It’s starting to get really tough to look past the home/road narrative surrounding this year’s Chicago Cubs, isn’t it?
Throughout most of this year, I’ve found myself firmly entrenched in the camp that believed the dramatic inversion of the team’s success has been largely a statistical oddity. In large part, I still believe that! But if the Cubs’ success at home and lack thereof on the road are just examples of statistical noise, they’re examples that are growing ever noisier.
Just as last week’s disappointing road trip proved the negative end of that equation, this weekend’s sweep against the third-place Brewers gave some serious ammunition to the positive side of it. In a series in which the Cubs’ smallest margin of victory was three runs, they outscored the visiting Brewers 17-5 by putting together terrific plate approaches all weekend and getting strong performances from starting pitchers José Quintana, Cole Hamels, and Yu Darvish.
It’s not a bold statement to suggest that this was one of the very best series of the Cubs’ 2019 campaign. A combination of the sweep and some favorable results in the Cardinals’ series in Oakland led to the Cubs gaining a pair of games on St. Louis and picking up three games on Milwaukee.
A weekend that started with the Cubs in second place by a full game ended up with them leading the division by a game and a half. You could ask for more, but you’d be getting pretty greedy.
Three wins in as many games against the Brewers means a boatload of fun highlights. Jason Heyward got things rolling early on Friday with his first of two (!) leadoff home runs in this series.
While Ryan Braun, as he is wont to do, smacked a game-tying home run in the next half inning, the Cubs answered back quickly. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Javier Báez blasted his 26th home run of the year, driving in Kris Bryant and giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
It was all Cubs from there. On top of driving in a run of his own, Quintana tossed six innings, surrendering a pair of runs and striking out five. Q has a reputation for turning it on against Milwaukee, and Friday showcased that reputation.
Saturday’s contest was the closest of the series. In what was for some time an offensive struggle, the Cubs busted out in the game’s later innings. The suddenly hot Albert Almora Jr. came to the plate with one out in the bottom of the 7th inning and came through in a big way.
The Cubs wouldn’t look back from there. They added two more runs on the strength of a Javy single and another Almora RBI before Craig Kimbrel closed things out.
Sunday’s finale may have been the best win of them all. Darvish left the game after just five innings, but was strong in his limited time, striking out eight in five shutout innings. The bullpen largely matched him, giving up only a run in four innings eaten up by Derek Holland and Tyler Chatwood.
Cubs hitters were just as good as their counterparts on the mound. Heyward led off with another home run, tying the game after a first inning solo shot by Christian Yelich. Believe it or not, this was Yelich’s first home run at Wrigley Field as a Brewer. Maybe he doesn’t care for the lighting.
Rather than highlight that Heyward homer, let’s go to his second RBI of the game. With David Bote on second base, Heyward got the difficult half of the cycle out of the way with a triple down the right field line.
While I’m not the first to celebrate his resurgence, it remains an absolute treat to see J-Hey produce at the level he has this year. As one of the universally agreed-upon best guys on the team, Heyward finally has the numbers to match his personality. And his efforts played no small part in a resounding sweep.
- Heyward certainly made his mark this weekend: Three hits, a pair of walks, and four RBI brought his 2019 OPS up to .825. He also seems to have solidified his hold on the leadoff spot. With a .353 OBP and an ability to work deep plate approaches, it’s sort of a wonder that it took this long for him to get there.
- Nicholas Castellanos made himself at home in his new digs all weekend, going 4-for-13 with two doubles. He also made a number of loud outs that just happened to find gloves. If the process stays this good, he should find plenty of success as a Cub.
- Hamels picked up right where he left off in his return from the injured list on Saturday. A pitch count limited his workload, but he struck out six in five shutout innings. With about 30 starts under his belt as a Cub, Hamels has pitched just about a full season with the team and has posted a 165 ERA+ in 181 innings. That’s ace-level stuff, folks.
- KB got the day off on Sunday, due in part to a knee injury aggravated during the road trip from hell. While the Cubs have largely downplayed the significance of that injury, Bryant has recorded only three hits in his last 30 at-bats. With Willson Contreras likely to be out for an extended period, the Cubs could really use a slugging KB back in the lineup.
It’s hard not to reflect back on last weekend’s series loss to these Brewers in Milwaukee as a study in contrasts for what we saw this time around. While that series was thoroughly unenjoyable, the Cubs managed to do something critically important in taking the third game to avoid the sweep.
The Cubs did what they had to do this weekend to prevent the Brewers from getting that one win. As a result, Milwaukee is now four games off the pace and trailing both the Cubs and Cardinals by multiple games. A Sunday afternoon loss by those Cardinals gives the Cubs the kind of breathing room that feels positively luxurious given where things sat when the series began.