“The Chicago Cubs have won the Crosstown Cup! The Cubs come pouring out of the dugout, jumping up and down like a bunch of delirious 10-year olds…the Cubs have done it!”
Wait, did you not hear that on your broadcast? There must have been something wrong with mine. Maybe the champagne I sprayed all over my radio caused some kind of issue, but those things are going to happen when the Crosstown Cup is on the line.
Sure, the Cubs only won it on the weird technicality of a split resulting in the trophy remaining with the team that most recently won it, but they won it all the same. Surely all of the players are just as thrilled as you and I are. Just look at this shot of Javier Báez holding the cup last year.
To the uninformed observer, it may look like he has no idea what the purpose of the trophy is or why he’s been asked to hold it. But, friend, you and I know better: He was simply overwhelmed with emotion.
As far as how this series played out, we got a little bit of everything that has defined this year’s Cubs in a tidy two-game package. Saturday featured a win defined by high-octane offense, a solid Jon Lester pitching performance, and the new-look Cubs bullpen doing what it had to do to secure the win. Sunday’s follow-up featured the doppelgänger Cubs, the ones that couldn’t quite get the hit they needed with a runner in scoring position and weren’t able to muster a real threat late in the game.
While Sunday’s result surely caused some consternation among fans, I think it’s also fair to acknowledge that they got pretty unlucky against Sox starter Iván Nova. The Cubs were smoking line drives early in the game that just didn’t get where they needed to. It was a loss, but it felt like a healthier loss than many others that have defined their struggles.
And despite those recent struggles, the best news of all is that the Cubs enter the All-Star break in first place.
Saturday’s win was defined by the Cubs five run outburst in the fifth inning. It was the kind of “keep the line moving” effort that they’ve lacked at times of late.
In case you weren’t keeping track, that was a Kyle Schwarber double, a Javy double, and an Anthony Rizzo single to plate the Cubs’ runs. While you would’ve liked to see the team add more (they ended up leaving the bases loaded with no outs), a five-run inning is nothing to sneeze at.
Lester’s start was the other defining element of the game. The veteran lefty gave up only a single earned run over 6.1 innings pitched. He has suddenly turned things around quite a bit over his last few starts, which we’ll dig into a bit more later.
Sunday’s loss wasn’t defined by the highlights that were made, but those that weren’t. The Cubs failed to score on back-to-back leadoff doubles by Albert Almora Jr. and Rizzo in the 3rd and 4th innings. They smoked balls all over the field in the first few innings of the game but the sequencing and luck weren’t there.
Because of that, they were only able to tally a single run on Robel Garcia‘s second career home run in the 7th inning.
- Javy is clearly on the rebound after a period of struggle. He smacked two doubles in the series opener and is batting .333/.333/.633 over his last seven. Sure, you might want a walk or two in there, but that’s not Javy’s game, is it?
- Lester is similarly looking better after a rough patch. Over his last three starts, he has surrendered only four earned runs over 18 innings pitched. He must have had the famous Beijing Duck Dinner at Uptown’s Sun Wah Barbecue recently, because he’s got some serious big duck energy going on.
- It is not my intent to pick on Craig Kimbrel by placing him here for the second review in a row, but you’d really like to see him record a clean save soon. The new Cubs closer made things more difficult than they needed to be on Saturday, allowing the tying run to reach base via a walk and a hit by pitch. The good news? He struck out three and showed his best velocity as a Cub.
We saw the Cubs at their best and we also saw them repeat so many of the frustrating patterns that have led to their struggles of the last month and a half over these two games. While they weren’t able to win their first series in far too long, they managed to get the win they needed to ultimately go into the All-Star break in first place.
You may wish the Cubs had been able to capitalize on a favorable schedule, that they had taken advantage of the rest of the division scuffling, or that they had simply been less maddening over their last month and and a half of play. I certainly wish that they had done all of those things.
With all of that said, I’m glad that I don’t have to wish that the Cubs were in first place. Fans of all of the other NL Central teams have to do just that.