The Cubs got an important hit from an unlikely source in this game. You might not remember much of what Ryan Kalish did for the Cubs in 2016 (seven games, 2-for-7), but one of those hits was really important. He’ll get a ring and a partial World Series share.
This was the Cubs’ sixth win in a row. They were 23-6 and in first place in the N.L. Central by 7½ games.
I'm beginning to believe this team can do anything.
On a day when the starting pitcher struggled, the middle relief wasn't good and the offense couldn't get rolling early, the Cubs came from behind twice and broke a 5-5 tie with a two-run double from Addison Russell and held on for an 8-5 win over the Nationals, their sixth straight victory.
There was a tremendous amount of stuff happening in this three-hour, 32-minute game that didn't drag at any time. Let me try to sum everything up and I hope I don't leave anything important out!
Jason Hammel was touched up for a run in the third inning on a double by Ben Revere followed by a sac bunt and a sac fly. The Cubs got it right back on a single by Tim Federowicz and a triple by Dexter Fowler. They took the lead in the fourth thanks to Kris Bryant:
About that home run: the wind was blowing in at 23 miles per hour at game time, with higher gusts. That was a tremendous shot that landed three-quarters of the way up the left-center field bleachers. On any other day, that ball hits the video board. Bryant just crushed it -- and just one pitch after Gio Gonzalez made him look real bad on a changeup. Another factoid about Bryant and home runs:
Kris Bryant career HR: 24 at Wrigley, 7 on road.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 7, 2016
It will even out, but still crazy. #Cubs
But Jason Hammel couldn't hold the lead, giving up a pair of runs in the fifth that made it 3-2 Nats. Hammel struggled with command and control, walking four and throwing only 57 strikes in 97 pitches. The bullpen made it worse in the sixth; Spencer Patton's Cubs debut was, shall we say, less than stellar. He faced two batters, walked the first and then gave up a long double to Stephen Drew, who came into the game hitting .100 (3-for-30) this year. Patton was replaced by Clayton Richard, who got Jose Lobaton to ground to first, putting the lead runner on third base with one out. That brought up Gonzalez, and frankly I was surprised Dusty didn't pinch-hit for him. Gonzalez attempted a bunt, and the Cubs pulled off this slick double play:
That's superb defensive work by Federowicz and Bryant. That left the score 4-2 Nats entering the last of the sixth, and the Cubs offense went to work. Anthony Rizzo singled with one out, Ben Zobrist moved him to second with a bunt and Jorge Soler put Rizzo on third with a single. Russell singled in a run and Federowicz drew a walk to load the bases.
That brought up Ryan Kalish, who flared a two-run single just barely out of the reach of Danny Espinosa:
Ryan Kalish. Who was out of baseball last year, and who was at Triple-A Iowa when this week started, here only because of an injury to Matt Szczur. Everyone contributes on this team. That's validation for the hard work Kalish has put in to get back to the big leagues. I'm really happy for him.
That gave the Cubs a 5-4 lead, but Travis Wood, brought in to face the lefthanded Revere, let Revere slice a triple into the left-field corner. Adam Warren struck out Espinosa, intentionally passed Bryce Harper (the seventh time he had walked in this series) and then on a very close play, Ryan Zimmerman beat a double-play relay:
That allowed Revere to score and tie the game. It sort of felt like extra innings were in the cards for this one, but the Cubs' offense got going again in the last of the seventh.
After Bryant walked, Rizzo sliced a double that bounced into the seats in the left-field corner. For a while, that seemed significant, as Bryant would easily have scored. Instead, he had to stop at third. Zobrist was intentionally walked, and David Ross nearly flared a single into right, but Drew caught it. That brought up Russell:
You can see that even though the ball landed in foul territory, it went off Harper's glove while still a fair ball. Dusty challenged, but it was clearly fair, and the Cubs had two runs and a 7-5 lead. They added one more in the eighth on a bases-loaded RBI single by Zobrist. If one more hitter had gotten on base in that inning, Kyle Hendricks was on deck to bat for Pedro Strop, since the Cubs had used up all their bench players starting in the sixth, when Tommy La Stella batted for Federowicz. It was the right thing to do. Joe Maddon was getting the guys up there who needed to be up there in game situations in the middle innings.
Strop had came in to throw the eighth after it appeared (to me, anyway) that he hadn't spent much time warming up. Whether he did or not, it didn't affect his performance as he struck out the side. Hector Rondon (sixth save) finished up, and the Cubs had won a game that easily could have been in the "L" column.
Every day, I'm amazed at what this Cubs team can do. It doesn't seem to matter whether they go behind, doesn't seem to matter who struggles, someone else picks up the slack and gets a key hit, drives in key runs, makes an important defensive play. Obviously, this is how championship-caliber teams win, and this team... man, I just can't say enough about how enjoyable every single game of this year has been. Even most of the losses -- just two of them have been one-sided.
I mentioned the wind before. Bryant's homer slicing through it was pretty amazing. By the end of the afternoon it had died down a bit and Sunday's forecast is for gorgeous weather (sunny, upper 60s). Many of the crowd Saturday cleared out early, in part because of the chill (it must have been brutally cold in the upper deck), in part because of the length of the game. Those of us who stayed were entertained all the way to the end.
Cubs walk watch: seven more walks brought the season total to 153, or 5.28 per game. Pace: 855.
The Pirates' loss to the Cardinals Saturday afternoon means the Cubs' division lead is now 7½ games. They remain eight in front of St. Louis.
Sunday, the Cubs go for a four-game sweep behind Jake Arrieta. He'll face Tanner Roark. A sweep? Sure, why not? After all, it feels like this team can do anything.