The Cubs' bullpen came up big-time in this win, especially after Jason Hammel got himself into a sixth-inning jam with the score 3-1 Cubs.
The Cubs still could not gain any ground on the Cardinals. They were 55-47 and still 10½ games behind St. Louis. They also remained five games behind the Pirates but picked up a game on the Giants for the second wild-card spot and after this game were just one game behind San Francisco.
The Cubs defeated the Brewers 4-1 at Miller Park Friday night and while a win by a three-run margin isn't what we might call a "laugher," the Cubs were in almost total command of this game, with the exception of Ryan Braun's first-inning home run off Jason Hammel.
Beyond that, Hammel allowed just five other hits and a pair of walks; he had to be removed with two out in the sixth after those two walks then put the tying run on base. Justin Grimm then struck out Jean Segura to end the threat, and all told the Cubs bullpen threw 3⅓ very good innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out four.
Hector Rondon finished up with a 10-pitch ninth for his 15th save and third in the last three games. While you might say his temporary demotion from closer could have helped him get back to his form of last year, I'm glad that Joe Maddon appears to have put him back in that role. Overall Rondon is having an even better year than he had in 2014. Since he blew a save in Arizona May 22, Rondon has allowed just one earned run in 29 appearances covering 28 innings (0.32 ERA) with just 14 hits and six walks (0.714 WHIP) and no home runs. The fact that Rondon is usually very efficient with pitches in his saves means that going three days in a row wasn't likely too taxing on him, although I'd think Maddon would prefer not to use him tonight, if possible.
Jason Motte and Pedro Strop also looked good Friday night, and the addition of Tommy Hunter to the bullpen (expected tonight) will only help the Cubs hold late-inning leads.
The Cubs' offense was good enough Friday night, not spectacular, but they did get the job done. They tied the game on a walk and a pair of singles, the latter an RBI hit by Starlin Castro. Castro also drove in another run later on a fielder's choice. The Cubs were 3-for-12 with RISP, which isn't great, but it was enough on this night when the pitching was so good. They left the bases loaded in the fifth inning, a bit of cause for concern with the score only 2-1 at the time.
After that they added a run on an Addison Russell single in the sixth, and then Anthony Rizzo homered for the third consecutive game, a towering shot into the first row in right field. Rizzo is 6-for-11 with a double and three home runs over those three games, hopefully out of the slump he's been in since the All-Star break.
If you were following Hammel after he was traded to the Athletics last summer, you know that he went through a rough patch in his first few starts there, similar to the rough month of July he's had this year for the Cubs. But Hammel recovered to post a 2.49 ERA in nine starts in August and September 2014, and though we have just now turned the calendar to August 2014, perhaps Friday night's start is the beginning of a strong finish for him.
Credit where credit is due: Chris Coghlan, who has been criticized at times for his defense, made two fine catches in left field to help preserve the lead.
For the second straight night, there were apparent transmission problems for the Cubs TV feed from Miller Park. The same thing appeared to happen both nights, and the Thursday game was on CSN Chicago, so the issue would appear to be something at Miller Park, not from the channel carrying the game. The telecast was fine for about the first hour, then cut in and out for about an hour, then was fine again for the end of the game. That led to this Friday night tweet from WGN-TV:
Cubs fans - we are working on trying to get this fixed. Thank you for your patience & those of you with the non-profane tweets.— WGNTV (@WGNTV) August 1, 2015
I hope none of those profane tweets came from anyone here. I mean, does anyone really think WGN-TV was doing that intentionally?
The win, coupled with the Giants' loss at Texas, moved the Cubs back to within one game of the second wild-card spot. It also completed July with a 15-12 record for the Cubs, their best mark in a calendar month since April. It also brought them to eight games over .500 at 55-47, their best since they were nine over at 46-37 after sweeping the Cardinals in the July 7 doubleheader at Wrigley. Nine games over is also the high-water mark of the season, which they'll try to match Saturday night as they go for their fourth straight win. Kyle Hendricks will pitch against our old friend, ex-Cub Matt Garza.