When I was growing up going to Wrigley Field, I’d let myself slip into a fantasy that each interleague matchup was actually the World Series. If you ignored the regular season atmosphere and the fact that there was no World Series logo on the field, it worked at times – you just had to pretend really hard.
While I’m glad that the Cubs playing in a World Series is no longer a fantasy, it was hard not to daydream at least a little bit with the A’s in town. Sitting at 15 games above .500 on the strength of a +82 run differential even after losing this series and surrendering 10 runs Wednesday, the A’s represent one of the strongest teams the Cubs have faced in some time.
The opening game of the series was either exciting or irritating depending on how generous you are with your verbiage, and it was followed pair of disparate blowouts. Jon Lester and Steve Cishek each got shelled, Brandon Kintlzer was injured in the series opener, and Craig Kimbrel was unavailable throughout. Not exactly a combination of factors that seems likely to lead to a series win.
The Cubs got that series win anyway, though. Standout performances by starters Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana along with strong offensive efforts by Ian Happ, Nicholas Castellanos, and Javier Báez led to bookended wins against a high quality opponent.
Maybe they’ll do it again in October.
The series opener’s weirdness isn’t quite captured by the 6-5 final score. A very effective Hendricks kept the Cubs in a close game through the 7th inning. The Cubs appeared to have busted the doors down in that frame, scoring four runs on the strength of a home runs by Happ and Javy (who also hit a home run in the previous inning) and an RBI double by Castellanos.
But that home run by Happ sure stands out, doesn’t it? It was a doozy, traveling 474 happy feet.
While it looked like the Cubs might be on their way to an easy win, the road only got bumpier. The aforementioned Cishek had one of his worst outings of the year, surrendering three 8th inning runs, including a pair of home runs to let the A’s right back into the game.
In the top of the 9th, the A’s would quickly threaten again. Down by only a run, Oakland had a pair of runners on with two outs. Marcus Semien, who had already hit a pair of home runs, came to the plate and gave us one of the nearest brushes with doom in recent memory.
I happened to be at the game for this one and, let me tell you, it was even scarier in person than that video. All’s well that ends well though, right?
You might be inclined to think that the second game of the series, an 11-4 drubbing, fueled in large part by Lester’s worst start of the season, wouldn’t have any real high points. And as far as impact on the game, you’re right, but we did get six “wow” moments. Making his first major league appearance of the year, Duane Underwood Jr. struck out all six men he faced in impressive fashion.
Featuring a mid-to-high 90’s fastball and an excellent changeup, Underwood found renewed success in Iowa after transitioning from the starting rotation to a permanent bullpen role in June. Any ability to translate that success to a big league bullpen would be a boon for a Cubs bullpen that still lacks many hurlers with that kind of velocity.
The Cubs turned the tables in the final game of the series, though. While there are no shortage of great moments form a 10-1 victory, Happ’s 4th inning grand slam stands out above the rest.
That blast turned a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 lead in an instant and the Cubs never looked back. A slugging offense backed a very strong Quintana, who struck out seven in as many innings, and led to a satisfying win.
- How quickly has Big Stick Nick earned the adoration of Cubs fans? Everything about him screams cool, from his swagger to his bat. Castellanos smacked five doubles and a home run in this series, giving the Cubs offense exactly the kind of shot in the arm that they were hoping for in trading for him. The corner outfielder has now spent seven games as a Cub and in those seven games, he’s batting .379/.400/.690.
- Javy is firmly entrenched in another hot streak. He blasted two home runs in the series opener and went 5-9 overall. He even drew a walk! El Mago is batting .423/.444 (there’s that walk)/.923 over his last seven.
- Despite only starting the final game of the series, Happ did everything he could to prove he should be getting more of them. Over three games, Happ recorded five hits in eight at bats while smacking two home runs. You’d have to think he’ll start getting more regular starts, at least against right handed pitching.
- Not to pick on Cishek, but things haven’t been going all that well for him lately. The veteran has a 5.25 ERA over his last 15 games and has struck out only one more than he’s walked.
- Jason Heyward cooled down a bit after a strong showing against Milwaukee, recording only two hits in 10 at bats without drawing a walk. Not to panic – the Cubs new everyday leadoff hitter has certainly earned some leeway.
There’s nothing not to like against a series win against a potential playoff contender. On its own merits, such an event is always worth celebrating.
However, events in Los Angeles made this series even more fortuitous. The Cardinals failed to record a win in three tries against the Dodgers, giving the Cubs a 3.5 game lead over their most bitter rivals. A strong series by the Brewers in Pittsburgh vaulted Milwaukee into second place at an even three games back, but a three game lead is nothing to sneeze at when the Cubs were in second as recently as a week ago.
Now we get to see if they can keep it going on the road. Fasten those seat belts, Cubs fans.