Stifled much of the afternoon by Brewers pitching, the Cubs were completely up against it when they had a lefty batter facing Josh Hader down a run with two outs in the 8th. Over the course of his career, Hader had allowed a .104/.231/.130 slash with a .183 wOBA to lefties from only 14 total hits. Three of those knocks were doubles, no triples or homers.
That all changed when Anthony Rizzo caught a fastball middle-in and rode it out to right, giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead with only six outs to go. The hoards of Cubs fans that had overrun Miller Park exploded, almost spurring Rizzo to a curtain call. The encore act, however, offered little in the way of entertainment
Carl Edwards Jr. came on for the bottom of the 8th and immediately gave up soft singles to the first two Brewers he faced. The outlook improved with a three-pitch strikeout of Christian Yelich and then got even brighter when Jesus Aguilar waved helplessly at a curve in the dirt to make it two outs. That’s when things got really interesting.
Edwards stayed outside on Ryan Braun from the start, a wise decision given home plate umpire Gabe Morales’s wide zone all afternoon. The Stringbean Slinger opened the plate appearance with five fastballs, none of which were really strikes and only two of which were close enough for Braun to offer at. With the count full, Edwards opted for a looping curve that Morales determined was too high to be strike three.
I’ll admit that it looked plenty good to me in real-time, though there’s a little inherent bias there. The other thing is that Morales had been giving the low strike in addition to the wide one, and had in fact rung Braun up in the 4th on a Cole Hamels four-seamer at the bottom of the zone. That high pitch didn’t figure to be called, so good on the Brewers slugger for taking it and possibly ruining Edwards’ concentration in the process.
The righty had missed with the hook, which is probably what Joe Maddon should had given his rattled reliever at that moment. Likely influenced by both confirmation and recency bias though it may be, it seems to me Edwards has established a pattern of falling out of rhythm quickly when a couple of pitches don’t go his way. Perhaps we can take that a step further and say that you know pretty much what he’s going to give after the first pitch or two of a given appearance.
He’d battled back from the early singles to get a pair of whiffs, but the walk to Braun clearly affected him. Maddon likely sensed as much, which is part of why he was getting testy with Morales from the dugout. And while the yapping had been going on all game from both sides, the situation had ratcheted things up quite a bit. Maddon knew he might have to come to Edwards’ defense, which doesn’t bode well for a guy who is reportedly not well-liked among the fraternal order of umpires.
So when Edwards opened up 2-0 on Mike Moustakas, with the second ball coming on a pitch that would have looked like a strike from the dugout, Maddon was up at field level barking at Morales. He appeared to be telling the ump that he’d missed two pitches, an assessment that earned him an early trip to the showers. As Maddon explained after the game, he was protecting his pitcher while also trying to motivate him.
The strategy failed on both fronts.
“It’s borderline,” Maddon said of the call(s) to which he objected. “Listen, I’m defending my player right there. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong as a manager, but you gotta defend your player right there. It looked from the side like a strike.
“I thought once I got kicked out, [Edwards] might be inspired. I thought the next pitch might be a strike and it wasn’t.”
Looking like the subject of Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones, Edwards missed twice more with the fastball to walk in the tying run. Then he walked off the mound after being ejected by Morales.
“F—ing bulls—!” he could be seen yelling in the general direction of home plate.
Edwards, on the walk to Moose: "I don't think I lost it. I just stopped making pitches."
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) September 3, 2018
After the game, the fireballer with a career-best 2.36 ERA and 2.54 FIP this season engaged in some semantic gymnastics while appraising his appearance.
“You have to make a pitch, you make a pitch,” Edwards said. “You don’t get the call, you don’t get the call. It was just frustration.
“I don’t think I lost it. I just stopped making pitches.”
So, yeah, that’s the same thing. I mean, we can parse it up in such a way that there are different meanings in there, but the fact of the matter is that he failed to execute and that said failure appeared to be exacerbated by his frustration. And though Edwards is far from the first pitcher guilty of this, it’s not the first time we’ve seen something similar play out for him.
Listen, I totally understand the desire to let pitchers work through their struggles, but leaving Edwards in the game given the situation and opponent was a curious decision at best. Just last week, we saw de facto closer Pedro Strop pulled in the top of the 9th with two on and one out after throwing only 11 pitches. And that was with a three-run lead against the hapless Mets.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the notion that Edwards was psychologically defeated after the walk to Braun, you need only look at his pitch count to see that he should have been removed. The curve that missed high was his 26th pitch of the inning, only the sixth time all season he’d thrown more than 25 and only the second time in his last 18 outings that he’d done so.
And though it’s too small a sample from which to draw any meaningful conclusions, there’s a disturbing trend in those high-pitch-count appearances. Over a total of six innings pitched, Edwards has a 9.00 ERA and a 2.50 WHIP (nine hits, seven walks) with 18.0 K/9 and 10.5 BB/9. The strikeout are all that stands out in a positive manner, but they’re more than offset by the walks. Only twice in the games in question did he strike out more than he walked, and his 1.71 K/BB ratio here is well below his 2.73 full-season mark.
We should probably set these specific results aside as being unreliable, but it stands to reason that pushing a reliever beyond the 25-pitch mark is asking for trouble. And that’s before we consider that Edwards was in a tight game against the heart of a strong lineup, not to mention his obvious frustration with the calls he was getting.
Perhaps this ends up becoming just another quirky footnote that is eventually lost to time, a moment no one will remember because it really doesn’t matter. Then again, they probably thought the same thing about all the straw they loaded on the camel’s back before the last one finally did the poor creature in.
I don’t mean that Monday’s choices with the ‘pen could break the Cubs, not at all. It’s just that this isn’t the first time we’ve been puzzled by how Maddon — or Brandon Hyde if we’re really getting down to it — chose to deploy his relievers. With the playoffs around the corner, you figure there’ll be even more tight games that may come down to the decision of when to let a guy pitch and when to go get him.
As good as Edwards can be, and I still believe he’s one of the best when he’s dialed in, the Cubs can ill afford to let him continue when he’s visibly shaken and/or he’s gone over 25 pitches. Giving him the hook at the right time will not only better preserve their chances to win, it may help with his confidence in the long run. And while you don’t want a guy counting down his time left on the mound, you certainly can’t leave him out there if he’s proven that he’s no longer sharp.
And depending on Brandon Morrow’s availability, the Cubs can’t have Edwards looking like the rusty disposable razor you’ve left on your shower rack for the last two months.