Saturday evening's 6-3 Cubs win over the White Sox, their ninth consecutive victory, was a sloppy mess.
Jake Arrieta struggled a bit with command, and also in the field. He made two outstanding stops on sharply-hit ground balls that looked headed up the middle for hits. The first one, he threw away toward the tarp down the right-field line. That eventually led to the first run of the game. Two innings later, the almost-identical second stop resulted in Arrieta running right at Avisail Garcia, who was on third base. That's exactly the right thing to do, but when Garcia was apparently tagged out, caught in a rundown, Kris Bryant dropped the ball. Fortunately, Arrieta recovered and struck out the next two hitters to end the inning.
Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler had tied the game for the Cubs in the third inning with back-to-back doubles, and another double by Russell in the fifth led to the Cubs taking the lead for good. With two out, the Sox had Fowler intentionally walked. That just motivated Kyle Schwarber, who was up next:
"I don't take any of that stuff personally," Schwarber said. "It's a smart decision, I guess — not face the righty, go after the lefty. It just gets a little fire under you and wants to make you have success a little more."
Note Schwarber's use of the word "fire" in that quote. So many times, I've heard people say teams need "fire" and when they do they're usually referring to someone yelling and screaming, or starting brawls. What Schwarber is referring to is exactly the kind of "fire" that helps teams win. It's internal. It's something that motivates the player to succeed.
And Schwarber did exactly that, and without yelling or screaming, just with quiet determination, singling in Russell to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. I didn't quite understand why he then tried to steal second with two out and Kris Bryant at bat; Schwarber was thrown out easily, and in a game where runs didn't seem to be coming quickly, I thought it might backfire.
But the Cubs added a run in the sixth when the Sox decided to stop playing defense. A routine fly ball to center field hit by Anthony Rizzo appeared to confuse Adam Eaton, who turned the wrong way a couple of times; Melky Cabrera came from left field to help, but the ball dropped untouched between them for a double. Jorge Soler singled Rizzo in for a 3-1 lead.
Then came the seventh inning, which included:
- About 40 minutes' worth of playing time
- Two White Sox pitching changes
- Four Cubs hits, a walk and a throwing error by Alexei Ramirez
- Sox manager Robin Ventura being ejected by plate umpire Joe West
All of that resulted in a three-run Cubs rally that put the game away. Arrieta nearly finished the seventh, but after a two-out double by Tyler Saladino, Joe Maddon lifted him for Justin Grimm. Grimm gave up a run-scoring single to Jose Abreu, but then struck out Garcia to end the threat. Arrieta threw 105 pitches but never really had command, even though Saladino's double was only the third ball hit out of the infield against Jake. For whatever individual pitcher "wins" are worth, this one was Arrieta's 14th, the most for a Cub since 2010 when Ryan Dempster won 15. With 10 starts likely remaining for Jake, he has a very good chance at a 20-win season.
There was actually some good defense played among the throwing errors and dropped balls. Saladino caught a screaming line drive hit by Chris Denorfia to end the second inning, and Starlin Castro played an errorless second base, with eight assists and a nice catch of an Abreu liner in the fifth, which resulted in an inning-ending double play.
Hector Rondon was summoned for the second straight game to close things out, and after retiring the first two Sox hitters on easy ground balls, he walked Eaton. That forced him to throw more pitches than he otherwise might have liked; he struck out Saladino to end the game and his 21st save, but let's hope his 18-pitch outing doesn't make him unavailable for Sunday afternoon. The save was the 50th of Rondon's career, making him the 11th pitcher in Cubs history to record that many saves. Next on the list: Mitch Williams with 52.
Now, let's talk about the wisdom of the Sox scheduling a Cubs/Sox game on a Saturday night. Which is to say: it's not a good idea. Despite the near-sellout crowd, the Sox simply did not have enough gameday employees or security around. No one checked tickets in my section, which resulted in multiple groups of fans that did not belong there sitting down in front of me, then forced to get up when the real ticketholders showed up. There were at least two fights in the left-field stands, and at one point someone threw a beer bottle in the general direction of Schwarber. That fan was quickly ejected, and:
#Cubs Ross: "I'll tell you what, I'd hate to wrap up with Kyle Schwarber. Whoever threw that beer doesn't want no part of Kyle Schwarber"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 16, 2015
I saw yet another fight on one of the bridges over 35th Street on the way to the parking lot after the game. The Sox should probably have scheduled this series as a Friday night game, Saturday at 3:10 and Sunday at 1:10, which would be better scheduling for the players, too. And the Sox need to hire more gameday personnel when they're expecting a full house.
Nine consecutive wins. 15 of their last 16. 16 of their last 18. Only one other Cubs team has gone 16-2 over an 18-game stretch since 1945: the 2001 club did that from May 19 through June 9. Part of that stretch included a 12-game winning streak. The Cubs have not won more than nine games in a row since that 12-game streak in 2001, and they have a chance to do so Sunday afternoon in the series finale. It will not be easy, as Sox ace Chris Sale will face Dan Haren.
Finally, in case anyone here cares about the Crosstown Cup, the winner of Sunday's game will get it. Either the Cubs win it outright by taking the game, or if the Sox win they get it, as the season series would then be tied and in that case, the winner of the final game gets the Cup.
The Cubs have more important things to think about as they remained 1½ games behind the Pirates and 7½ games behind the Cardinals, since both those teams also won Saturday.
Just win. It's a great time to be a Cubs fan.