By: Kyle Smyth
Colorado Rockies end Cubs’ season in dramatic 13-inning, one-game playoff
CHICAGO – It’s been awhile (20 years in fact) since the Chicago Cubs hosted a National League Wild- Card playoff game at historic Wrigley Field.
Back in 1998 at the Friendly Confines, the Cubs fans were dancing in the aisles after their beloved Cubbies eliminated the San Francisco Giants 5-3 in that do-or-die playoff game.
This time around, however, those same fans of the Cubbies who attended Tuesday night’s NL Wild-Card game didn’t enjoy the deja vu taste of single-elimination victory as third-string catcher Tony Wolters had other plans in mind for the northside faithful.
With Rockies manager Bud Black running low on options, he turned to Wolters to come off the bench in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Knowing that Drew Butera was having trouble framing pitches and wasn’t able to throw out baserunners, Black utilized a double-switch in the bottom of the 12th with two outs by sending reliever Scott Oberg to the mound and Wolters behind home plate.
In a game that was full of controversial replay decisions by the umpires, Cubs manager kept Kyle Hendricks in the ballgame, even though his experience with relief pitching in high leverage situations was very limited.
In the top of the 13th, Hendricks easily got the first two outs, and with Trevor Story, Gerrardo Parra, and Wolters going a combined 0-for-10 against him this season, it seemed like an easy conclusion that the talented right-hander would keep the score deadlocked at 1-1.
But as if almost a cruel twist of fate, Story-Parra-Walters all delivered with base hits in successive order to give Colorado its second—and final—lead of the game.
Oberg then shut down the door by not even allowing the baseball to be hit in play in the last of the 13th. He struck out Terrance Gore, MVP candidate Javier Baez, and Albert Almora, Jr. 1-2-3 to help the Rockies advance to the National League Division Series for the first time since 2009.
“We left too much chicken on the bone,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in regards to his team not delivering with clutch hits down the stretch.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for Cubs fans in a season where the northsiders were in first place in the National League Central division by as many as five games in early September.
But this Cubs offense was just too inconsistent to maintain a deep run in the 2018 playoffs. Going back to Monday’s Game 163 against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs offense scored just one run in both of their one-game playoffs at Wrigley Field.
Game 163 determined the winner of the NL Central, and even though the Cubs were very familiar with Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin coming into the matchup, they managed just one run on one hit, an Anthony Rizzo solo blast, before the crafty righty left late in the bottom of the 6th inning.
There are plenty of questions, with few quick answers, to a Cubs lineup that was supposed to be its greatest strength of the team. Instead, the second-place NL Central finishers are headed to the golf links early despite valiant efforts by Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, and their bullpen teammates in Games 163 and 164.
Decisions Going Forward
The biggest question mark that Cubs upper management needs to decide on is the futures of Maddon and hitting coach Chili Davis. Madden’s decisions have always been scrutinized, and with a team full of young talent, a one-game playoff loss to the up-and-coming Rockies might be the end of the Maddon era.
That being said, on Tuesday night, Maddon seemed to make all the right moves. His offense just didn’t capitalize on their opportunities.
When the Cubs needed to tie up the game in the bottom of the 8th, he pinch-ran Gore for Rizzo. Gore stole second base and then scored on Baez’s game-tying RBI double. If Baez scores the go-ahead run because Almora delivers with a much-needed basehit, nobody will remember this move.
He took out Lester after his brilliant six-inning performance. Then again, Lester is notorious for being dreadful in the batter’s box, and the Cubs were still trailing 1-0 against the Rockies ace, Kyle Freeland.
He decided to pinch-hit Jason Heyward over Kyle Schwarber with the bases loaded. But would Cubs fans really want all-or-nothing home run hitter Schwarber in a singles situation over the veteran Heyward? Heyward didn’t get the job done. The thing is nobody gets the job done for stretches with this Cubs offense.
Meanwhile, Davis has some explaining to do for an offense who had the second-most games with one or zero runs scored. He exits the 2018 season in his first season as the hitting coach, and with the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotations getting better in the division, there is no time for inconsistent production at the plate.
In most seasons, a 95-win Cubs team that advanced to the postseason (albeit a one-game Wild-Card playoff) would be an amazing feeling for the fanbase.
But these aren’t your grandparents’ Cubbies. Two years ago, the Cubs overcame a 3-1 World Series deficit to hoist the Kennesaw Mountain Landis trophy. They had been to the National League Championship Series three seasons in a row.
And this 2018 Cubs team finished by not scoring more than one run in their last two games. Something has to be done with this offense, and if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer truly believe that there is a better answer than the Maddon-Davis coaching tree, then so be it.
Insert Joe Girardi as the new manager of the team? Sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency? Do a blockbuster trade for Mike Trout? These are all the questions that Epstein and Hoyer need to answer in a very busy offseason.