CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs’ late-season crumble was apparent during the team’s 7-6 loss against the Atlana Braves on Sept. 26. With two runners on, two outs and the Chicago Cubs leading the Atlanta Braves by one run, Sean Murphy hit a routine fly ball to right-center field. Both right fielder Seiya Suzuki and center fielder Cody Bellinger converged on the ball, but Suzuki lost it in the lights, and the Braves took the lead.
The loss was heartbreaking for everyone involved, but especially Suzuki. He had easily been the Cubs most dominant bat from Aug. 1 to the end of the season. He was one of the main reasons the Cubs were playing meaningful baseball in late September.
The Cubs’ eventual September falloff was much more predictable in late September than when it began in the early days of the month.
Since the team’s crucial sweep of the then-contending San Francisco Giants on Sept. 6, Chicago went 7-15, including sweeps by the Braves and twice by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A multitude of things went wrong for the Cubs, but the overworked bullpen and managerial blunders had the greatest impact.
Closer Adbert Alzolay’s Sept. 11 forearm strain injury was the biggest blow, which led to the Cubs’ late-season crumble. The Cubs entered the 2023 season without a true closer. Alzolay quickly filled the role by finishing 22 games for the Northsiders.
When he went down in mid-September, nobody could fill his shoes. In fact, the bullpen became the biggest reason the Cubs fell out of playoff contention. Per ESPN Stats & Info: The Cubs lost five September games after holding a lead in the eighth inning or later. Those five losses are tied for the team’s most in a single month over the last 50 MLB seasons.
Those five games greatly matter when every win means more down the stretch. Five wins is the difference between 83-79 and 88-74.
Additionally, one of the Cubs’ most reliable bullpen arms, Mark Leiter Jr., lost command of his splitter halfway through the season. Leiter Jr. controlled a 2.84 ERA entering September, but his 8.59 ERA during the month greatly cost the team. His most disappointing appearance of the season occurred against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 20, when he allowed three earned runs in one inning.
With the Cubs’ depleted bullpen, the team still relied on him, which played a part in the Cubs’ late-season crumble.
Managerial blunders are bound to happen during a 162-game season, but they have to be limited during the most important stretch of the year. Manager David Ross made plenty during the 2023 campaign.
The most impactful blunder occurred during the Cubs’ most important series of the season against the Braves on Sept. 26.
Mastrobouni began the series opener 3-3 with two runs and an RBI. In his fourth plate appearance, the Cubs held a 6-5 lead, with Yan Gomes at first base and zero outs. Instead of allowing Mastrobouni to swing his hot bat, Ross opted for him to place an unsuccessful bunt for the much slower Gomes.
The Cubs’ offense halted in the inning, and the Braves later won the game on Suzuki’s error. Still, multiple blunders by the manager and Suzuki ultimately cost the Cubs a crucial game.
Ross has consistently benched players after having breakout games. Rookie Alexander Canario hit his first career home run — a grand slam — and didn’t get his chance to play the next day. Ross has said players who “got them there” would be playing games down the stretch.
Canario, one of the team’s most promising prospects, was originally called up on Sept. 1 and only received 17 at-bats during the month.
Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer spoke on the Cubs and Ross’ 2023 season.
“Rossy had a great season, and the players play hard for him. He’s our guy. … He’s a great manager,” said Hoyer.
It appears Ross will be back with the Cubs for the 2024 campaign.
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