For Jameson Taillon, his performance in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Brewers felt like another example of how many of his starts this season have gone, as one big inning from the opponent made all the difference.
Over his last five innings, he allowed only one run, which was unearned in the second. With the Cubs hoping for some length from their starter, Taillon managed to work through six innings and save the bullpen from having to cover more than three frames. He retired 13 of the last 16 batters he faced, allowing just three baserunners on base hits in the third, fifth and sixth.
Of course, that solid work came after a brutal top of the first. Taillon got rocked immediately, with Christian Yelich driving a 2-0 pitch low-and-in to the left-center bleachers to start off the game. A pair of singles, a throwing error by Dansby Swanson, a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer made it a 4-0 ballgame before the Cubs even got a chance to bat.
“There was a lot of hard contact early on,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It was loud. They weren’t missing mistakes. And then it looked like the execution got better as the performance got better. We’ve had some teams jump on us early. These guys did the same thing, but we’ve got to make sure we get our execution down.”
Taillon has said plenty of times this year that he feels close to putting together overall good starts, but there’s often an inning that flips his start upside down. His last outing in Detroit, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and then gave up a game-tying grand slam before anyone knew what him them.
Monday night, the four-spot the Brewers put on him in the first inning was all they needed to cruise through the rest of the ballgame.
It was a big disappointment coming off a stretch of eight wins in their last 12 games. The Cubs’ offense didn’t provide much help against old friend Wade Miley. Ian Happ and Patrick Wisdom each hit solo home runs, but the rest of the lineup mustered up just four other baserunners through the night. And the Cubs’ normally stellar middle-infield duo of Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner both made throwing errors that felt surprising to see, especially coming in consecutive innings.
“The ball that [Willy] Adames hit me [in the first], that play should get made pretty much 100 out of 100 times, and then they obviously take advantage of it,” Swanson said. “They were really opportunistic tonight. You’ve got to give them a little bit of big credit for taking advantage of our mistakes.”
While it should be acknowledge that a little better defensive performance behind Taillon might’ve kept a couple more runs off the scoreboard, the loss does come down to the 31-year-old right-hander’s execution.
Both Yelich and Mark Canha’s homers came on four-seamers thrown on 2-0 counts. In those situations, a strike is pretty much necessary. Throwing a fastball over the plate becomes sort of predictable, and when Taillon tried to get the heater in there for strikes, they didn’t miss. Of course, not getting himself into those sorts of counts is the goal, but when it does happen, trying to be less predictable could lead to better results than he had Monday.
“It’s tricky, because when you’re 2-0, it’s like, I really want to throw a strike and get back in the count,” Taillon said. “Honestly, just not getting in that situation. I know it’s going to happen, but I feel like a completely different guy when I’m ahead in the count and I feel like I have a ton of options and I can do a lot of things really well. I feel like when I’m behind in a count, especially 2-0 or 3-1, that sort of situation, I feel like I’m almost kind of pigeon-holed into having to throw something hard over the plate.”
When Taillon signed a four-year, $68 million with the Cubs last winter, they were confident he could perform in games like Monday night — a playoff-feel with the team the Cubs are looking up to in the division standings in town. It’s the kind of atmosphere that gets the players amped up, and Taillon acknowledged that he may have been a little too amped to start the game (seemingly to his detriment).
For the first few months of his Cubs career, Taillon didn’t look the part. Over his first 14 starts, he was 2-6 with a 6.93 ERA. He’d seemingly turned a corner in the ensuing few weeks, posting a much-more-respectable 3.69 in his next eight starts.
But Taillon has now had back-to-back outings where one inning has did him in. One inning has made his box scores look much worse than they otherwise would if you removed it.
Despite the loss, the Cubs are five games back of the Brewers in the National League Central and in sole possession of the second NL Wild Card spot. With 31 games to play, they absolutely have a real shot at securing a postseason spot. To do so, they need their starting pitchers to perform — and Taillon consistently giving them a chance to win is arguably the most important part of that.
“It’s definitely been one of those years for me where the results aren’t matching up to some of the work I’m putting in and stuff like that,” Taillon said. “But that’s the game that I signed up to play. It kind of is what it is.
“We still have a good month of baseball in front of us, and I have an opportunity to compete and pitch well and put us in a position to win. So yeah, I definitely feel like that’s kind of been the story of my year, but also, we are where we are. I kind of just have five or six starts left to keep us in games and hopefully help us push into a playoff spot.”