Sitting alone in first place is a nice feeling, isn’t it? Trouble is, every time the Cubs start rolling, so do the Cardinals; ergo, the NL Central lead stands at just a half game. With the Giants swept away at Wrigley after having taken the last two of the Pirates’ series, the Cubs have the look of a team ready to go on a run and pull away from the pack.
Many of the key cogs in the offense are contributing, Nicholas Castellanos and Anthony Rizzo are playing like MVP candidates, the rotation doesn’t walk anyone anymore, and the back end of the bullpen certainly looks as though it has congealed from ectoplasmic goo to solid granite. Yu Darvish has been feasting like a kaiju while challenging David Kaplan on twitter and Big Nick Energy is waxing philosophical about underwater breathing and his change of Midwest scenery.
About the only bad news of late is the most unsurprising news ever– that Brandon Morrow won’t be a part of some “super pen” in September and October for the Cubs.
When things are clicking, you find different ways to win and can still laugh at farts while giving postgame interviews about your worst performance in two months. During this five-game winning streak, the Cubs have won two low-scoring pitchers’ duels, one blowout, one crazy high-scoring back-and-forth affair, and a ho-hum 5-3 game. That’s a sign of a team that’s building mojo as we head into the last month of the regular season with a pennant race on our hands.
The Giants series was sandwiched between the Little League Classic and Players’ Weekend, so here’s hoping that the special jerseys, crazy cleats, and awesome bats that worked so well in Williamsport do the trick this weekend at home. I guess we might even get an answer to the age-old question posed by Christopher Wallace 22 years ago: Where the true players at? Hopefully, they’re in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Although, don’t be surprised if they’re spotted at a Kum & Go.
The Cubs wasted no time getting to work at home, as Castellanos and Rizzo both hit opening frame bombs. Rizzo hit another in the 3rd inning, his 25th of the year, making it four Cubs (Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Báez, Kris Bryant) with 25 home runs before the end of August.
After Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick threw scoreless innings in relief of Cole Hamels, Craig Kimbrel threw a dominant 9th inning, showcasing a consistently nasty 98 mph heater. This is the guy the Cubs thought they would see when he signed.
The middle game of the series was chock full of key moments going back and forth like the Plinko chip rattling around and down the Price is Right board. With seven total home runs and six lead changes in the game, it took an hour longer than the Thursday matinee.
Castellanos again hit a bomb in the 1st inning, his eighth as a Cub. Not to be outdone by the newcomer, Schwarber took over the team lead in home runs from the slumping Báez in the 3rd inning, blasting a ball the opposite way into the bleachers. That willingness to attack the opposite field has been paying dividends for a guy who sees the shift a ton and seems to have settled into his plate approach.
After a frustrating run of at-bats leading up to the late stages of the game, Bryant hit the game-winning home run in the 8th inning, down 11-10 at the time.
In the finale, there were two moments that you could shine a light on, and they both fittingly had to do with the sun. Jason Heyward led off the 4th inning with a routine pop fly to center, but Kevin Pillar never saw it. Heyward should have been on second base, but didn’t respect 90 (or 180, I suppose) as he no doubt believed the ball would be caught easily. It was the Cubs’ first hit of the ballgame and it really shouldn’t have been a hit at all. They took advantage two outs later as Anthony Rizzo rifled one into center, scoring Heyward for the only run of the game.
The Cubs had their own issues with the sun in the top half of the next inning, but Schwarber had Heyward’s back and made the catch. Then they patted each other on the back in an embrace in the middle of center field. Those two plays were all the difference in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel that saw The Professor and Shark go pitch for pitch in the underwater library cage.
- The Cubs’ starting pitchers. Other than a few bad pitches from Darvish in the middle game, the rotation has been on fire. They racked up 20 strikeouts against just two walks in 18.1 IP in this series. All three runs against Hamels came via the home run, as did all seven runs against Darvish. If the Cubs were walking guys with these superballs being used this year, things would be way worse.
- Wick, Ryan, Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler pitched eight innings in the series, giving up no runs on three hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts. Doesn’t get much better than that. Please. Stay. Healthy.
- Castellanos continues to be an MVP-caliber playing since being traded to the Cubs. He was 7-for-13 in the series with two home runs, three runs scored, and four RBI. He is now slashing .392/.429/.785 since becoming a Cub 22 days ago. In 19 games, he has 31 hits, 17 runs, seven doubles, eight home runs, and 12 RBI. Oh, and one huge celebratory fist pump spurred on by the 8th inning laser shot from Bryant in the series’ finale.
- Rizzo had a bit of a power surge in the series and is having yet another phenomenal year at the plate. He was 6-10 in the three game set with two bombs, a double, six runs scored, and four RBI. Since August 4th, Rizzo is slashing .373/.508/.647 in 65 PA.
- Báez was just 2-for-11 in the series and is just 5 for his last 27. He’s in a bit of a funk, but he’s not striking out at a crazy rate, so he’s probably due to break out in a big way pretty soon.
- Heyward was also 2-for-11 in the series, and is in an even bigger slump in the leadoff spot, having gone just 11 for his last 53.
- Derek Holland’s last three outings- 1.2 IP, four hits, three earned runs.
The Cubs were able to squeak out a couple wins away from Wrigley, both in Pittsburgh and Williamsport, and now seem to be on a bit of a roll back at home. They have three day games in a row at Wrigley, and we know how they play at home during the day.
Washington is coming in hot, having won 12 of their last 16 and scoring 120 runs in those games. The good news is Chicago won’t have to face Patrick Corbin or Mad Max Scherzer in the series.