The Chicago Cubs might be wondering what could have been this week against the Cincinnati Reds.
Riding a three-game winning streak after taking the first two games of the four-game series, the Cubs couldn’t sustain momentum the rest of the week.
The Reds clobbered them 20-5 in the finale Thursday, piling up 20 hits for a series split. A 59-minute rain delay only prolonged the inevitable.
The Cubs allowed 20-plus runs in a game for the first time since July 3, 1999, against the Phillies in Philadelphia. The franchise has both won and lost a game by 20-plus runs this season — they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 21-0 on April 23 at Wrigley Field — something they hadn’t done since 1987.
An eight-run third inning doomed the Cubs and ended Justin Steele’s outing. The game got so out of hand that infielder Andrelton Simmons pitched for the first time in his career in the eighth — and he gave up five runs on five hits and a walk.
Right fielder Seiya Suzuki exited the game in the fourth with a sprained left ring finger. He suffered the injury the previous inning when he jammed the finger sliding into second on a stolen base. Manager David Ross sounded optimistic Suzuki avoided a serious injury after he checked out OK, which included a negative X-ray.
The Cubs get an off day Friday to regroup before heading to the South Side for a quick weekend series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. The Sox won both games at Wrigley Field in early May.
1. Bad blood still exists between the Cubs and Reds.
Javier Báez and Amir Garrett are no longer around to continue their feud, but heightened tensions between their former teams haven’t dissipated.
Cubs reliever Rowan Wick and Reds first baseman Joey Votto have taken over as the protagonists in the bad-blood drama between the sides. The brouhaha from late in Wednesday’s game carried over into Thursday’s series finale.
Willson Contreras, who homered in the fifth and admired his shot, was hit with the first pitch of his seventh-inning at-bat. Manager David Ross then was ejected for the second straight game and seventh time in his managerial career. Ross wasn’t interested in rehashing what prompted another conversation with the umpire crew.
“I’ll keep that between the umpires,” Ross said. “A lot of it just goes back to (Wednesday).”
Contreras then had words with Votto after Wick struck out the Reds slugger to end the seventh. The Cubs’ bullpen started to run onto the field but made it only halfway before returning to the pen as the situation dissipated.
It’s unlikely this will be the end of the animosity between the Cubs and Reds and, more specifically, Wick and Votto. The teams still play 15 times, including six consecutive games to end the season.
2. More power would be a big boost to Nico Hoerner’s offensive profile.
Hoerner’s contact-oriented approach has been a welcomed part of the Cubs lineup that too often last season featured too much swing-and-miss.
The Cubs’ regular lineup this season features more contact hitters — to the determent of the long ball at times. Hoerner figures to play a big role for the Cubs going forward. Adding power to his offensive profile would be huge for Hoerner and the team.
There are some signs of that happening. Hoerner homered during the second inning Thursday in his first start off the injured list.
“Two weeks is not too bad,” Hoerner said this week of his IL stint. “I was able to be swinging pretty soon afterward. That wasn’t really a concern in the rehab side of it.”
The home run marked his third of the season, which tied his career high, doing so in 101 plate appearances. Hoerner’s career high came in 2019 (82 PAs). He hadn’t homered in 2020 or 2021, a stretch of 296 PAs.
Hoerner entered Thursday with the highest flyball rate (20.5%) and extra-base hit rate (7.0%) of his career. Getting more pop from Hoerner, combined with his contact rate and defensive performance at shortstop, would take his all-around game to the next level.
3. Top prospect Caleb Kilian’s Cubs debut will have to wait.
With two doubleheaders next week, the Cubs will gain a 27th player and need two additional starters.
One player who won’t be brought up to help: top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian. The right-hander is lined up to start Monday after starting Wednesday for Triple-A Iowa. Kilian wasn’t sharp in that outing.
However, Ross said before Thursday’s series finale that Kilian is not being discussed as an option for either of the doubleheaders Monday and Saturday. In nine starts with Triple-A Iowa, Kilian has posted a 2.06 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 41 strikeouts and 15 walks in 39⅓ innings. It’s his first season pitching at that level.
“It just looks like real big-league stuff,” Ross said. “He’s having a great season and (his) stuff’s trending up. The velocities moving up. There’s just a lot of good things to like about him. … He’s having a great season, and I’m sure we’ll see him sooner rather than later.”
Kilian, acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Kris Bryant trade, must be added to the 40-man roster in the offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. The Cubs will want to get a look at him sometime this season. Bringing him up for a doubleheader spot start would require putting him on the 40-man, and the Cubs likely want to maintain flexibility there as long as possible.
The organization is positioning to be major sellers at the trade deadline again, which would open spots for Kilian not only for the 40-man but in the rotation.