Saturday, December 2 2023

Adbert Alzolay, so steady as the Chicago Cubs closer since being trusted with the role two months into the season, needed two more outs to secure a doubleheader sweep Friday at Great American Ball Park.

His strikeout of Elly De La Cruz, the phenom’s fourth in Game 2, pitted Alzolay against his former teammate Nick Martini, who spent 25 games with the Cubs in 2021. Martini cranked a 1-1 slider over the right-field wall for a tying home run and blown save for Alzolay’s second straight appearance.

Alzolay’s typically reliable slider betrayed him again with two outs and the winning run on third following Christian Encarnacion-Strand’s single and stolen base on Alzolay’s strikeout of Will Benson that advanced the runner an extra base on Yan Gomes’ throwing error.

The next pitch ended it. Noelvi Marte sliced Alzolay’s slider on the outer half to center field to hand the Cubs a 3-2 walk-off loss.

The disappointing end to a doubleheader that begins a critical stretch against pursuing wild-card teams doesn’t overshadow what the Cubs (72-63) saw from rookie left-hander Jordan Wicks in Game 1. The Reds forced Wicks to battle early, causing his pitch count to climb by laying off his changeup to force other pitchs. Wicks and catcher Miguel Amaya identified the Reds’ approach, opposite of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ aggressiveness in his big-league debut last weekend, and adjusted to more cutters and four-seam fastballs.

Wicks earned the win in the Cubs’ 6-2 victory in Game 1 by limiting the Reds to one run and five hits in five innings.

“I definitely felt a little bit more comfortable out there from the start,” Wicks said. “When the scouting report gets out, that’s going to be the plan (against his changeup) and we prepared for it. We’ve got other pitches for that very reason. We’re going to stick with the bread and butter. Just because they might be laying off of it doesn’t mean we’re just going to go completely away from it.”

The Game 1 win marked the first time in franchise history the Cubs went from 10 games below .500 to 10 games above .500 in the same season.

Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ led the offense both games. Bellinger hit a solo home run in each game, the fifth time this season he went gone deep in back-to-back games. Happ doubled and homered in Game 1 and hit the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth inning of Game 2.

But letting the second game get away was a missed opportunity to put distance between themselves and the Reds in the wild-card race while firmly keeping the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in their sights. The Cubs aren’t going to overreact to one game, no matter the disappointment surrounding a walk-off loss, which can’t be pinned solely on Alzolay. In a bullpen game right-hander José Cuas started after being activated from the bereavement list, the wasted chances in the first inning of Game 2 warrant the most scrutiny.

They let Reds starter Lyon Richardson and his wildness off the hook in the first. Three of the first four Cubs batters walked, but the Cubs couldn’t get a run across despite forcing Richardson to throw 37 pitches in the inning. Dansby Swanson was called out on strikes and Seiya Suzuki whiffed on a 96.8-mph elevated fastball to strike out after getting ahead 2-0.

The Cubs feature more veteran experience than their pitching staff, especially in the bullpen, and must find ways to take pressure off a group that has been asked a lot of the last couple of months. Fortunately the Cubs have been good at flushing bad games and finding ways to win series.

“We scratched and clawed, we fought hard, we just ran out in the back end,” manager David Ross said. “We played really good baseball all day today, a lot of innings, 18 innings, and we come up short right there.”

Source: Yahoo Sports


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