse
    Drew Smyly got the bottom of the eighth with the Cubs still grasping to a one run lead. Another lead-off walk, two wild pitches, and a second walk later and runners were at the corners with nobody out. Smyly somehow escaped the jam by mixing in two strikeouts and a fly ball to right to end the threat. Except that's not what happened. For the love of all things good and Cubs, that's not what happened at all.

    Cubs fans erupt for all the wrong reasons, and the must-win series opener was lost. From hero to goat in a span of an hour, and Suzuki and the Cubs are left soul-searching for what it might take to redeem this collapse in this vital week.

    What’s Next: Operation Playoff Push marches on, and the Cubs will place their redemptive hopes in RHP Jameson Taillon (8-10, 5.05 ERA). The Braves will send RHP Darius Vines (1-0, 4.40 ERA) out as an opener for Wednesday’s contest. First pitch is scheduled for 6:20pm CDT.

    Postgame Interviews

    Bullpen Usage Chart:

    Assad 0 49 0 0 20 69
    Smyly 30 0 0 0 27 57
    Merryweather 0 23 18 0 0 41
    Cuas 0 18 10 0 12 40
    Wesneski 17 0 0 0 0 17
    Palencia 0 0 13 0 0 13
    Wicks 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Thompson 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Little 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Leiter 0 0 0 0 0 0

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    Suzuki made a terrible error, obviously.  Once the Cubs gave back 5/6 runs off the lead, shutting them down in the bottom of the 9th was definitely in doubt.  I guess I'm making excuses for him, but I really like him and don't want to just vilify him over this one play.

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