(Photo Courtesy blachubear2002 via Flickr)

All that Glitters

Cubs Shine in Ring Ceremony but are Shut Out by Dodgers

Wrigley Field in spring is a cold and blustery place. The wind blows in from the outfield, killing home run balls on their way to the bleachers, turning blistering dingers into routine cans of corn.

The cold temperature is reminiscent of late fall when pitching becomes key, and hitting turns into a premium.

But the cold, windy night could not take away from the Chicago Cubs faithful who packed Wrigley Field on Wednesday to witness the 2016 World Series championship ring ceremony.

The first pitch from former catcher David Ross to his pitching comrade Jon Lester reunited these former teammates one last time as they embraced on the field, rings in hand.

108 diamonds, one for every year without a title, adorned the face of the Cubs 2016 World Series ring. Cubs spelled out in red rubies across the front, with series game wins on the inside of the ring.

The inscription “We Never Quit” can be found along the bottom of the ring reminiscent of the ‘player’s only’ meeting during the 17 minute rain delay led by Jason Heyward.

And finally Theo Epstien wanted a profile of a billy goat, not kidding, and it can be found stamped inside each ring, next to the date and time stamp of the exact moment that Anthony Rizzo caught the ball to clinch the championship, 11–3–16 12:47am. The rings were given to the players by selected Cubs fans, in a show of good faith for the years of suffering by the Cubs fan base. The ring’s worth is estimated at $70,000 a piece, but any true Cubs fan will tell you that it is, in fact, a priceless artifact.

John Lackey was on the hill for the Cubs on this night of celebration, which lasted all of 3 pitches.

On a 2–0 count, a low inside fastball was belted into the bleachers in right center field. It would be the 3 time World Series champs only mistake of the night, but it was a big one.

Lackey had trouble finding the strike zone the entire first inning, giving up a double to Corey Seager and walking Logan Forsythe before finding the handle and striking out the next 2 batters. Joc Pederson drew a walk to load the bases.

It looked like the makings of a rough night, but in true John Lackey Style, he struck out Chase Utley on 4 pitches to end the threat. He’s still got it.

Need double digit strikeouts? I got you covered! (Photo Courtesy Vince Shmidt via Flickr)

Brandon McCarthy stared down the most feared lineup in the National League and didn’t flinch.

The key for the Dodgers’ pitcher was first pitch strikes, getting ahead in counts, and using the cold weather and wind blowing in from the outfield to kill the Cubs power hitting lineup.

McCarthy threw 15 first pitch strikes for the 19 batters he faced. Any pitching coach will tell you that is huge leverage of the count against the Cubs, turning their patient bats into earnest strikeouts, ground balls, or popups.

John Lackey made it a pitcher’s duel, issuing 20 first pitch strikes for the 25 batters he faced. Both pitchers averaged 80% FPS ratio, but Lackey pitched 105 pitches while McCarthy ended his night with 89. The stat line was nearly identical for the pitchers;

Lackey 6 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER
McCarthy 6 IP, 4 hits, 0 ER

Both bullpens were called on in the 7th inning, the only bright part of the Game was David Ross singing the 7th inning stretch and turning Wrigley into a sing along with 41,000 of his closest friends.

The Cubs hitters began to get impatient in the later innings.

In the 7th Stripling was called in to pitch for the Dodgers, Zobrist fell behind 1–2 before striking out, followed by Russell falling behind 0–2 before a broken bat ground out. Jason Heyward had what looked to me like solid at-bats throughout the game, fighting back to even the count at 2–2 after falling behind, but striking out on the sinker to end the 7th inning.

The Dodgers threatened again in the 8th, as Montgomery lost the handle on the strike zone. Seager popped out on a line drive run down by Addison Russell for the first out, followed by a walk to Forsythe, Gonzalez single, and Grandal walk to load the bases with only 1 out. Justin Turner managed a 1–1 count before grounding to Russell for a 6–4–3 double play to end the threat in the top of the 8th inning.

The Double Play is also known as “Pitchers Best Friend” would bail out Monty. (Photo Courtesy Arturo Pardavila via Flickr)

The Cubs threatened in the bottom of the 8th inning, after Contreras struck out, Albert Almora came in to hit in the pitchers slot.

A routine ground ball to the shortstop that was dropped by the first baseman Gonzalez, allowing Almora to round first and head to second base. There was now a runner in scoring position with 1 out for a cubs offense that was struggling for traction against the Dodger pitchers.

John Jay stepped to the plate with his .333 average to fight through an 11 pitch at bat with 5 foul offs before finally succumbing to the strike out that ended Ross Striplings night on the mound. Luis Avilan came in and struck out Schwarber on a sinker in the dirt to end the inning.

Hector Rondon hasn’t looked good since the beginning of the World Baseball Classic, he has been inconsistent in location and giving up hits with frequency. He is called in to pitch the top of the 9th inning anyway by Joe Maddon against the desperate Dodgers nursing a 1 run lead. It would not end well.

“I’m not a closer but…what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!” (Photo Courtesy 85th Support Command via Flickr)

After control issues and regularly not hitting the spots laid down by Contreras the Cubs catcher, Rondon gets unlucky as he walks Chase Utley on a ball that knicked the bottom of the strike zone on a full count.

Umpires tend to reward accurate pitching on questionable calls, Rondon would get no benefit of the doubt from home plate umpire Greg Gibson on this night. Puig flied out to Heyward on a mistake pitch that should have been ball four, but Rondon will take the out regardless. Scott Van Slyke hit in the pitcher slot and struck out on a perfectly located pitch by Contreras low on the outer half, it was refreshing to see Rondon started to find his spots.

Defense prowess can be a fickle thing, when a team has distractions or loses focus, defenses that are usually air tight begin to find holes. After 8 2/3 innings of a pitcher’s duel, the Cubs defense ran into complacency, and it made them pay dearly.

Andrew Toles who hit the home run in the first inning struck out on a ball in the dirt. Contreras stepped in front of home plate and threw the ball to Rizzo for the final out.

The throw was low and actually hits the front of first base, before taking an outrageous bounce past Rizzo into foul territory. Chase Utley rounded third and headed home, Rondon stood on home plate and received the throw from Rizzo. As Rondon took a knee on the plate, Utley slid into the side of his foot, rolling his ankle. Rondon dropped the ball, the Dodgers had scored their insurance run, and the night would be over for Hector. It was a vintage cubs play, and not in a good way.

Vintage Cubs in the worst kind of way, Circa 2012 (Photo Courtesy Hire Jim Essian via Flickr)

Justin Grimm came in to strike out Seager for the final out of the inning. Contreras dropped the third strike but ran down and tagged Seager as he walked back to the dugout in disgust. He wasn’t taking any chances this time.

The 9th inning fit perfectly with the bad offensive luck the Cubs had experienced for the entirety of the evening. The Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got Kris Bryant, reigning NL MVP, to swing at a 1–2 pitch on the low outside corner to line out to left field for the first out.

Anthony Rizzo choked up for his at bat, and managed a single to shallow center field on the second pitch. Ben Zobrist was too aggressive at the first offering from Jansen, and popped out to the catcher for the second out, followed by an Addison Russell fly out to left field on a high fastball to end the game.

Pitchers duels aren’t the sexy baseball story everyone wants. A leadoff home run and an error in the 9th produce to the only runs of the game, both for the Dodgers. But when Pitchers are dueling, it magnifies defensive capabilities.

Contreras pitch location was solid for Lackey, but Montgomery and Rondon struggled at times. Momentary lapses in judgment lead to errors and runs for the opposition. The bats will heat up for the Cubs, of this I have no doubt. But the relationship between Contreras and the pitching staff needs to grow, especially with the struggling bullpen.

John Lackey struck out 10 batters, 2 short of his career milestone, and still lost the game to a pitcher who was frugal with his pitch count and allowed the wind to keep pop ups in the ballpark. Good defense makes good pitching great pitching, and when the celebrations are over, when the distractions are again minimized, the Cubs will need to rely on that top tier defense on the long road ahead.

Game 8 of 162.

Big Ben Martin has a big deep love for his Chicago Cubs. They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and based on Big Ben’s love for the Cubs we would have to agree. When not playing the role of Big Ben he might be found as his alter ego Big Cynical Ben on Twitter.