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Arizona Diamondbacks 1, Chicago Cubs 2: The terror of (late) errors

Robbie Ray was good for seven innings, but in the eighth T.J. McFarland and our defense were not.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Chicago Cubs Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 56-47. Pace: 88-74. Change on 2017: -3.

In the middle innings of this afternoon’s game in Chicago, we heard that the Dodgers had lost in Philadelphia. That meant that a win for the D-backs would send them back to the top of the National League West. However, it was not to be, although the final score was likely closer than I’d have though, based on this afternoon’s pitching match-up. It ended our modest three-game streak, and was instead Arizona’s third consecutive loss by one run, all of them charged to the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.

Both starting pitchers were on top form: this was expected from Jon Lester, who fully deserved his All-Star selection earlier in the month. Robbie Ray? Not so much. His last four starts have been a real struggle, with inefficiency and a series of souvenir offerings for the bleachers meaning he was winless in July. Today was much better: I won’t proclaim the return of 2017 Ray based on one outing, but every comeback begins with a single game. The Cubs have the best offense in the league, so are no patsies, and holding them to one run over seven innings is all we could have hoped for from Robbie.

Lester was even more dominant, holding the D-backs to three hits (all singles) and no walks over the first six innings of work. Paul Goldschmidt singled off the ivy in left-field with two outs in the first. Chris Owings singled with two outs in the second, and stole second to become our first runner in scoring position. The next 11 Arizona hitters were retired in order, before David Peralta singled with one out in the sixth. That runner didn’t get to go any further either, and it looked like it would be an uphill struggle for Arizona. They had done a reasonable job of running up Lester’s pitch count, which was at 96 after six innings, but all their grinding out of at-bats had come up empty.

After three and a half innings with any real scoring chances being few and far between for both sides, Ray blinked first in the bottom fourth. A leadoff double was followed by a pair of singles, to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead, and threatening more, with two men on and no outs. However, the Marte/Ahmed middle infield turned a super slick double-play (above) to take momentum back, and upon umpire review, an equally good defensive play by John Ryan Murphy picked the runner off third to end the inning. Ray settled back down, was helped by another double-play after a lead-off walk in the fifth, then pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning to keep the margin within one swing of the bat.

One swing of A.J. Pollock’s bat, to be specific. For, leading off the seventh inning, he worked the count full and then drove Lester’s 103rd and final pitch of the game over the fence in left-field (below), to tie the game. It was Pollock’s thirteenth home-run of the year. This allowed the D-backs to get to the Cubs’ taxed bullpen, but there was nothing further doing in their half of the inning. Ray entered uncharted territory - he hadn’t recorded an out past the sixth inning this season, and finished his day off with another 1-2-3 inning. He went seven innings on 97 pitches, allowing one run on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts.

In the bottom eighth, T.J. McFarland entered for the D-backs, making his first appearance since July 11th, after a strained neck put him on the DL. It didn’t go well. His second pitch was a number between the mound and third-base: though McFarland got there, his throw sailed wide of Goldy at first-base, and the runner was able to trot into second. T.J. then walked the next batter he faced. Although he then got a ground-ball, a likely ill-advised attempt to turn a double-play by Nick Ahmed, led to his throw sailing past Goldschmidt for the second error of the inning, and the Cubs had the lead. Another walk later, McFarland was able to get the double-play, but the damage had been done.

Hope fluttered briefly in the bottom of the night, after the Cubs’ right-fielder completely lost a Goldschmidt fly-ball in the sun, allowing it to drop for a thoroughly fortunate double with one out. Arizona were not able to take advantage of the gift, with Pollock and Steven Souza flying out and grounding out respectively. That represented two-third of all our at-bats with runners in scoring position this afternoon. Goldschmidt had two of our five hits. John Ryan Murphy went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts: his last hit was July 6, and since July 2, he is 2-for-30 (.067) with 13 strikeouts and one walk. Remember when some people were demanding he be our everyday catcher? Yeah. About that...

Click for details at Fangraphs.com
Nelson: Robbie Ray, +27.0%
Napoleon: T.J. McFarland, -22.3%
Blucher: Souza, -19.1%; Marte, -15.0%

I just like the name “Blucher”, and wanted to work it in somehow. Quietish GDT, with two contributors responsible for the majority of the 382 comments. No prizes for guessing who... The attendees this afternoon were: AzDbackfanInDc, BobDolio, DBacksEurope, DORRITO, DesertWeagle, GuruB, Jim McLennan, Justin27, Michael McDermott, MrMrrbi, Pat McCarthy, Renin, SenSurround, Sprankton, hotclaws, since_98 and suroeste. Nothing got more than two recs, and those that did were not up to the high standards I expect, so no Comment of the Thread today. [Pro-tip: quality over quantity...]

Series finale tomorrow, and let’s not be too down. For the D-backs still have a chance to win a four-game series on the road, against the team with the best record in the NL. That’d be nice. Zack Godley seeks to continue our rotational resurrection. Over the last four games, here are our starter’s combined line after today:
AZ Rotation: 28.2 IP, 18 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 33 SO, 1.26 ERA
Here’s to Godley making it a clean turn around the rotation tomorrow. Remember, it’s another day-game (rare to have back-to-back ones midweek!), with the first pitch again at 11:20 am, Arizona time.