After waiting through a ridiculous four-hour rain delay Saturday, April 25 only to have the game rained out, the Cubs and Reds met on a brilliantly sunny Sunday. Jake Arrieta threw six innings and gave up two runs, and in a couple months' time that would be seen as a mediocre outing from him.
But on this day, it was good enough for the Cubs to win their second straight over the Reds. They ended the day 10-7, in a virtual tie for second place with the 11-8 Pirates, two games behind the Cardinals.
As most of you know, I've been spending the last week or so in San Francisco with my dad, and spent much of Sunday flying back to Chicago. The flight happened to be scheduled during Sunday's 5-2 Cubs win over the Reds, so in order to get this recap to you before the plane landed at O'Hare, I decided to use the in-flight wifi to keep track of the game and write this recap.
This isn't something I would recommend and I'm glad I don't have to do it often, because sitting in a cramped airplane seat with wifi that isn't fast enough to watch live video (I watched the first four innings at SFO airport and kept track of the rest on Gameday) is not the most pleasant experience. I know, #firstworldproblems, right?
Nevertheless, I persevere, and certainly this game was well worth it from every standpoint. Saturday's miserable weather cleared out of Cincinnati and brilliant sunshine greeted the two teams. Then Miguel Montero greeted Anthony DeSclafani with a second-inning home run, the 100th of his big-league career. With all the good hitters on this team, you wouldn't necessarily expect that 17 games into the season, Montero and Chris Coghlan would be the team leaders in homers with three each. More homers will come, I'm sure.
Jake Arrieta started out this game like several last year and I had the fleeting thought that he might take a perfect game or no-hitter into the late innings. It didn't get that far but Arrieta was sharp in retiring the first 11 hitters he faced before Todd Frazier broke it up with a home run. Arrieta was a little less sharp in the fifth, issuing some walks and hits that resulted in another Cincinnati run. Still, his six-inning outing was solid and, so far at least, he's been the most consistent Cubs pitcher this year.
The Cubs broke the game open with a four-run fourth that included a second hit and RBI from Montero. The big hit in the inning, though, was a bases-clearing double to right-center by Addison Russell that hit high off the wall and didn't miss by much being a grand slam. At times, Russell still looks overmatched against big-league pitching but it's hitting like that -- power to the opposite field -- that gives you a hint of how good Russell is going to be, if not now, then certainly later.
Also in that fourth inning, Anthony Rizzo stole a base after leading off the frame with a walk. That's his fifth without being caught this year. Only four National League players have more than five: Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Ben Revere and Nori Aoki. I don't think you'd put Rizzo in the speed category with any of those guys, but Joe Maddon loves aggressive baserunning and Rizzo has obviously been picking his spots well. One more steal will tie Rizzo's career high for an entire season. If he continues to run at opportune times, I could see him stealing 20 bases this year.
To give you an idea of how rare that is, only one Cubs first baseman has stolen 20 bases in a season in the last 96 years -- Dee Fondy, who had 20 in 1954. Before that you have to go back to Fred Merkle, who had 20 in 1919. And it's not that common, period: the last first baseman to steal 20 bases in a season was Derrek Lee, when he was with the Marlins in 2003. There have been only 33 such seasons by anyone in the last 50 years. You go, Rizzo.
Starlin Castro made a web-gem of a play on Brennan Boesch in the sixth. If you missed it, click here to watch it. Credit where credit is due.
One advantage of Saturday's rainout was a well-rested bullpen. Zac Rosscup threw a scoreless seventh. Pedro Strop had a 1-2-3 eighth, and Hector Rondon finished up for his fourth save.
The Cubs are 10-7, three games over .500. That's the first time since 2008 they've been that far over .500 this far into the season. Baby steps, as I've been saying, but this team is getting contributions from just about everyone on the 25-man roster. That's a credit to Joe Maddon, I think, who insists on every one of his players being ready to play every day.
Thus the Cubs wind up with a two-game sweep of this series that was abbreviated by the rainout, and have a very successful 4-2 road trip. They come home to open a three-game set with the Pirates (what, again already?) at Wrigley Field Monday evening. The rotation has been flipped a bit to allow Jason Hammel to start on normal rest, so he'll take the mound for the series opener against Pittsburgh's Vance Worley.