You wouldn’t normally lavish praise on a starting pitcher for going 3.2 innings, but the perspective changes when he outperforms two Cy Young winners. Keegan Thompson went nearly four times as many innings as Clayton Kershaw managed in the first game of the Cubs’ doubleheader with the Dodgers, then he put up a better game score than Trevor Bauer in the nightcap. And if you think I’m cherry-picking with an unfair comparison on that first one, you’re damn right.
Kershaw’s performance was an aberration, perhaps brought on by the cool temps and David Ross‘s comments about Sunday’s loss in Cincy feeling like a playoff game. He allowed four runs in an inning for the first time since 2017 and gave up that many in the opening frame for the first time since his rookie year, then left after the shortest start of his career. Among the things you hate to see, it was very low on the list.
Speaking of things you hate to see, Bauer was significantly better in the late game despite walking the first two batters he faced and issuing four free passes for the first time since July 28, 2019. The homer he gave up to Jason Heyward was the only run he allowed between those walks and four total hits, but his game score of 46 was his lowest out of seven starts thus far.
Then there was Thompson, who was called up and called upon to make the start on short notice after Jake Arrieta was placed on the IL with a thumb laceration. The rookie had just debuted two days earlier, pitching an inning of relief in that “playoff game” against the Reds, and had been optioned back down right after. This wasn’t really a spot in which he was being counted on to do anything more than gut out a few innings.
Gut them out he did, but he kept the Cubs in the game by holding the Dodgers scoreless on just two hits and two walks. Things started out shaky with a leadoff double by Mookie Betts and a walk to Corey Seager, then Thompson got a double play and a groundout to escape unharmed. An AJ Pollock single the following inning was immediately wiped out by another double play as Thompson kept the ball on the ground all night.
While fellow rookie Justin Steele made all the highlight reels for his huge performance in the 9th inning, it was Thompson’s effort that put the Cubs in a position to win in the first place. Had the offense cashed in on any number of easy scoring opportunities earlier in the game, Steele never would have been called upon in the first place.
Still, the Cubs were able to bookend their big win with huge performances from two rookie pitchers, a feat that’s been far too long in the making. Even if Thompson’s start is eventually lost among the footnotes of time, the fact that the Cubs have been willing and able to count on homegrown pitching offers reason for celebration.
There’s even something to be said for Dillon Maples being left in to clean up a mess of his own making, coming back with two strikeouts after cutting loose a terrible wild pitch and giving up a homer to dig a two-run deficit. I mean, hey, you can’t have a comeback if you’re not behind. Maples has shown a propensity to roll downhill quickly, not unlike we saw frequently with Carl Edwards Jr., so having the fortitude to pull it back together was great.
Though one game can neither reinforce nor change organizational practices, Tuesday showed us that the Cubs may finally be willing to trust some of their younger pitchers as much as the veterans they love to stockpile.