The future of the next Cubs contending team was on display, big time, at Wrigley Field on an extremely warm and sticky Tuesday night.
I've been among those wondering when the rebuild would bear fruit, and we are, I believe, beginning to see it. Anthony Rizzo smacked two home runs, Arismendy Alcantara added another and Kyle Hendricks threw seven shutout innings in the Cubs' 6-0 win over the Padres.
The game didn't start out that way. Hendricks labored through a 20-pitch first inning, though he got out of it with just a single and a walk allowed. Padres starter Eric Stults similarly struggled in the bottom of the frame. Emilio Bonifacio led off with a double and eventually scored on Justin Ruggiano's sacrifice fly, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The entire inning took 30 minutes, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be one of those games.
But Hendricks settled down and showed why Theo & Co. wanted him so badly in the Ryan Dempster trade to the Rangers two summers ago. He completed six more innings with just 63 more pitches (it might have been fewer if not for a Bonifacio error that briefly prolonged the third inning before a double play ended it). He got 13 outs via ground balls and, even though he issued three walks, was never in serious trouble. I thought he could have gone farther, but it wasn't a bad idea to be careful with the 24-year-old righthander, who appears to have solidified his spot in the Cubs' rotation. The game which started so slowly wound up as the fifth-quickest of 2014, two hours and 35 minutes of solidly-played baseball by the home team.
After the second inning the Cubs decided to play long ball. Anthony Rizzo led off the third with his 24th home run, which gave him both a career high and the National League lead. Not satisfied with that, he added his 25th in the seventh, back-to-back with Alcantara's second of the year. I know you'd like to see all of these, and thanks to BCBer ubercubsfan, you can!
Granted that the San Diego Padres are, at this juncture, due to injuries, not a very good team (they have scored just 23 total runs in their last 10 games). Their lineup Tuesday night didn't even look like a spring-training split-squad lineup, it was more like a bunch of guys claimed off waivers. Their cleanup hitter (Yasmani Grandal) came into the game with a .388 slugging percentage and 21 RBI. Even Edwin Jackson might be able to shut out these guys. (All right, maybe I've gone too far with that comment.)
I've been a Kyle Hendricks fan since spring training. He doesn't have great velocity, but he does throw strikes and seems to have a good game plan. He'll likely never be an "ace," but he certainly could be a strong No. 3 starter on a future Cubs playoff team.
Rizzo, meanwhile, is having a breakout year and establishing himself as one of the game's premier power hitters. With 25 home runs in 98 team games (he's played 97), he's now on pace for 41. As I have mentioned here previously, only one lefthanded hitter in all of Cubs history has had a 40-homer season (Billy Williams, 42 in 1970). Let's take a look at some of his home-run splits for this year:
10 at home in 157 at-bats, 15 on the road in 203 at-bats
17 vs. RHP in 264 at-bats, eight vs. LHP in 96 at-bats
And, eight in 69 at-bats in July (with nine July games remaining)
That's about as good as you can be. It appears that the Rizzo deal, which sent Andrew Cashner (currently on the DL) to the Padres is a big win for the Cubs.
A couple of other notes on this win that broke a five-game losing streak: Bonifacio went 2-for-5, likely impressing scouts who were there to watch him. Not so impressive: his third-inning error on a routine ground ball. Ruggiano went 2-for-3 with two RBI, but appeared to be running awkwardly rounding third and scoring on a seventh-inning double by Welington Castillo (who also had two hits). There's been no word on whether Ruggiano is injured or not, but he did leave the game in favor of Nate Schierholtz after that, likely as a precaution if nothing else.
There has been word on the upcoming roster move to make room for Tsuyoshi Wada, who will be recalled from Triple-A Iowa to start Wednesday night's game:
While Olt was leading all rookies with 12 home runs, he also had struck out a horrifying 84 times in 187 at-bats, including three Tuesday night. Two of those K's came against Stults, a lefthander he should have been able to hit hard, especially with the wind blowing out. Olt has talent but appears completely lost at the plate. Perhaps a few weeks in Triple-A working with Manny Ramirez will help him get straightened out.
With that move, the Cubs go back to a 13-man pitching staff (sigh). In reality, they might need such a staff for a while, given the inexperience of the current starting rotation.
On the other hand, if they keep having outings like the one Hendricks gave them Tuesday evening, the bullpen's not going to have to do much. Well done, Kyle, here's hoping for many more of those in the future.
Wednesday, as noted, Wada makes his second Cubs start (and first Wrigley outing) against the Padres' Ian Kennedy.