Anthony Rizzo set the tone last night in the very first inning.
Working against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, Rizzo blasted the seventh pitch of the at-bat into the seats for his 100th career home run, giving the Cubs an early 2-0 lead. And they never looked back on their way to a 8-5 win.
In the next inning, Starlin Castro popped a three-run shot to put an early exclamation point on the game. Rizzo and Castro combined to go 4-for-8 with two walks, four runs, and 7 RBIs. Giddy-up.
The bullpen looked a little shaky in the 7th, but no real damage done. Fernando Rodney settled things down with a clean 8th, and Hector Rondon shut it down in the 9th.
The win was the Cubs’ 80th on the year. Their magic number is 16. They are now 6.5 games behind the Cardinals for the division lead, and remain 2 games in back of the Pirates (who won last night).
They go for the sweep against the Cardinals today with Jon Lester on the bump.
How fun has Javier Baez been to watch so far this year? Still not a significant sample of games, but he has looked great so far — on both sides of the ball.
Last night, Javy went 2-for-4 with two doubles and contributed with two excellent defensive plays. On his first double, he laid off a couple of pitches out of the zone he surely would have swung at last year.
It’s getting to the point where I want to see him in the lineup every day; I don’t care which position.
Ramirez and Medina return
The Cubs’ bullpen options continue to grow, as RHP Neil Ramirez has been activated from the disabled list and RHP Yoervis Medina has been recalled from Triple-A.
Ramirez has struggled all year with injuries — his most recent trip to the DL related to abdominal soreness — and even when he has been “healthy,” he hasn’t been the guy we saw in 2014. My excitement level for Ramirez is currently at a very light simmer, as opposed to its usual blistering heat.
But if he can regain the magic from last year, I’d trust him in pretty much any situation out of the bullpen.
Medina came over from Seattle in the Welington Castillo trade earlier this year. He has bounced back and forth between the Cubs and Iowa. I don’t imagine we’ll see much of him when the game’s on the line.
Return of the Schwarb
Kyle Schwarber pinch-hit last night in the 8th inning, and bounced out on a check swing.
Out of the lineup since Sept. 2 with rib soreness, Schwarber could start today, tweets Mark Gonzales. That would be great, and I’m sure Schwarber is dying to get back in there.
But I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s not starting again today, merely as a precaution. It’s not like the Cubs’ offense is hurting right now, and they have won five in a row.
* The Cubs have released their tentative 2016 schedule. They open the season in Anaheim, playing the Angels on April 5. That’s going to feel a little weird, I think. But it should ensure decent weather for the first series or the year, which is nice. The Wrigley opener is set for April 11 against the Reds.
* The Myrtle Beach Pelicans begin their playoff series against the Winston-Salem Dash. The Pelicans are the only Cubs minor-league affiliate to make the postseason.