If you have wondered what baseball was like during the pitchers' era from 1963-68, when the strike zone was enlarged and pitchers frequently posted ERAs under 2.00 and shutouts were frequent, Sunday's 2-0 Cubs win over the Marlins was a game much like many of those in that era.
Solid pitching. Not much hitting, but enough timely hits to produce a win.
And, a very 1960s-like game time of two hours, 18 minutes, which tied for the second-shortest Cubs game this year, and since both the others (May 21 at San Diego and June 19 at Minnesota) were on the road, it was the quickest contest played at Wrigley Field this year. In fact, it's been almost two years since there was a game played in 2:18 or shorter at Wrigley. The last one was August 19, 2013 against the Nationals and if you click on that link, I'm sure you'll agree that Sunday's result was far preferable.
Kyle Hendricks was outstanding for the second straight start. For a time it looked like Joe Maddon might let him stay in the ballgame and finish, as he did May 21 in San Diego, since Hendricks had thrown just 83 pitches through seven innings. But when Jeff Mathis hit a one-out single off Hendricks in the eighth, Maddon lifted him, and Hendricks received a loud ovation while Pedro Strop entered. That makes two consecutive scoreless outings for Hendricks and in so doing, he has dropped his ERA in that time from 4.46 to 3.82. He struck out six and at one point retired 11 straight Marlins. Only one Marlin got to second base -- Christian Yelich led off the seventh with Hendricks' only walk and was singled to second, but they were stranded. Hendricks also picked Dee Gordon off first base to end the sixth.
You all know how big a Kyle Hendricks fan I've been all along, and he showed why Sunday afternoon. Without overpowering stuff, he needs command and location and he had both of them in producing his first Wrigley Field victory of 2015. Individual pitcher "wins" don't mean as much as they used to, but I'm sure Hendricks is happy to have this one. Overall the Cubs are 9-7 in games he has started this year. He's evened up his personal W/L record at 4-4.
Meanwhile, Mat Latos was mowing down Cubs after he allowed a first-inning run on a walk, a single and a wild pitch. It looked like the Cubs might start generating some of the offense that was missing after the second inning on Saturday, but they had no hits for six more consecutive innings Sunday, from the second through the seventh, with just two baserunners. Starlin Castro walked in the fourth, and Mike Baxter, playing first base to give Anthony Rizzo the day off, took up Rizzo's role and was hit by a pitch in the fifth. Hendricks tried to bunt him to second, but as has been the case for most Cubs pitchers this year, he failed, bunting into a force play. The Cubs' audio crew also played Rizzo's walk-up music for Baxter's first at-bat.
For a while it looked like the Cubs might win the game with just the one hit (a Kris Bryant single). But they scored an insurance run off Carter Capps in the eighth. Before I describe how they did that, I have to say: Capps' pitching motion simply cannot be legal, even though it's been approved by MLB officials. Here's an article (with GIFs) that explains how this works and why MLB signed off on it, but I still think it's a violation of the rule. Perhaps after this season, this sort of thing will be revisited.
Anyway, coming into this game Capps had been pretty dominant all year. In 22 innings he'd allowed just 11 hits and four walks, and struck out 42 -- that's almost two K's per inning. The Cubs, though, made fairly easy work of him. Chris Denorfia, batting for Strop, doubled to right-center and, two outs later, scored on a Chris Coghlan single. Capps then threw a wild pitch allowing Coghlan to advance and walked Bryant, but struck out Miguel Montero to end the inning.
Give some credit to Cubs scouting, and the hitters, for solving Capps. This was Capps' 20th appearance of the season and it's just the second time he allowed more than two baserunners in any of them.
Jason Motte went 1-2-3 through the Marlins in the ninth for his fourth save, getting Justin Bour on a full-count called third strike to end it. I'll grant that call was a little generous (Bour had started trotting to first base), but the Cubs will take it. Maddon was certainly happy with his pitchers:
#Cubs Maddon called today's game "efficient." Says "You have to pitch better than good pitching. Their guy was good, our guy was good"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 5, 2015
After one of the worst weather Junes in Chicago history, the weather has been gorgeous so far in July. Sunday was the nicest day of the summer, with light breezes off the lake, unlimited (though a bit hazy with Canadian forest-fire smoke still hovering) sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s. That brought out another near-full house and almost no one had left by the time Motte was going for strike three on Bour. Everyone was standing and the energy in the ballpark was something I don't think I've seen since, well, 2008. This team isn't that good, but it's clearly a playoff contender, and over the last six games (five wins), the Cubs have three shutouts and have allowed five total runs. A bit more on that:
#Cubs starting pitchers have 1.08 ERA (5 ER/41 2/3 IP) in last 6 games, and team is 5-1 in those games— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 5, 2015
If the Cubs can continue this strong starting pitching with the Cardinals coming to town to start a four-game series Monday evening, good things can happen. The Cubs will begin Monday 8½ games out of first place and 2½ games behind the Pirates for the first wild-card spot. They will be no worse than 2½ games ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot. The Giants play the Nationals in ESPN's Sunday night game in a few hours.
Finally, the Cubs wind up with a 3-3 season series split with the Marlins and the all-time regular-season series between the two clubs is also even at 89 wins each. That breaks down to 47-46 at Wrigley, 42-43 in Miami.
Former Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey will match up in Monday's series opener against the Cardinals.