“We haven’t played our best baseball and they’ve pitched really well,” Epstein said to a throng of reporters after the 5-2 defeat.
He could not have put it any better. Game 3 on Tuesday was a great example of "not playing their best" as the Cubs made defensive miscues all over the field, highlighted by a wild pitch which allowed the eventual winning run to score. This all came as Jacob deGrom and two relievers once again shut down the offense.
Javier Baez set the tone with an error on the first batter of the game. Later Kyle Schwarber botched a ball in left, Kris Bryant double-clutched on one at third, and finally Trevor Cahill threw a third straight curveball in the dirt with a man on third which got by catcher Miguel Montero. That came after the team with the fewest steals in the regular season in the NL stole their fifth of the series. Add that to deGrom getting better “game in-progress” as manager Joe Maddon put it, and you see why the Cubs lost again.
“In general, they just have played well,” Maddon said of the Mets. “They've played really well. They've done little things well and they've taken advantage of us in different moments. We've not been able to overcome that because we're not hitting the ball like we normally can.”
That is an essential point. A bobbled ball or a stolen base is a blip in the game if the Cubs have six or seven runs on the board, but they've only scored five in three games of this series. That means they have to be near-perfect elsewhere. The young Cubs aren’t there yet.
“This time of the year everything does magnify a bit,” Maddon said.
That’s an understatement. From balls and strike calls by the umpire to pinch-hitting moves to sloppy play in the field, everything gets picked apart when you need to win games 2-1 or 3-2. That’s the situation the Cubs have found themselves in due to a lack of offense. The Mets are pitching so well that the unseasonably warm weather didn't wake up the Cubs' bats.
“Yeah, it's not been any fun,” Maddon said. “I mean, today the weather was more favorable to us, and I thought overall we did hit some balls well.”
They weren't hit well enough or frequently enough, though. DeGrom had an easy time of it through the middle innings, when the game turned in the Mets favor. Then came the sloppy play. Schwarber missed a line drive hit right at him in left which led to insurance runs.
“I made a bad read,” he said. “There is no excuse; I just dropped the ball. I’m upset I let my team down right there.”
He wasn’t the only one. Montero beat himself up over the wild pitch, while Cahill wondered how it all went wrong. And now they have to turn the page quickly and try to make history one game at a time.
“It’s not the spot we want to be in, but we’re here and we have to face it,” Schwarber said.
History says teams don’t come back from 3-0 deficits, though the Epstein-led Boston Red Sox did it in 2004. But the bats will need to wake up, or the Cubs need to sharpen their game up. At least one or the other needs to be in play in if they want to win Game 4. Both would be nice.
“Nine different times this year we’ve won four or more games in a row, so let’s just do it a 10th time,” Epstein said. “Show up and win tomorrow [Wednesday]. We’re dangerous. It’s been done before, rumor has it. We can do it.”