Chicago Cubs Walk Off: Missed Opportunity Against Miami

Cubs pitcher Ben Brown is on absolute fire in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen.
Cubs pitcher Ben Brown is on absolute fire in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen. / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs, Brewers, Reds, and Pittsburgh remain in a heated battle in the NL Central in early season competition. Currently, the Brewers are in first, followed by the Cubs, but even St. Louis is only four games behind the Cubs. It is clearly anyone's division at this point.

Given the tightness of the pennant race, every game counts when you think of September positioning. The Chicago Cubs are only a few years removed from having to play a 163rd game to break a tie with the Brewers for the NL Central title. That year, all Cub fans could think was "Couldn't we have just won one more game?" In 2024, if things are tight in September like they were last year, fans might think to themselves, "Remember when we split with the Marlins in April?"

After taking two of three from the World Series runner up Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cubs split 2-2 with the Marlins, the third worst team in baseball (only in front of the Rockies and White Sox). The week before saw the Cubs struggle on offense and were bailed out by stunning defense and pitching. This week, that magic could not be sustained against the lowly Marlins.

On the Mound

This week was a repeat of the week before for the pitching staff with two big exceptions.

SP Jordan Wicks could not go deep again, pitching only 4.1 innings and giving up his now standard two runs. But Cubs Manager Craig Counsell pulled him at 74 pitches, instead of 100 pitches to avoid a complete meltdown.

SP Ben Brown was again impressive with a six-inning outing against Arizona, giving up 1 run. He then pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Marlins. SP Shota Imanaga moved to 3-0 on the year, even though he gave up his first two earned runs of his major league career (and his first home run). His era now stands at 0.84. SP Javier Assad pitched 4.2 innings, giving up one run, improving his ERA to 2.16.

By almost all accounts, the bullpen had a great week:

  • RP Luke Little pitched three innings across three appearances and gave up one run.
  • RP Keegan Thompson had a scoreless week across three appearances (3 innings).
  • RP Yency Almonte had a scoreless week across two appearances (two innings).
  • RP Mark Leiter Jr. pitched two more innings extending his scoreless streak to 10.2 innings and a season ERA of 0.00.
  • RP Hector Neris was scoreless in two appearances (two innings) and had a save.

The two good surprises of the week were the debut for SP James Taillon and the recall of RP Hayden Wesneski. Taillon gave up one run in five innings against the Marlins. Wesneski looked like all that pitching four scoreless relief innings, giving up only one hit and no runs. Inexplicably, he was immediately sent back to AAA.

SP Kyle Hendricks and RP Adbert Alzolay still struggled this week. Counsell made a fairly quick decision this week to remove Alzolay from the closing role. After blowing two more saves this week (four on the year, he had three all last year), both by home run, Alzolay was moved to the setup role, and he did pitch a scoreless eighth inning against the Marlins.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Alzolay is determined to get the role back, "I’m not going to suck for six months. I know I’m going to figure it out. It’s not even questionable. I’m not just going to be this guy for the next five months. I’ve got at least 55 more games to pitch, so I know I will figure it out.”

Hendricks had his best outing of the year against the Marlins on Sunday, but still gave up a home run and four runs in four innings. With Taillon already back and SP Justin Steele back soon, it is hard to believe Hendricks will keep a rotation spot with Assad, Imanaga, and Wicks pitching as well as they are.

Talking to, Counsell continued to play the supportive manager in regard to Hendricks, but there is no way the team can survive this type of performance every five games, "He's gone through -- maybe not this particular stretch -- but stretches where you're not pitching the way you want to and struggling. And you figure it out."

In the Batter's Box

The Cubs scored eight runs in the opener against Miami, scored two and three runs in the losses, and scored five in the second win. It didn't feel like an offensive rebound, though, as clutch hitting didn't come through and lead-off doubles tended to stay at second base. But the numbers look better than last week. According to, the Cubs are:

  • 11th in batting average, same as last week.
  • 10th in home runs, down one from last week.
  • 8th in RBI's, up one from last week.
  • 6th in runs, up two from last week.
  • 9th in OBP, up three from last week.
  • 7th in slugging, up one from last week.
  • 7th in OPS, up two from last week.

Still top 10ish in almost every single category.

RF Seiya Suzuki remains on IL which doesn't help the Cubs run production and Ian Happ didn't play the last three games against the Marlins due to a hamstring issue that Counsell said isn't serious, but he is playing it safe.

The really good news is that 2B Nico Hoerner is starting to click. His batting average is up to .289 and his OPS is up to .784. LF Alexander Canario was a spark this week with a home run and is sporting a .972 OPS and .308 batting average in his first 13 AB this year. 1B/DH Garrett Cooper had a home run this week and is batting .270 to begin this year.

The problem is with the main guys that were on fire at the beginning of the year and need to get back to some middle ground very shortly. 3B Christopher Morel's average has plummeted to ,205 and the OBP is down to .272. He has been stuck at three home runs for a while which has reduced his slugging to .361.

CF Cody Bellinger has yet to catch fire this year but is steadily improving. He hits about a home run a week and has elevated his batting average 50 points in the last two weeks to .222. The slugging at .407 is just a plain bummer. Fans want last year' s Bellinger back really soon.

Scouting Report

The Astros aren't the team we are used to, sitting at 7-16 on the season. That doesn't mean the league is taking them as pushovers just yet. The Cubs host three against Houston to start the week and then go to a slightly hot Boston team to finish the week. The Cubs actually have 15 games in a row that extends to New York against the Mets, hosting the Brewers, and then a rematch against San Diego.

Counsell got the big bucks over the offseason and we would like to see his quick decision making continue. Maybe he doesn't have a good alternative to Kyle Hendricks right now (though Wesneski, Brown, and RP Drew Smyly are options), but when Steele is back, he'll have to make a change.

How to fix the hitting is a different problem. Counsell has seen the roller coasters that hitters go through over his tenure as manager, but something seems like it needs to change for some of the key hitters. Benching isn't really the solution, but figuring it out, whatever that may mean, is critical.

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