Suzuki's error proves costly in loss to Braves
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports

Suzuki's error proves costly in loss to Braves

by - Senior Writer -

ATLANTA - The 2023 Chicago Cubs (82-75) season has been a roller coaster, which continued at Truist Park in Atlanta on Tuesday. When the team has their ups, they are up, but when they are going through their downs, they are really down. Tuesday may be about as down as the Cubs have been this season, and it came at the hands of the Atlanta Braves (101-56).

After opening up an early 4-0 lead against Bryce Elder, who struggled for the second time in as many outings against the Cubs this season, Chicago pushed the lead to 6-0 as Justin Steele was dealing through five. After keeping the Braves scoreless through five, the wheels started to come off in the sixth as Atlanta scored three times to cut the deficit in half. They were far from done, adding two runs off of Javier Assad in the seventh and two more off of Drew Smyly in the eighth, but it was how they got those two runs that will haunt the Cubs for what could be the entire off-season.

What looked to be an inning-ending flyball, Seiya Suzuki called off Cody Bellinger to make the play. Instead, he completely whiffed on one of the easiest catches he will ever have and allowed two runs to come home, which was the difference in the Cubs 7-6 loss. Suzuki has been incredible the past two months, but that play may define his season, as the Cubs have had far too many losses like this one.

Elder doesn't like facing the Cubs for whatever reason, as his worst start of the season came against them at Wrigley Field, with this one not being much better. Once again, his command did him in as he walked four and struck out two while allowing five runs in 3 2/3. Given how well Steele was pitching through five, six runs seemed like 20, as Steele had the Braves guessing until the fatigue started to creep in during the sixth. Still, Steele gave the Cubs 5 1/3 innings of one walk and six strikeout ball while allowing three runs.

Anytime you are facing the Braves, you know you have to score, and after Steele worked around a first-inning double, the Cubs offense rewarded him for the job he did. Singles by Bellinger and Suzuki started the inning for the Cubs, but the two-out single from Mr. Clutch Yan Gomes gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Chicago would add on one batter later, with the suddenly hot Miles Mastrobuoni picking up one of his three hits to double the lead to 2-0.

With Steele working around another double in the second off the bat of Michael Harris, the Cubs offense took a much more patient approach in the top half of the third to extend the lead. Walks by Nico Hoerner and Bellinger kept the pressure on Elder, only to have Suzuki come through with a massive RBI triple to extend the lead to 4-0. For as good of a game as Suzuki had offensively, his play at the end will overshadow his success, and he doesn't deserve that.

The next inning was the same story for the Cubs, with Mastrobuoni starting things off with a leadoff single only to have Mike Tauchman follow suit with a walk. Now, with two outs and both those runners still on base, Bellinger continued the excellent night for the Cubs with another RBI single as they were all over Atlanta 5-0. At this juncture of the game, many pegged the Cubs to come away victorious as Steele was on cruise control mode while the offense wasn't done adding on.

With Mastrobuoni leading off the sixth with another single, the Pete Crow-Armstrong bunt moved him to second before Hoerner put runners on the corners. Ian Happ followed suit with an RBI single of his own to stretch the lead to 6-0, but the Cubs felt they left more on the table as that was the game's final run for the Chicago offense.

It took six innings for the Braves to break through, but with one swing, it was 6-1 as Kevin Pillar took Steele deep to begin the bottom half of the sixth. Given how quickly this team can strike, you started to see the momentum starting to swing the Braves way, with Ozzie Albies adding a one-out double ahead of the Austin Riley walk to have the Braves in business. An RBI single from MVP candidate Matt Olson pulled the Braves within 6-2 and was also the end of the night for Steele, who was replaced by Jose Cuas.

Cuas did allow an RBI double to Marcell Ozuna to make things 6-3, but that was it, as he escaped further damage with the Cubs in front. With the Cubs offense starting to go quiet with Pierce Johnson silencing them in the seventh, it was up to Javier Assad to maintain the lead, as many expected him to be out another day. After dominating the Rockies on Saturday, Assad wasn't as sharp in this one, walking Sean Murphy to start the inning before surrendering a homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. to pull the Braves within 6-5.

With Yan Gomes starting the eighth with a single, Brian Snitker went to his pen and called on Brad Hand to take over. Already with three hits, Mastrobuoni was the man the Cubs wanted at the plate, but with David Ross electing to bunt and having Gomes erased at second, the Cubs failed to add on, which proved costly.

Tasked with trying to piece together the rest of this game, Smyly was on to pitch the eighth, and he certainly didn't make it easy on himself. Despite walking Olson and Orlando Arcia, Smyly also came away with two crucial strikeouts as he was on the verge of escaping any trouble. Then, with Murphy at the plate, Smyly got the fly ball he needed to end things, but instead, it was Suzuki missing one of the more routine plays he will ever have as the tying and go-ahead runs scored to put the Braves in front 7-6.

“Seiya's been carrying us for over a month and a half offensively,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the game. “He's put us on our back.”

“We wouldn't be here without him,” Cubs lefty Justin Steele said.

“I’m happy for those comments,” Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. “But obviously these games are really, really important for us. And the fact that we dropped it is not the best result that we want right now at this point in the season.”

That was the difference in the game as Raisel Iglesias came on to convert his 31st save of the season, and the Cubs let one get away 7-6. Losses like this one this late in the season can't happen, but the Cubs have had their share of defeats like this all season long as their lead for the final wild-card spot falls to just .5 games with five games left.

“This team's been really resilient with all the things that have been thrown at them all year,” Ross said. “It'll be another test, for sure. But this team's had their back against the wall all year and they've answered the bell. We've got another tough task ahead of us.

“That's a really good team we're playing. Obviously, offensively, you see how quick it can turn.”

Bellinger and Mastrobuoni led the way with three hits as the Cubs pounded out 13 hits in the win. Chicago will turn to Jameson Taillon on Wednesday as he will look to build off of his great outing from last weekend.

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