You'll forgive me if I was thinking sad thoughts midway through Wednesday's Cubs/White Sox game.
Consider: at the time, the Cubs were continuing the lack of hitting they exhibited on the South Side on Tuesday. Three walks was the sum total of the offense through 5⅓ innings.
Meanwhile, White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo had homered to lead off the fifth inning. That made him the first White Sox pitcher to ever homer off the Cubs (and only the second A.L. pitcher, after the Tigers' Daniel Norris last August). This from a guy who had seven professional at-bats (five strikeouts) before Wednesday's game. Here's another curious note about Ranaudo:
David Ross caught Anthony Ranaudo's MLB Debut 8/1/2014— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 12, 2016
And then, boom! Kris Bryant smashed this home run [VIDEO] off a hanging curveball, deep into the left-field bleachers, with one out in the sixth, tying the game. One inning later, after Jason Heyward drew a two-out walk, it was Javier Baez's turn. His two-run homer [VIDEO] gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
In the eighth, Sox reliever Carson Fulmer, their No. 1 pick in 2015 (chosen one pick before the Cubs took Ian Happ), hit Bryant (really?) and then gave up a single to Anthony Rizzo and a double to Ben Zobrist that made it 4-1. After Fulmer loaded the bases by walking Miguel Montero, another former No. 1 pick, ex-Cub Jacob Turner, was summoned in relief. That's when Addison Russell put the cherry on top off Turner's second pitch:
Russell's slam, the first of his career, made it a festive blowout, 8-1 in favor of the Cubs, in front of a crowd that had to be about 80-85 percent Cubs fans. Fun fact about Russell's blast:
Addison Russell (age 22 years, 186 days): youngest #Cubs player to hit a grand slam since Nelson Mathews (21 y, 57 d) 9/16/1962— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 28, 2016
Russell is hitting .325/.400/.500 (13-for-40) with three doubles, a triple, a homer, nine RBI and four walks since the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, Jason Hammel put together a solid outing. Only two White Sox runners (besides Ranaudo's homer) got past first base, and Hammel finished up by striking out the side in the seventh inning. It was his longest (and best) outing since June 15, and he wound up with seven strikeouts. Since his disaster in New York at the beginning of July, Hammel has a 2.34 ERA and 0.913 WHIP over four starts, with six walks and 24 strikeouts in 24 innings. Really good to see Hammel do this in the second half of a season, given his previous troubles in second halves.
Hector Rondon had an efficient eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced on just seven pitches. When the Cubs broke the game open in the bottom of the inning, it seemed possible that Joe Maddon might leave him in to finish up, since it was no longer a save situation for new Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman.
But Chapman hadn't thrown since Saturday, so Maddon likely figured he needed the work.
Chapman did something I don't think I've ever seen before when he first got up in the bullpen -- he threw a dozen or so warmup pitches with a weighted ball, not an actual baseball.
When he came into the game, the Wrigley crowd loudly and definitively showed they were on his side. He entered to an ovation and chants of "Let's go, Chapman!" and he proceeded to show why the Cubs gave up four players to get him.
You read what I wrote about Chapman's troubles a couple of days ago, and it's still difficult for me to separate that from his play. But when the man takes the mound on a baseball field, what you see is amazing. None of us has really ever seen anything like it, except, of course, when Chapman took the mound against the Cubs, which he did 36 times in his Reds career, striking out 65 batters in 37 innings.
I have to say, despite everything else said since the trade, it's good to have a guy like that on our side. The Wrigley pitch-speed meter topped out at 103 during Chapman's inning, and here are some more of his numbers:
By my count, Chapman had 12 pitches of 100+ MPH - equalling the total by #Cubs pitchers from 2008 to present entering tonight (via statcast)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 28, 2016
Here's the Statcast search (via https://t.co/EV9nMRn3IF)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 28, 2016
of #Cubs 100+ MPH pitches 2008-present (entering tonight)https://t.co/943ZtBUDCv
Also interesting was the fact that Chapman didn't seem bothered after the game was no longer a save situation (as it was, at 4-1, when he began warming up). Some closers lose their intensity and wind up giving up runs in non-save situations -- not Chapman, who dispatched two of the three hitters he faced by strikeout, the other (Todd Frazier, a former Reds teammate) on a ground ball to Russell. Chapman seemed to enjoy the scene:
Chapman: "The adrenaline was pretty good even though it wasn't a save situation. It was fun to hear the crowd cheering for me" #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 28, 2016
Finally, regarding Chapman: Not only did I see his jersey for sale in the two largest sports memorabilia stores near Wrigley Field, but before the game, I saw someone wearing one, meaning at least one had been sold before he'd even thrown a pitch for the Cubs.
Hopefully, this game represents a revival of a Cubs offense that had seemed missing in action for the last few days. They hadn't scored as many as eight runs since July 4, 18 games ago, and it had been 17 games since their last three-homer game (four on July 5). Also, as this was the Cubs' 60th win of the year (in 100 games, keeping their .600 winning percentage intact for now), here are the dates of the Cubs' 60th win of each season since 2010:
2010: September 6
2011: September 4
2012: September 30
2013: September 6
2014: August 29
2015: August 7
2016: July 27
I think you'll agree: the earlier, the better.
Cubs walk watch: six walks Wednesday night makes the team total 419, or 4.19 per game in exactly 100 games. Pace: 679.
The Cubs still have a chance to split this four-game set, though it won't be easy, with Chris Sale going for the Sox. John Lackey will take the mound for the Cubs.