Buck Funting: What the Hell Were Madrigal, Morel Thinking?

When my son was younger, I gave him some invaluable coaching advice on how to bunt: 1) Don’t; 2) Hit dingers. That’s served him pretty well so far and I wish the lesson was being applied more frequently at the higher levels of the game. While there are certain situations in which bunts can work, the Cubs apparently have nary a clue as to what those are. Whether it’s David Ross having Patrick Wisdom lay one down earlier in the season or the dual abomination that took place Thursday night, this team has too often looked like a mental disaster.

I actually missed Christopher Morel‘s ill-fated attempt because my attention was elsewhere, which is probably a good thing. With runners at the corners and the Cubs trailing 3-1 with no outs in the bottom of the 5th, the team’s top power threat opted to lay down a sac bunt. Nico Hoerner was at least able to advance to second to put two runners in scoring position, but a lineout and strikeout ended the threat.

Morel admitted after the game that he had made a mistake and should have been swinging away, which is what any team expects from a guy in a run-producing spot in the order.

“He thinks he’s helping the team, doing anything he can to get runs in,” David Ross said after the loss. “We want him to swing that bat in that situation obviously. He’s a guy that’s top of our list in home runs, he’s a game-changing bat. One of those things he thought he was doing the right thing, now he knows what’s expected of him. Three-hole hitter, we want him to bang.”

I suppose we could make the argument that Morel was confused because has spent most of the season batting in the bottom half of the order, as 86 of his 155 plate appearances have come in the 6-9 spots. However, his 36 PAs at No. 3 are the most he’s gotten anywhere and his 19 extra-base hits should have told him he could have plated at least two runs with one swing. His heart was in the right place, his head wasn’t.

Madrigal’s head was likewise in the wrong place, up his backside, as he laid one down with two freaking outs the previous inning. And since the infielder didn’t speak to the media after the game, his manager went ahead and hung him out to dry with brutal honesty.

“Nick just forgot the outs, forgot how many outs there were,” Ross explained. “We gotta be better in that way. Gave away a game. The two innings we had there was not our smartest baseball. We’ll be better for it.”

The Cubs had runners at the corners in that situation as well and needed a hit to bring Cody Bellinger in from third, so of course Madrigal made the inexplicable choice to bunt. First baseman Kody Clemens was more than ready for it and tagged the runner out easily to end the inning, though the head-shaking continued for a long while after.

That includes questioning Ross, though not about the bunt itself. Leaving Madrigal in the game after a bone-headed play like that doesn’t sit well with me, particularly given the knowledge that he’d forgotten how many outs there were. This isn’t Little League and egregious mental errors like that can’t be allowed to go unchecked. But hey, the li’l fella is right back in there on Friday’s lineup like nothing happened.

Madrigal has actually been playing pretty well since being brought back from his demotion, collecting 16 hits with four doubles and the first barrel of his MLB career during one of the London games. He was riding a seven-game hitting streak heading into the finale against the Phillies and, even more importantly, his hit tool is pretty much the sole source of his value. Bunting in that situation shouldn’t have been on his mind at all, yet here we are.

The Cubs ended up losing by that 3-1 score because they couldn’t cash in on numerous opportunities against Taijuan Walker, and it’s not like the Phillies were playing well. Drops by Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh ended up not costing the visitors in the least as the Cubs put at least one runner on base in each of the first seven innings and got just the one tally to show for it.

Those poor choices on the bunts stood out in that game, but they’re indicative of a team that may be ruled a bit too much by emotional factors. The Cubs look great when they catch a little streak and everyone’s feeling it, then they resort quickly to pressing and playing tight as soon as they experience adversity. Oversimplified though that may be, it sure seems to be the case. Maybe this sweep will wake them up in the same way dropping three to the Angels did a little while back.

That had better be the case, because things aren’t getting any easier heading into the break.

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