Sox and Awe: Cubs, Chapman Blow South Siders Away Late

Wouldn’t it be fitting for the Cubs to pay a steep price to acquire a closer they didn’t need, only to see them provide him with no save opportunities from here on out?

In Aroldis Chapman’s first game with the team, the Cubs laid an egg and lost 3-0. It looked like they were in for more of the same Wednesday night as they tried in vain to put anything together against Anthony Ranaudo, he of the career 6.33 ERA coming in. Once a top prospect, Ranaudo has battled injuries and has bounced around from Boston to Texas to to Chicago since leading LSU to a College World Series title as a prep player.

The Cubs looked absolutely awful through 5 1/3 as they mustered exactly zero hits and didn’t even seem capable of striking a ball with enough force to earn a base knock at all. It’s telling, both for player and team, that a Jason Heyward opposite field liner hauled in shy of the track was cause for optimism. And that was only in the 2nd inning. By the time Ranaudo led off the 5th by taking a Jason Hammel fastball into the bleachers in right center, I was convinced this was some karmic retribution for the trade.

I began making predictions — Heyward would break up the no-hitter, Hammel would answer his opponent’s dinger with one of his own — all of which fell flat. Frustrated and coming to the realization that it was my predictions that were causing the Cubs’ futility, I immediately turned the tables. The Sox, I said, would hit two more home runs and Ranaudo would complete the no-hitter.

For those of you who enjoyed the last third of the game, you’re welcome.

After working a 3-1 count by taking a couple of really borderline pitches with one out in the 6th, Kris Bryant mashed a lollipop curveball to left center to tie the game. I was surprised to see Hammel back on the bump for the top of the 7th, even if it was to face the bottom of the order. He quickly proved me wrong by striking out the side on 13 pitches to effectively close things down.

With two outs in the 7th and Ranaudo still pitching, Jason Heyward battled back from an 0-2 hole to coax a walk and set the stage for Javy Baez. After running the count full, Baez jumped on a curve and launched it up near the video board in right center to prompt a pitching change and a curtain call. Now, I haven’t seen Anthony Ranaudo pitch before, but I’m thinking he might not want to throw that pitch again to good hitters. Like, ever.

Displaced closer Hector Rondon came on for the 8th as the anticipated debut of Aroldis Chapman loomed. Seven pitches later, the Cubs were batting again and doing the kinds of things some of us had forgotten they were capable of. Kris Bryant took the first pitch of the inning off his elbow guard before Anthony Rizzo singled to put men at the corners. Ben Zobrist doubled to plate Bryant, then Miggy Montero walked to load the bases.

The ever-animated Robin Ventura strolled to the mound again to give Carson Fulmer (in for Zach Duke, who was in for Ranaudo) the hook and replace him with former Cub Jacob Turner. Lips moving as imperceptibly as a vertriloquist’s, competitive fire radiated from the White Sox skipper with enough intensity to almost warp really thin plastic. He was so focused, in fact, that he appeared disinterested.

Two pitches later, Addison Russell pounded a fastball deep into the night to make the score 8-1 and eliminate most of the suspense from the evening. Oh, he got a curtain call too. Which, what’s the deal with that, both for Javy and Russell? I mean, their homers were cool and all, but are we to the point with a 60-win team that the fans feel the need to bring guys out to tip their caps for hitting mediocre pitching?

Get off my lawn!

Anyway, I had mentioned that only most of the suspense was gone, which might sound weird for a game that had gotten way out of hand. That’s because Aroldis Chapman continued to throw in the pen in preparation for his imminent debut. There was kind of a lot wrapped up in his outing, what with all the kerfuffle surrounding the acquisition from both a personnel and personal standpoint.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about it. Not only did I desperately want to find something new to write about him, but the game was pressing on and I needed to finish the last episode of Stranger Things and get to bed earlier than I’d been over the previous few nights.

Regardless of how you feel about Chapman or the Cubs’ choice to add him, the guy is electric. While I’ve obviously seen him pitch before and I’ve seen the eye-popping numbers on the fastball, I was not prepared for what I witnessed Wednesday night. Chapman in a Cubs uniform was odd, seeing him light up the Wrigley radar gun was otherworldly.

The big Cuban sat down countryman Jose Abreu on four pitches, the first three of which topped triple digits. Five of the six pitches Todd Frazier saw topped 100 mph, though he was at least able to get enough of his bat on the ball to ground it toward short. The power-hitting third baseman almost seemed surprised he’d made contact and was thrown out easily by Russell. Avisail Garcia then came on to pinch hit and saw five consecutive fastballs, the last of which was a 103 mph offering that he watched for strike three.

Of the 15 pitches Chapman threw to three batters Wednesday night, a baker’s dozen exceeded 100 mph. Since 2008 — a span of approximately 12,451 innings, 53,100 batters, and over 201,000 pitches — the Cubs had thrown only 12 pitches that hard as a team. In case you didn’t want to take the time to click the link for more trivial information, those fastballs were produced by Henry Rodriguez (6), Chris Carpenter (4), and Andrew Casher (2).

“I’m not impressed,” Hammel joked after the game. “I thought we were getting a guy who threw 105. He only hit 103.”

Chapman, for whom throwing harder than anyone else is just a way of life, was predictably reserved with the media following Tuesday’s botched introduction.

“It’s over with, I have to move on,” Chapman said through Miguel Montero. “I don’t want to go further than that.”

When it comes to going further, the baseball implications here are pretty obvious and a return to form offensively would spell pretty bad news for the rest of the Central, if not the NL in general. If the Cubs can manage to keep games close through 6 innings, opposing teams are going to be ice skating uphill when it comes to scoring runs against the back end of the bullpen. Of course, the same can be said for a not-insignificant group of disenfranchised fans.

I’ve had a lot to say about Chapman’s acquisition, probably too much for some. It’s provided a lot of fodder for column inches and I’ve taken full advantage of that. No one can throw hard enough to erase his past or to change the feelings of his detractors, but in taking the mound and doing what he does, Chapman has at least created a new storyline. Is it one you want to read?

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