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Cubs squander early offensive chances in loss to Dodgers

2 months agoAndy Martinez

The Cubs had opportunities early on to put pressure on a rookie starter and a thin Dodgers bullpen.

That rookie — Yoshinobu Yamamoto — showed why the Dodgers committed over $300 million to him in working out of early jams to stymie a pair of Cubs threats.

And, eventually, the Dodgers’ high-powered offense took advantage.

The Cubs were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 9 runners on base, squandering a pair of bases-loaded opportunities in the first two frames in their 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon.

We put some pressure on him in the first two innings, we just couldn’t break through, unfortunately,” manager Craig Counsell said. “And then he kind of got into a rhythm which is unfortunately what happens against the good ones, right? You gotta break through when you get those shots and we just unfortunately in that 1st inning we couldn’t break through.”

Cubs’ rookie Jordan Wicks, making his second start of the season, worked out of early trouble to start the game. He walked Mookie Betts and allowed a single to Shohei Ohtani. Wicks settled down, inducing a flyout out of former MVP Freddie Freeman and striking out Teoscar Hernández and Max Muncy.

The Cubs responded with a threat of their own in the bottom half of the frame. Ian Happ led it off with a double, Seiya Suzuki coaxed a walk and Cody Bellinger singled to load the bases for the heart of the lineup.

But Yamamoto hunkered down with three straight punchouts. He struck out Christopher Morel on 3 straight curveballs, nabbed Dansby Swanson with a perfectly dotted, 97-mph fastball at the bottom of the zone on a full count and received some help from home plate umpire Mike Estabrook on a curveball just off the plate to Michael Busch to escape the jam.

Yamamoto pulled off another Houdini act an inning later.

Yan Gomes hit a 2-out double to center field, Happ walked and Suzuki reached on an error by Muncy at third base to load the bases. Yamamoto dropped another of his wicked curveballs outside to strike out Bellinger looking to kill the threat.

“I think the timing aspect of him is unique,” Nico Hoerner said. “Obviously he has a good fastball and was able to command his breaking ball well today.”

It seemed to be a good sign for the Cubs’ offense, who forced the Dodgers’ starter, Bobby Miller, out of the game in the 2nd inning on Friday. The Dodgers designated Dinelson Lamet, who covered 1.2 innings Friday, for assignment and recalled right-handed pitcher Gus Varland from Triple-A to bolster a bullpen that covered 6.1 innings on Friday.

But the Japanese rookie only settled in after that. He retired 9 straight Cubs hitters and finished his day with 8 strikeouts in 5 innings of work.

Give him credit for wiggling out [of it],” Counsell said. “He made some really really tough pitches.”

The Dodgers’ potent lineup eventually made the Cubs pay for their missed opportunities.

Their 9-hitter, backup catcher Austin Barnes, led off the 5th with a single. Wicks, whose pitch count was already creeping up towards the 90 mark, struck out Betts and allowed a single to Ohtani. Wicks struck out Freeman on 9 pitches to end his day and left with runners on first and second.

“For me, it was just trying to focus on the hitter I was facing at that time,” Wicks said. “So for me it was just get each individual out because it’s dangerous with a lineup like that when you start looking ahead ‘Oh, I’ve got so and so on deck and so and so in the hole. That guy at the plate can get you.

“Kind of back myself into a corner starting the inning 3-0 to Barnes. It’s not ideal there. And then just kind of tried to — I knew my rope was thin at that point. Just being in the 5th inning had worked some laborious innings and so for me, it was just kind of make each pitch at that point, the best I possibly could.”

That was the type of approach Wicks tried to take into the outing — it’s a dangerous lineup, so Wicks was just trying to stay present in each battle.

It’s just focus on who’s at the plate,” Wicks said. “Don’t worry about where you’re at in the lineup. And so just in that point, you can really lock in.”

Counsell turned to José Cuas to face the righty Teoscar Hernández. Cuas walked him on 4 pitches and threw a wild pitch on the first pitch to Muncy to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. A few pitches later, Muncy crushed a 107-mph liner off the right field wall to clear the bases and give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead.

The Cubs really had no answer after that.

They had just 2 base runners in 6 innings — singles from Morel in the 6th and Bellinger in the 8th . In the 9th, Swanson led with a single, Busch doubled and two batters later. The Cubs picked up their first run on a groundout from Miles Mastrobuoni.

The Cubs brought the tying-run to the plate in Happ a few batters later, but he struck out to end the threat. 

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