I looked forward to Wednesday afternoon's game with the same anticipation as Tuesday's -- I expected the Cubs to win, even though the Marlins have a better record and were going for first place in the National League East.
This time, I was not disappointed. Starlin Castro hit a pair of doubles and drove in two runs and victory was virtually clinched by Nate Schierholtz' somewhat-unexpected three-run homer in the sixth inning. The Cubs' 6-1 win over the Marlins gave them a 5-5 road trip, their first non-losing trip since late July, 2013.
Castro's day was very, very impressive. He now has 22 doubles, which ranks fourth in the National League. He's on pace for 51 for the season. To understand how rare an achievement that is, there have been only 44 50-double seasons in the last 25 years, and for the Cubs just two in that span -- 51 by Mark Grace in 1995, and 50 by Derrek Lee in 2005. Those are the only 50-double years for a Cubs player since 1937!
Castro, who added a single for his 12th three-hit game this year, ended the day hitting .292, making it the first time he's had a BA over .290 this late in the season in two years. It appears clear to me that whatever was affecting him last year -- and at this point, let's not bother rehashing whatever that was -- is gone, and Castro is beginning to hit the way he did in 2011 and 2012, when he was an All-Star. Except now, he's hitting with more power. His .484 slugging percentage would be the best of his career by a significant margin, and is just a shade behind Anthony Rizzo (.494) for the team lead. The two RBI gave him 40, taking over the club lead from Rizzo.
That's important for the future of this team, considering Castro is just 24, under team control for up to six more years at fairly team-friendly terms, and could be heading into his best seasons.
The other story of this game was Jake Arrieta, who gave up a solo home run to Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning. At that point it tied the game, but Arrieta was dominant after that. He allowed just four other hits -- all singles -- and struck out 11, a career high. He threw 105 pitches in seven innings, 70 for strikes.
Kudos to the front office (yes, you read that right, that's me praising them) for acquiring Arrieta and Pedro Strop (who threw a scoreless eighth Wednesday) for Scott Feldman, perhaps Theo Epstein's best trade to date as a Cubs executive. Well done, and also well done on the trip, where the Cubs won four of the last six and head home on a high note, having defeated a pretty good Marlins team in their home park, where Miami had the best home record in the major leagues entering Wednesday's game.
It was clear that it was time for Bryant to move up. He had demolished Southern League pitching and was lapping the field in power numbers. Consider: Bryant hit 22 home runs in 68 games, a shade less than half the season in that Double-A league. That number would have tied for the lead in Southern League in 2013 for the entire season; it's conceivable Bryant could lead the Southern League this year. The next-highest homer total in the league is 13. His OPS is more than 100 points higher than anyone else in the league who's played the entire season.
So now Bryant gets his chance to show he can dominate Triple-A, as he has dominated every league he's played in since signing -- which is still less than a full year ago. In 443 plate appearances since he began his pro career, he's hitting .348/.436/.697 with 34 doubles and 31 home runs.
Naturally, we don't yet know how he'll do at a higher level. What I'm going to suggest is that if Bryant does dominate Triple-A pitching for the remainder of the minor-league season, or even perhaps for a bit less, that he should receive a September callup. Yes, I know, service-time issues, Super Two, yada yada yada. If you have a player who is as dominant as Bryant, I think it behooves the organization to let him help the big-league team win games. If he struggles at Triple-A, then give him more time there. (I don't think he will, though.)
At the very least, he ought to be on the Opening Day roster in 2015, unless he has some huge setback in Triple-A. Len and JD were talking about Bryant playing third base and how he was improving his craft, and though I (and others) have discussed the possibility of him playing right field, it would seem that third base would be the place to give him a shot -- he could still move to the outfield later (other recent players who have made this move: Carlos Lee and Ryan Braun).
It's nice to see this team playing well. It hasn't been something I have been expecting... until now. Keep up the good work, and Kris Bryant, you do the same. Good things are beginning to happen.
The Cubs are off Thursday. We'll have plenty here to discuss, so stick around. The team opens a 10-game homestand Friday afternoon against the Pirates, with Edwin Jackson scheduled to start. At this writing the Pirates do not list any probables for the Cubs series, so I'll post that info on game day.