Cubs Record: 55-35 (1st Place NL Central)
W: Jason Hammel (8-5, 3.34)
L: Yu Darvish (2-1, 3.15)
S: Hector Rondon (15)
MVP: Jason Hammel: 6 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 7 K, 1 BB
The Cubs looked to win their third straight game and clinch the series against the Texas Rangers on Saturday afternoon. Jason Hammel aimed to build off a successful start against Atlanta his last time on the mound. The Rangers countered with ace Yu Darvish, back from another stint on the disabled list.
The AL West leaders struck first in the second inning as Elvis Andrus beat out an infield grounder to shortstop Addison Russell. Ryan Rua was able to score from second ahead of the throw home by first baseman Anthony Rizzo before Miguel Montero gunned Andrus out trying to advance to second.
Darvish started strong, striking out seven Cubs hitters the first three innings. Then Montero walked to lead off the bottom of the third and Tommy La Stella added a base hit to put two on for Rizzo. Tony proceeded to slap a liner into the right field corner for a two-run double to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.
Hammel was very good over his last four innings, the only blemish a double from Mitch Moreland. The starter was lifted for pinch hitter Matt Szczur, who came through in the pinch again smoking a single through the box in the 6th to make it 3-1 Cubs. Adam Warren, Travis Wood, and Hector Rondon went three clean innings to seal the 3-1 Cubs victory.
Jason Hammel had one of his best starts of the season Saturday. The only run he gave up was on the crazy infield single in which Rua scored from second. For Hammel to be so effective against a very talented Rangers offense has to be a good sign. That is two solid starts in a row for the big fella after his debacle in Citi Field.
Tommy La Stella had three excellent plate appearances against Yu Darvish. With a walk, single, and a drive to the warning track, he had the best day facing the Rangers ace.
Rizzo’s double extended his hitting streak to 11 games. I was never concerned during his slump earlier this season. Rizzo is too good of a hitter to be held down for long.
Javy Baez got a lot of work at third after coming in as a defensive replacement in the 7th. Javy made a handful of great defensive plays, including an old school Astroturf-bounce throw to get Adrian Beltre at first. Jason Heyward battled the high skies to make a couple of tricky catches to seal the game too.
Early in the game Darvish was making the Cubs hitters look bad. The Japanese star is one of the best pitchers in the game when healthy. For the Cubs to run up a high pitch count and knock Yu out early was a good sign, but they will have to continue to do that as they’ll see more power pitchers like the Texas righty as the season goes on.
When it was announced that Darvish was pitching against the Cubs I knew it was coming. Yu knew it was coming. That’s right, horrible Yu puns were going to be all over the place. Luckily it was only one start against the Cubs. If Darvish were in the NL Central, Yu people would drive me crazy.
The Cubs go for sweep Sunday afternoon. John Lackey (7-5, 3.70), who battled to get a win his last start in Pittsburgh, gets the nod. The last time Cole Hammels (9-2, 3.21) pitched at Wrigley Field he threw a no-hitter for the Phillies. Here’s hoping a similar fate is avoided this time. So far out of the break the Cubs look very good. I think we can all agree that’s what Yu want to see in the second half.