It wouldn’t be fair to pin the Cubs’ problems all on one player. It just feels good to do. On a day that’s probably been just about the most tumultuous in the past three season as they’ve had, in a period where they’ve also sent down Schwarber and are approaching the “hey it’s not early anymore” nexus, it would have been lovely to get a “don’t worry I got this” start from your veteran starter.
Instead, we got John Lackey.
Lackey’s last two starts have actually been good, but this one was the same problem it’s been all season. He can’t locate his fastball, not that he’s ever really been a spot-the-corner guy. And it’s lost enough bite and velocity that anything that isn’t on the corner is getting turned into some sort of oblong shape. When that’s not the problem, he can’t bury his slider or curve or whatever you want to call it, and it just merely rolls into the zone. Rendon’s homer that kicked it all off was an example of that. He got rocked in the 2nd innings, with rockets going everywhere resulting in four runs.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Cubs did try and get themselves back into it a bit. They got themselves in slam range with a Contreras shot in the 4th, and could have had more. There was another woeful decision from Baez after a walk in front of him to hack at the first pitch, and try to pull it on the outside corner resulting in a double play. Hey what is it John Malee does again? They got another in the 5th and suddenly hey, maybe if they can get into the dicey Nats pen something could happen, you thought.
No matter, Lackey rolled another breaking pitch up there for Daniel Murphy to clock the Jefferson statue in the head. Good times.
I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure Lackey throws hard enough to live at the top of the zone, nor locates well enough. He’s never really been a get a lot of grounders guy, nor living at the bottom of the zone. He’s not going to learn too many new tricks at 38. And if that slider/curve is just going to roll, then this is what you’re going to get. A 5.00+ ERA halfway through the season would normally start real discussions about removal from the rotation. But the Cubs are already on starter #7 and there is no #8 (it’s at this point that any criticism of the Thed Stoyer Regime not being able to produce one starter other than Hendricks in six years could be well warranted). When Hendricks gets back Joe Maddon is not going to be able to contain his glee to get Montgomery back in the pen, no matter how good he’s been as a starter. So that’s out.
And that’s not even the worst part of the evening.
Bryant needing help getting off the field makes you think it’ll be after the All-Star break at best before he’s seen again, and if it’s a high ankle sprain those tend to linger (do you have to, do you have to…). Which means you’ll get La Stella or Candelario every day, which is not something you should want. Or Baez shifts to third, Happ plays 2nd full time, and when Heyward returns soon you get him-Almora-Jay/Zagunis in left or something. The depth is certainly getting tested. But the offense was struggling with Bryant (not vintage, admittedly) in it. The breaking point isn’t far away.
Because if you think the Cubs have hit a breaking point, you’re wrong. Considering how many guys are banged up, or underperforming, with a spotty rotation until the past couple weeks, .500 is actually not a bad place to be. It could have been a lot worse.
Which at this point, for the first time, sounds scary instead of encouraging.