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Sunday, May 28, 2023

3 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ 1-6 trip, including Jameson Taillon’s return and Miguel Amaya’s impressive debut – Boston Herald

The one-run losses keep piling up for the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs are tied for the second-best run differential in the National League, but wasted scoring chances thwarted a 1-6 trip to Miami and Washington, where they suffered five one-run losses. Their 4-3 defeat to the Nationals on Thursday included one hit — on a ball lost in the sun — through seven innings against the struggling Patrick Corbin. An three-run rally in the eight inning to tie the game did not last long. Nationals outfielder Alex Call hit a walk-off home run on the first pitch right-hander Brad Boxberger threw in the bottom of the ninth to drop the Cubs to 15-16.

“It’s going to happen during the course of the season,” Ian Happ said. “That’s obviously frustrating for everybody, but it’s part of it. I don’t think as an offense we’re pressing individually and just understanding that it’ll come, you just have to keep going about it.”

The return to Wrigley Field on Friday against the Miami Marlins should bring robust fan support despite the skid. The Cubs are calling up Matt Mervis from Triple A and will join the team for the series opener.

Here are five takeaways from the trip.

1. A healthy Jameson Taillon renews rotation stability

Jameson Taillon expects to take the ball every fifth day, so watching others have to step up during his stint on the injured list did not sit well with the veteran right-hander.

He had been eyeing Thursday for his return from a left groin strain. An encouraging simulated game Tuesday and no further discomfort cleared Taillon to return for Thursday’s series finale at Nationals Park. Taillon allowed a three-run homer to Lane Thomas in the second of an otherwise solid three-inning outing.

“On the positive side healthy, trusted that the stuff was good and I’m not concerned about (my groin) going forward,” Taillon said. “I feel good now and then hopefully just bounce back well and can parlay that into a normal five day and get back on a routine.”

The Cubs rotation has been a strength despite missing Taillon for two weeks. The group has been a tone-setter and a constant, regardless of how the offense has performed. Javier Assad’s five shutout innings Thursday shouldn’t be lost within Taillon’s start. With the Cubs starting pitching depth taking a hit, they need Assad to pitch well and stay ready at Iowa for situations like Thursday. He showed why he earned rave reviews for his performance in spring. It’s the type of outing that can springboard Assad to getting on a roll if he is able to maintain the command he displayed against the Nationals, something that’s been a focal point for the right-hander.

2. Struggles with runners in scoring position linger

The Cubs had ample opportunities to turn those close losses into wins.

During their seven-game trip, the Cubs went 9-for-57 (.158) with runners in scoring position and left 49 runners on base. When they loaded the bases on the trip, the Cubs were 1-for-9 (.111) with five strikeouts and a sacrifice fly. Their .272 average with RISP ranked second in the big leagues, trailing the Tampa Bay Rays (.280). The Cubs also boast a .345 on-base percentage, second-best in MLB.

However, those figures mask the offense’s recent skid. The Cubs are hitting .235 in 12 games since April 22 while posting a .313 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage. The Cubs need to avoid their offensive slump leading to guys trying too hard in those clutch moments and channel frustrations more positively.

“It’s just continuing to bring the energy, especially in those low-scoring games in games where you’re grinding and you’re trying to get something going and you just can’t or you’re struggling to,” Ian Happ said. “It’s a challenge to keep the energy up, and that’s what good teams do. You keep the energy going all the time regardless of the situation.

“But a lot of belief in the guys on this team and on the offensive side of the ball, what we’ve been able to accomplish already, just a ton of belief moving forward that we’re going to get the job done.”

3. Miguel Amaya impresses in his MLB debut

The night before Amaya made his major-league debut, the 24-year-old catcher was making sure he was fully prepared.

He talked over the Nationals lineup with Taillon to get ahead on their pregame preparation.

“He’s a stud,” Taillon said after his outing. “I like him a lot. He’s super professional. I can tell that he really wants to be really good and cares about his pitchers.

“I love being part of debuts … really cool to be a part of. I think he’s going to be good for a long time.”

He showed poised behind the plate and his familiarity with Javier Assad helped the right-hander throw five scoreless innings with only two hits and no walks in relief of Taillon. Amaya went 0-for-2 Thursday with a sacrifice fly and showed a good sense of the strike zone. He twice worked a full count and didn’t try to do too much.

In a key spot in the eighth, with runners on second and third, Amaya took note of Nationals reliever Hunter Harvey throwing a lot of inside fastballs and kept that thought with him when he stepped to the plate. He took one 97.7-mph heater inside for a ball to make it a 2-1 count, and when Hunter went back inside with the count full, Amaya turned on the 97.1-mph fastball. He pulled the pitch 332 feet to the left-field warning track, just missing on a go-ahead three-run homer.

Amaya and the Cubs settled for a sacrifice fly that cut the Nationals’ lead to one. Ross called it a “very poised” at-bat against a good pitcher.

“I put it in my mind to make contact, let the barrel go to the baseball — whatever happened after that, you can’t control that,” Amaya said. “It’s the same game. I just put in my mind to control the little things, don’t get too high.”

Amaya’s parents, Max and Anny, flew in from Panama and watched his debut from behind the Cubs dugout.

“My mom said she was crying every inning she was so emotional, my dad as well,” Amaya said. “It’s a dream come true for them as well. They’re excited to be here, living the dream with me.”


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