Suddenly, the Cubs look like a solid baseball team.
On the most beautiful afternoon of the baseball season thus far in Chicago -- 70 degrees, sunshine, a breeze blowing out -- Travis Wood threw seven solid innings and two Cubs relievers finished up uneventfully and the Cubs defeated the Brewers 4-2 -- winning a series from Milwaukee at Wrigley Field for the first time since September 19-20-21, 2011. That's almost three years ago, and the Brewers have played very good baseball so far this year.
Let's count up all the good things that happened Sunday.
First, Wood had a very shaky first inning, walking the bases loaded. But he got out of it with a ground ball, and that was the first of 11 consecutive Brewers that he retired. Logan Schafer broke up Wood's no-hit bid (not that he got anywhere close to really thinking about that) with a one-out double in the fifth, and one out later, Rickie Weeks slugged a ball over the bleachers onto Waveland Avenue for a two-run homer.
But by that time, the Cubs had a 4-0 lead, thanks to a two-run homer in the second by Welington Castillo, back-to-back two-out doubles by Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena in the third, and a solo homer from Mike Olt in the fourth.
Other than that, Wood was outstanding through seven innings, allowing just those two hits and issuing no walks after the first. He struck out seven; after that Brian Schlitter (1-2-3 eighth) and Hector Rondon (one double allowed to Ryan Braun, but after that 1-2-3 for his fifth save, finishing it with a strikeout of Khris Davis) completed two scoreless innings for the victory. You can see how solid relief pitching can make all the difference between winning and losing. Earlier in the year, the pen was blowing leads like this. Now they appear to have much more confidence. I, personally, would leave Rondon in the closer role even when Pedro Strop returns from the disabled list and whenever the team considers Jose Veras ready for higher-leverage roles. Strop is a good setup man and if the team is able to trade Veras, he's likely to go somewhere in a setup role, too, so why not use him there?
Here's a curiosity about this game. Until Junior Lake singled with one out in the seventh, the Cubs had seven hits, all for extra bases (two home runs, five doubles). If you think this is common, think again. Since 1914, it has happened just 12 times -- and never by the Cubs. Further, not one of those games had both teams have only extra-base hits -- and all three Milwaukee hits Sunday afternoon were of that variety (two doubles, a home run). If not for Lake's single, this game would have been unique in baseball history.
That's a secondary note to a nice Cubs win. Two nice Cubs wins in a row, which is even more encouraging. Sunday, players who should be part of the core going forward -- Castro, Castillo, Olt, Wood and Rondon -- played pivotal roles. That has to be gratifying to management; it certainly was to me.
The retro uniforms worn by both teams were cool-looking, particularly the Cubs' 1937 uniform, which I wouldn't mind seeing brought back as an alternate from time to time in future years. It's the Cubs' first win wearing throwbacks this year (after losses to the Diamondbacks and Cardinals). More of that, too, please.
Tomorrow is an off day and Tuesday's matchup with the Yankees is a night game, so we've got more than 48 hours to wait before the next game. There will be plenty here at BCB before that next game, so stick around. And Tuesday evening, we'll get to see Masahiro Tanaka up close, as he'll start for the Yankees against Jason Hammel.