I'm sure you're concerned about the health status of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. I'll get to that, but first let's talk about the Cubs' 7-1 win over the Brewers, their second straight victory over what's supposed to be a contender and that contender's seventh consecutive defeat.
The Cubs scored four runs in a bizarre first inning in which Yovani Gallardo, who often handles the Cubs with ease, gave up a walk and three straight singles, scoring two runs. Then Brewers backup shortstop Elian Herrera made errors on consecutive plays, equal-opportunity errors, one a booted grounder, the other a potential double-play relay thrown away, scoring two more.
That was more than enough for the Cubs to win this game, as it turned out, but the second of the four runs, driven in by Jorge Soler's single (Slacker! No extra-base hits in this game! I'm joking!), could be cause for concern. Starlin Castro scored without a play, but made an awkward slide into the plate and was on the ground for a couple of minutes before walking off under his own power, but aided by coaches and trainers. Here's what we know now about Castro:
#Cubs Castro left w/sprained left ankle. He's being evaluated. Initial tests have ruled out any fracture— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 3, 2014
#Cubs Castro underwent both MRI and additional X-rays on his left ankle tonight. No update expected until Wed— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 3, 2014
Naturally, Castro, who wants to play all 162 games every year, didn't want to come out, but it was certainly the right thing to do to be cautious with him. If he has to miss some time, it comes in September of a season going nowhere, and will provide more opportunity for Logan Watkins to play second base, with Javier Baez getting more time at shortstop. Baez, incidentally, showed good range at short on several plays Tuesday night.
As far as the rest of this game, Jake Arrieta didn't have his best stuff; he struggled through a 26-pitch first inning and gave up three straight hits in the third that made it 4-1. But he settled down after that and managed to complete six competent innings, lowering his ERA to 2.81... which would be seventh in the National League if he had enough innings to qualify. He's 4⅔ innings short, and with the Cubs going to a six-man rotation for the rest of the year, Arrieta is likely to get only four more starts. He'd have to throw 27⅔ innings in those four starts to qualify... possible, but unlikely.
The other Cubs scoring was accomplished in the fifth inning off Gallardo, who seemed to be "taking one for the team" -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke left Gallardo in to take quite a pounding in that inning, doubles by Luis Valbuena and Welington Castillo scoring one run and a homer from Arismendy Alcantara, his eighth, completing the Cubs scoring for the night.
That's when Roenicke's managing got strange. Sure, his team is down by six runs, and it's not likely they're coming back, but in a pennant race, wouldn't you want your regulars to give it a shot? Instead, Roenicke emptied his bench, using four straight pinch-hitters (including one, Jason Rogers, making his major-league debut) in the seventh and then lifting Ryan Braun for a pinch-hitter leading off the eighth. You'd have thought Ned Yost was still managing the Brewers.
The Cubs used Wesley Wright, Brian Schlitter and Kyuji Fujikawa (three combined innings, three hits and two walks allowed) to finish off the win; Arodys Vizcaino had been warming up for a time in the eighth and it looked like he'd make his Cubs debut in the ninth, but Fujikawa, who struggled a bit before striking out Rickie Weeks to end the game, was called on instead.
So the Cubs move over .500 against the Brewers (8-7 for the year) with this win. They have four games remaining with Milwaukee and if they can win two of them, they'll have a winning record against the Brewers for the first time since 2010 (16-36 overall from 2011-13). They also dropped the Brewers two games out of first place for the first time all year, unfortunately to the benefit of the Cardinals. And, since the Cubs dropped to a season-low 14 games under .500 back in May with this loss to the Brewers on a miserably cold Friday at Wrigley Field, they are now 50-49. That's an impressive stretch of work.
Now, about Rizzo:
MRI on #Cubs Rizzo reveals mild low back strain. Not shut down for season— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 2, 2014
There's no timetable for him to come back, but again, if he has to be shut down for the year and come back strong in 2015, that's all right too -- especially considering the team is doing all right in his absence. There's a chance the Cubs could get one more player to help while Rizzo is out:
#Cubs The says Olt could rehab with Kane County and then join team. Ended year with Iowa with hamstring injury— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 2, 2014
"The" in that tweet must mean "Theo," and though Mike Olt's performance had many rough spots while he was with the team most of the season, it might give him another chance to show he can play at the big-league level. In any case, Olt is a better defensive first baseman than Chris Valaika.
With Tuesday's win, the Cubs moved over .500 at home for the year (34-33). That's significant because they have not had a winning season at Wrigley Field since 2009, and would take simply a split of the remaining 14 home games to do so, yet another positive milestone on the road back to contention. They have swept two home series this year, over the Mets in early June and the Orioles last month, and now have a chance to do that again with Kyle Hendricks facing ex-Cub Matt Garza at 7:05 CT. That ought to be an interesting matchup. (Bunt! Bunt!)