Masahiro Tanaka had not lost a game since 2012. The Chicago Cubs have been so bad that Jeff Samardzija, the league leader in ERA, has not won a game this year. So while it was inevitable that eventually Tanaka would be beaten, it was a bit of a surprise who the loss came to. Tanaka gave up three runs in six innings of work, losing a game to the first opponent to see him twice. The answer to whether the loss was simply an off night, or a sign of trouble as opponents begin to familiarize themselves with Tanaka, is found in just how the Cubs got to him.
Fans watching the game could see that Tanaka was still able to fool batters with his ball movement and change of speed. He struck out seven batters in his six innings, walking only one. If the Cubs really were ready for Tanaka after seeing him before, it did not look like it. His release point and delivery were as consistent as they have been all year. Tanaka throws all his his pitches out of just about the same arm slot; it is very difficult to determine what type of pitch he is throwing until well after it is out of his hand. His ball movement was good, and his splitter as sharp as it has been all year.
The only real trouble Tanaka ran into in the game was giving up three doubles, all to left-handed batters. The Cubs scored their first two runs off Tanaka on groundballs through a shallow infield, and their second two on consecutive sacrifice flies (one was unearned, coming after an error). They performed well, completing all of the little things they needed to do to score, but they did not dominate the Yankees’ best pitcher. Lefties should not pose a long term problem for the righty, as his splitter is good enough to keep batters off-balance, no matter which side of the plate they are on. His trouble came in leaving fastballs up in the zone, giving Chicago good pitches to hit. The mistakes were on Tanaka, not a particularly enlightening adjustment made by the Cubs, and his trouble with occasionally elevating the ball may have been attributable to the rain coming down in Chicago.
Still, even with the issues he had, Tanaka actually pitched a fairly good game. He did not give any signs that he is about to be figured out after teams see him a few times. Tanaka also completed his third consecutive start without allowing a home run. While the Cubs are not a power hitting team, they do play in a homer-friendly park, and the accomplishment is admirable no matter what. Tanaka has proven that he has several viable major league skills as a pitcher, even in his short time. Accumulating a loss on his record is no indication of failure, because just as much of the fault belongs to the offense, defense, and bullpen, as it does to Tanaka.
Even after what was probably his worst game as a major leaguer, Tanaka’s statistics remain dazzling. He is striking out more than a full batter per inning, while walking only about one per nine innings pitched. His WHIP is below one, and his ERA is an outstanding 2.39. Most importantly, even after a subpar game, he has given no signs that his start is a fluke. His stats match the eye-test. As long he can stay healthy, Tanaka looks like he will be a great major leaguer for a long time.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Baseball