I admit -- and if you're honest, you will too -- that I was not thrilled about the idea of Clayton Richard starting Sunday's game. The Cubs could have used Travis Wood, I thought, and not done all these confusing roster moves (which included the DFA of Taylor Teagarden before Sunday's game, leaving the Cubs with a three-man bench).
Richard responded to the opportunity by throwing his best start since the Cubs acquired him, six innings of five-hit ball with no walks and just one run allowed, helping the Cubs to a 4-3 win over the Brewers, completing a four-game sweep. It was the first four-game sweep in Miller Park since 2008, and their first four-game sweep of any kind on the road since they swept the Pirates in a four-game set at PNC Park in 2011. Which, coincidentally, is where the Cubs go next for a key series in the wild-card chase.
This just wouldn't be the Cubs if we didn't have something to be worried about. Kris Bryant tried to take second base after an RBI single in the fifth inning, and was tagged a little too late by Jean Segura; he was called safe and the call was upheld on review. It looked like Bryant's head hit something on Segura's body as he came up from the slide in an awkward way. He stood on the field for a while being examined by the team trainer while the review was going on, and then left the game, replaced by Jonathan Herrera. Here is the whole sequence so you can have another look, or first look if you missed the game:
Maybe it's nothing, just shaken up and woozy, removed for a precaution. Or maybe he's got a concussion, which would be very, very bad. Guess we'll just have to wait and find out.
Joe Maddon lost a challenge earlier, on this close play at first base in the third inning:
Maddon probably shouldn't have bothered with this one, as Anthony Rizzo's foot was clearly off the base when he caught the ball. Joe then seemed to confront umpire Hunter Wendelstedt and was tossed. Bad idea, Joe; you can't argue after reviews, that's kind of the point. On the other hand, Wendelstedt seemed somewhat confrontational and that shouldn't happen either.
Back to Richard, who helped himself with the bat, hitting an RBI double off Kyle Lohse: He'll be designated for assignment later today, and the Cubs will add a bat for the Pirates series, likely Matt Szczur. Based on various beat writer tweets earlier Sunday, Miguel Montero is headed for a three-game rehab assignment at Double-A Tennessee and then should re-join the Cubs at Wrigley Field for the series against the Giants that begins Thursday. Richard will probably be let go if another team offers him a spot in their major-league rotation, which is certainly possible. If not, he'll likely accept another outright assignment to Triple-A Iowa. He could be a useful addition to the bullpen in September, and before today, I never thought I'd write those words.
Addison Russell homered, his seventh, and since the All-Star break he is now hitting .286/.333/.411 (16-for-56) with two doubles, two home runs and four walks. I like the way he's approaching at-bats and his fielding is still outstanding. Speaking of which, Starlin Castro made a couple of nice plays in the field Sunday, including a stop that would have been a fantastic throw-out if Rizzo had been able to keep his foot on the bag in the reviewed play where Maddon got ejected.
James Russell, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (16th save) finished up. It got to be nervous time when Rondon was touched for a couple of runs in the ninth, one of them unearned after an error by Castro, but even so, the Cubs outscored the Brewers in the series 17-8. Rondon threw 29 pitches so he might not be available tomorrow, after throwing three of the last four games. The earned run was just the second Rondon had allowed in his last 22 appearances.
The win, the Cubs' fifth straight, moved them to 10 games over .500, their high point of the season and the most any Cubs team has been over .500 since the 2008 club finished 33 games over (97-64) in the best season the Cubs had had in nearly 75 years (1935, 100 wins). This year's team has a shot at 90 victories, as the current .548 winning percentage would put them at 89 wins. The win Sunday was also the 30th win on the road (in 53 tries). Last year the Cubs won 32 road games all season, so this is a significant improvement.
And now, on to a week's worth of play against the Cubs' two nearest opponents for the wild card, the Pirates (who lead the Cubs by 3½ games) and the Giants. The Rangers held on to beat the Giants 2-1 Sunday, so the Cubs and Giants are now tied for the second wild-card spot, both 57-47.
And isn't this the way we dreamed it? It's been a long time since the Cubs were playing meaningful, playoff-implication games against teams they are trying to beat out for a playoff spot at this time of year. This ought to be a fun, exciting, yes, nervous week for all of us. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Jon Lester opens the series in Pittsburgh Monday night against Francisco Liriano. It ought to be fun.