Cubs Record: 88-48 (1st Place NL Central)
W: Trevor Cahill (4-4, 2.68)
L: Matt Reynolds (0-1, 3.38)
MVP: Jason Heyward: 3-6, 3 RBI
The Cubs looked to win the “showdown” series with the San Francisco Giants on Sunday afternoon. John Lackey returned from the disabled list for his first start in a month at Wrigley. Johnny Cueto, the other half of the Giants one-two pitching punch, matched Lackey on the mound.
Chicago continued the sloppy play they had displayed on Saturday early in this one, as Jason Heyward made a rare error by dropping a Hunter Pence fly ball in the top of the 2nd. Pence reached second base on the mistake and would score on an Eduardo Nunez grounder: 1-0 Giants.
Cueto was very good on Sunday for Frisco, keeping the Cubs off balance with his 5-pitch mix. His only blemish came in the bottom of the 4th inning. Anthony Rizzo singled and Ben Zobrist walked to put two on base for Addison Russell, who promptly grounded into a double play to move Rizzo to third base. Heyward continued to show signs of life, punching the tying single over shortstop.
Again the Gigantes manufactured the go-ahead run in the top of the 5th. Eduardo Nunez doubled off Lackey with one out and quickly stole third base. Ehire Adrianza executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to put the Giants ahead 2-1.
Lackey was pulled after 5 innings and 76 pitches in his first start back. Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith, Travis Wood, and CJ Edwards held the Giants at two runs. Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez combined for a clean bottom of the 8th.
Addison Russell led of the bottom of the 9th with a double off closer Santiago Casilla. After a wild pitch advanced Russell to third, Heyward singled to center to tie the game at 2 runs apiece.
Aroldis Chapman, Justin Grimm, and Trevor Cahill dodged Giant rallies for four innings to allow the Cubs to finally rally in the bottom of the 13th. Rizzo singled off lefty Matt Reynolds to open the inning. Zobrist advanced him to second on a grounder to first, and Addison Russell was intentionally walked. That set the stage for the J-Hey kid, who blooped a single to center to walk it off: 3-2 Cubs.
Lackey appeared to be healthy in his first start back off the DL, giving up only one earned run in 5 solid innings. The Cubs signed him to start a playoff game with all his postseason experience, so a good start from the big righty is the most important outcome of this game.
Heyward more than made up for his key error by driving in all three runs. He continues to be showing signs of life at the plate in recent days and a game like Sunday might be the thing that really boosts the big guy. Russell had three big hits on the day and appears to be heating back up as well.
Cueto was very good today on the mound for the Giants, going 7 strong innings and keeping the Cubs in check from the jump. San Fran is hoping that their dreadlocked ace can finish strong as they go for a playoff spot. Especially after the horrible stretch they hit coming out of the All-Star Game.
Beware the narrative-spinning that will come out of this Cubs-Giants series. There will be hot-take articles about how this provides insights about a future playoff meeting, but it doesn’t mean a single thing about October. This series featured 4 one-run games that were total coin-flips. The Cubs swept the Mets in the regular season last year and I don’t need to tell you what happened in October. The only thing I’m taking from this game is that John Lackey is back and appears healthy.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt got hit in the helmet by a Rob Zastryzny pitch in the top of the 7th. It was a pitch that clearly slipped out of Rob Z’s hand, but it was scary for a minute. Luckily, Belt was fine and stayed in the game.
After the marathon on Sunday, the Cubs bus up to Milwaukee for a 12pm CT Labor Day game, which Joe Maddon has been an outspoken opponent of. Kyle Hendricks (13-7, 2.09 ERA) looks to continue his dominant second-half stretch. Zach Davies (10-6, 4.07 ERA) is in many ways the poor man’s Hendricks, a soft-tossing change-up artist. The Cubs magic number is down to 11, but there are bigger fish to fry in October.