Fool Send: Fateful Play Just Latest in Series of Cubs Blunders

Friday’s loss would still have been disappointing had it come during a stretch in which the team was playing well. Based on this prolonged stretch during which they’ve barely been the best team in Chicago, however, the bullpen blowing a lead and Nick Madrigal being thrown out badly for what feels like the 17th time this season was par for the course. They truly are embodying the concept of being the Flubs.

Because there’s little value in belaboring this any further than necessary, I’ll do my best to be brief. There’s no reasonable explanation I’ll accept for why groundball god Madrigal was pinch-hitting for slugger Patrick Wisdom down a run with no outs and two runners aboard. You’re trading a chance at a walk-off for a chance to maybe squeeze one through the infield.

Madrigal ended up grounding into a force — this is my shocked face — that actually put them in a much worse position in terms of getting the tying run home. Pete Crow-Armstrong may have moved up 90 feet to be able to score on a fly ball, but replacing Michael Busch with Madrigal at first base was a huge downgrade. Based on Statcast’s baserunning data, only Miguel Amaya is a worse option than Madrigal.

Not that Busch, or maybe anyone, would have scored from first on the subsequent double from Seiya Suzuki. The Reds made tremendous throws, capped by a seed from the laser-rocket arm of Elly De La Cruz, but having men on second and third with one out and Cody Bellinger coming up was not worth the risk.

“I put my head down immediately and felt I got a good break on it,” Madrigal explained to reporters after the game. “I knew it was gonna be bang-bang and just put my head down and, yeah…”

But it’s not like he blew through a stop sign from third base coach Willie Harris, who had considered the possibility that Bellinger would just be walked with a base open. That’s pretty funny since the Cubs don’t seem to abide by that strategy when they’re in the field. Though he said later he’d hold Madrigal if given a do-over, the mindset at the time was to be aggressive and make the Reds make a play.

“Today was just a bad send,” Harris admitted. “Today, it’s on me and hopefully the guys pick me up tomorrow.”

I have to imagine a lot of that was about pressing in light of their recent struggles, trying to will a win into existence rather than trusting that they could get things done more organically. And that’s not just on Harris. Craig Counsell seems to be a little frazzled in his decision-making, notably with the Madrigal-Wisdom swap that had more than a handful of people wondering if David Ross was back as the skipper.

Everything gets magnified when the Cubs are playing poorly, but I think some of the choices we saw on Friday are symptoms of a bigger problem. Which is to say an imperfect roster that lacks identity and a true impact star. The front office has been unwilling to pay for that thus far, so you get some of these stretches where the team just looks flat. Then folks end up over- or under-thinking things.

It doesn’t help that karma or fortune or whatever has been hosing them at every turn. The Cubs could really used a lucky break or three to shake things loose and get them back to playing a more entertaining brand of baseball.

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