First, the mitigation. Robert Stephenson is just 23 years old. This Cubs lineup has undone the best pitchers in baseball. Two of the hits against Stephenson came to rest about half way to third base. A couple other soft ground balls got through. Stephenson is 30 innings over his workload of the previous two seasons. Progress for pitchers comes in non-linear chunks. I want to be sure to mention Stephenson is only 23 years old.
That said. Stephenson didn’t make it through four innings. He threw 98 pitches, 34 in the first inning. He struck out two and walked two (one intentional). Stephenson gave up a wild pitch, a home run and hit a batter. He had no command of his fastball, as pitch after pitch flew out of the strike zone. Jeff Brantley says Stephenson is overthrowing. Has been overthrowing. By the middle of the 4th inning, you could see Tucker Barnhart shaking his head in frustration with the young pitcher.
Prior to tonight, Stephenson’s ERA was 4.97, his FIP was 6.21, his xFIP was 5.32. All those numbers went up tonight. In four September starts, Stephenson’s longest appearance was 5.1 innings. In only one major league start out of six this year – against the Mets on September 5 – was Robert Stephenson’s performance befitting expectations for the #1 prospect in the organization.
Meanwhile, the Cubs (97-55) swept the Reds (63-89). Only the most optimistic of us expected otherwise when the Reds assigned Tim Adleman, Josh Smith and Robert Stephenson to start games against the Cubs patient and potent lineup. But the domination hasn’t been just this week – the massacre and lesson have been season-long.
The 2016 Cubs are 13-3 against the Reds. The hard part of that to reconcile is how the Reds managed to win three games. The Cincinnati Reds don’t look like they belong on the same planet, let alone in the same league, as the Chicago Cubs. Walt Jocketty’s team is now 34 games behind Theo Epstein’s.