The Cubs, after sweeping the playoff-contending Giants, turned their attention to a "lesser" club, the Brewers, who they had just swept in a four-game set in Milwaukee a couple of weeks earlier.
That kept on going with this win, the Cubs' 11th in their last 12, which moved the Cubs to 63-48. They picked up a game on the Pirates in the wild-card standings and trailed them by 2½ games. They were 8½ games behind the Cardinals after this win, and remained 3½ games ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
8th consecutive game in which @Cubs have knocked out opposing starter before end of 6th— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) August 12, 2015
This means the Cubs offense is pounding pitchers early and often, and again Tuesday night they made a starter throw a colossal number of pitches. After a 1-2-3 first, the Cubs scored three in the second inning, using three straight hits and a pair of errors, as well as a sacrifice fly. Cubs pitcher Dan Haren got in on the fun with a bunt that scored a run when Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy couldn't handle a throw. Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell all had hits in that inning, and then Taylor Jungmann completely lost command and control in the third, when he walked three surrounding a couple of outs and an Anthony Rizzo double. That inning was helped along by a video-review reversal; Chris Coghlan had been called out trying to steal second, but Jungmann threw 81 pitches and recorded eight outs; by the time he left the Cubs had a 4-0 lead.
The Cubs continued the offensive parade against Tyler Thornburg in the third, with three more walks and Soler being nicked by a pitch with the bases loaded. Both the runs scored in that inning came home without a hit, as a bases-loaded walk to Rizzo scored the other one. The Cubs' efficiency brought home six runs on only seven hits, but seven walks helped add to that total. Thornburg managed to record only four outs while throwing 43 pitches. In all, Brewers pitchers threw 186 pitches Tuesday evening -- in only eight innings!
The seven walks brought the Cubs' season total to 386, or 3.477 per game, which puts them on pace for 563 walks this year. That wouldn't be a team record (that's 650, set in 1975) but it would be their highest total since 2008 and over 120 more than last year, a credit to the patience that's become a hallmark of this team. They're second in the major leagues in walks this year, just three behind the Dodgers for the top spot. The team on-base percentage of .318 ranks 14th, in the middle of the pack, but it's above the league average of .314 and a significant improvement over last year's .300 team OBP.
Meanwhile, "I Throw 88" Haren (and that's not making fun of him, that is his actual Twitter handle) was baffling Brewers hitters with his not-so-great fastball, some offspeed stuff, and excellent location. He gave up a run in the fourth on a pair of doubles and then in the sixth made his only real mistake, grooving one to Adam Lind after issuing a walk. The two-run homer made it 6-3 and one batter later, Haren was lifted to a warm ovation.
The bullpen took over and did an excellent job. Travis Wood, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and James Russell (first save since June 16, 2014 -- and that was in a 13-inning game) threw 3⅔ scoreless innings, allowing just two singles. I liked Maddon's use of Russell to give Hector Rondon another day of rest, and was especially pleased to see that Maddon didn't reflexively bring in Jason Motte, who was warming up, just because righthanded hitters were coming to bat.
Now, some praise for Starlin Castro, who came into the game replacing Coghlan at second base in the sixth. It was the first time in Castro's big-league career that he had played anywhere but shortstop, and the first time he'd played second at all since he had a few games there in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. Castro made a nice diving stop on a ground ball by Logan Schafer in the seventh, but could not recover in time to throw him out (few second basemen could have), and then making this outstanding play (no embed code available, click on the link) on a popup into the Brewers bullpen. You are likely going to see Castro start there this weekend:
"To make that (catch) in the bullpen, with the (stuff) on the ground, and guys flying all over the place and there's no room left, it's at night, it's different," said manager Joe Maddon, who plans to start Castro at second this weekend against at least one of the White Sox's left-handers — Jose Quintana or Chris Sale.
I think we'd all like to see Castro succeed, for his own sake and for the sake of the team. He is hitting slightly better (.247 BA, 19-for-77) this year vs. LHP than against RHP (.233, 78-for-335).
Credit where credit is due: there were also a couple of fine defensive plays by Bryant at third base Tuesday evening, snagging line drives that appeared headed for left field.
The win was not only the Cubs' fifth straight, but 11th in their last 12 games and 12th in the last 14. Coupled with the Cardinals' win over the Pirates, the Cubs now trail Pittsburgh for the top wild-card spot by just 2½ games. They maintained a 3½-game lead over the Giants for the second wild card, as the Giants also won, and the Nationals, next on that list, dropped to 5½ games behind the Cubs after a loss to the Dodgers.
Really, things couldn't have been better at Wrigley Tuesday evening. The weather was perfect (temperatures in the 70s, light winds, clear skies), the crowd was into the game and the Cubs executed pretty much every time they needed to.
Keep it going, please. Jason Hammel faces Matt Garza as the Cubs go for their second six-game winning streak in the last two weeks, Wednesday evening at 7:05 CT.