And the biggest reasons they won this game were two players who should play significant roles for the Cubs as they try to claw their way back into contention over the next few years: Kyle Hendricks and Javier Baez.
You all know how much I've been touting Hendricks since spring training. Sure, it's still a small sample size of starts (five), but Hendricks has pitched well in nearly every kind of conditions (wind blowing in at Wrigley, now at Coors Field). Thursday afternoon, he continued doing what he's been doing: mixing up his pitches, changing speeds, pounding the strike zone (71 strikes in 107 pitches) and keeping the ball down. He's proving, I believe, that pitching smarts can help you win even without overwhelming stuff. Hendricks walked just one Rockie while striking out four, and kept the ball in the ballpark (among the six hits he allowed: four singles, two doubles).
He also laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that helped lead to a run in the third inning, a run driven in by... Javier Baez, who had his first non-home run hit with an RBI single to left. Not content with that, Baez slammed his second homer of the season on a pitch that looked as if it were almost in on his hands. That was an incredible whip of the bat around, showing off his bat speed, which is faster than almost anyone I can think of in the major leagues today, exactly the kind of bat speed he's shown the last couple of spring trainings. Here, have a look, courtesy of BCBer ubercubsfan:
Baez added to his growing list of bombs with another opposite-field shot in the eighth inning with Chris Coghlan on base. So in three games, Baez is 4-for-14 (.286) with three home runs, five RBI, three runs scored and three strikeouts, all in the first of the three-game set. Here's Baez' second homer of the game:
Starlin Castro went back-to-back with Baez in the sixth inning to make the score 4-1 Cubs, almost to the same spot as the Baez blast:
Although Hendricks gave up another run in the bottom of the inning, he never seemed in any sort of real trouble in cruising to an eight-inning outing. Personally? I think I'd have given him a shot at finishing it despite his pitch count. I realize the complete game is becoming a thing of the past (the last Cubs CG was nearly a year and 150 games ago; Jeff Samardzija threw it at Wrigley Field against the Nationals, August 19, 2013). It did seem a little silly to bring in Wesley Wright to face one batter with a four-run lead and then do the "WE MUST NOT LET HIM FACE A RIGHTHANDED HITTER" move by bringing in Justin Grimm. Totally disrupts the rhythm of the game, in my view. Even with all that, Wright and Grimm finished up the game without incident, and after a 39-minute rain delay, the game went quickly: two hours, 29 minutes, the third-fastest Cubs game this year. (You know I liked that!)
In case you were wondering, no Cubs pitcher has ever thrown a complete game at Coors Field. The last Cub to throw a CG against the Rockies in Denver was Jim Bullinger, who did it at Mile High Stadium, the Rockies' first home, July 18, 1994, the year before Coors Field opened.
This was also the Cubs' first series win in Denver since they swept a three-game set there almost exactly 10 years ago: August 3-5, 2004.
Now the real fun starts: Baez brings his bat and, presumably, at least a little bit of hype to Wrigley Field as the Cubs open a seven-game homestand Friday afternoon. The Cubs have 29 home games remaining, so there's still plenty of opportunity for Baez to attack Waveland Avenue. I'm thinking there might be a certain ballhawk (and many others) on Waveland for batting practice before the game against the Rays. Tsuyoshi Wada will take the mound for the Cubs, and his opponent, Chris Archer... well, I think you've heard of him. Game time Friday is 3:05 p.m. CT; the game preview will post at 1 p.m. CT.
Gotta say, it's been a lot more fun to write game recaps for the last week or so.