The signing of Edwin Jackson by the Cubs before the 2013 season was Theo Epstein's biggest mistake as Cubs President of Baseball Operations, something Theo himself admitted at a season-ticket holder discussion session in October 2014.
Jackson had just come off a year that was arguably the worst ever for a Cubs rotation starter, and midway through last year the Cubs simply released him, eating about $16 million worth of salary, and the Cubs are still paying him this year, while the Marlins and Padres paid him a pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum.
Good ol' Edwin earned part of that money Monday night in San Diego, pitching the way we remember him through that 2014 season, which consisted of lots of walks (4.0 per nine innings) and home runs (18 in 140 innings).
Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and yes, even Jason Heyward homered off Jackson, helping lead the Cubs to a 5-1 series-opening victory.
Russell's blast [VIDEO] meant he homered in three consecutive at-bats dating back to Sunday's game at Colorado. The homer, and a sacrifice fly he hit in the next inning, gave Russell 80 RBI for the season. Granted that RBI don't tell anywhere close to the whole story of a player's offensive contribution, but the last Cub shortstop to drive in 80 runs in a season was Ernie Banks. Banks did that seven years in a row (1955-61). The only other Cubs shortstop to have an 80-RBI season was Roy Smalley Sr. (1950), with 85.
Russell is swinging a hot bat:
Addison Russell last 12 plate appearances— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 23, 2016
(Through first PA tonight):
5-10, 4 HR, 2 BB
Only 22, and an excellent defensive SS too.#Cubs
And speaking of that defense, check out this tremendous play he made in the eighth inning:
Bryant regained a share of the National League home-run lead with his 32nd homer [VIDEO], hit off Jackson as part of a three-run fifth. Fun fact about Bryant's offensive production this year:
#Cubs with 30+ HR & 100+ Runs in age 24 (or younger) season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 23, 2016
Kris Bryant, 2016
Bryant's 100 runs scored lead the major leagues, and put him on pace for 131. He'd be the first Cub to score 130 runs in a season since Sammy Sosa (146) in 2001. His 58 homers are the most for any Cub in his first two big-league seasons. The major-league record for such things is 75, held by Joe DiMaggio, as mentioned by Len & JD on the broadcast.
It's a longshot that Bryant could hit 17 more home runs this year; there are only 38 games remaining. But given what he's done so far in August (.363/.427/.663, six home runs in 80 at-bats), I wouldn't put anything past him. Bryant also had a hot August last year (.330/.422/.620, seven home runs in 100 at-bats).
And Heyward joined in the fun -- after slicing a ball just foul down the first-base line, he lofted a ball just into the first row in right field [VIDEO], his first homer since July 29. It was hit after Anthony Rizzo hit his league-leading 37th double of the season. Rizzo had four hits on the night and pushed his batting average over .300 to .301.
Figures, right? Heyward sits for three games in a great hitters' park in Colorado, then he homers in one of the toughest parks for hitters in baseball. I really liked his approach in that at-bat and hopefully, that's a sign of things to come. Getting Heyward going for the last few weeks of the season (and of course, the postseason) would add a bat to the lineup at no cost.
While all this was going on (and thanks again, Edwin!), Jon Lester was throwing six solid innings, allowing just five hits and a single run, striking out eight. While "quality start" is yet another flawed stat, this was the 20th such start for Lester this year, which leads the major leagues.
Justin Grimm, Travis Wood and Carl Edwards Jr. all threw scoreless innings, Grimm and Edwards striking out three each. The only glitch was a wild pitch thrown on a strikeout by Grimm, which allowed the only Padres run to score.
Let's look at some more great Cubs defense. Here's another fine stop by Russell:
And, three more nice Cubs defensive plays:
- David Ross throws out Travis Jankowski trying to steal third in the first inning.
- Lester catches Wil Myers off second base and he's eventually tagged out by Javier Baez in a fourth-inning rundown -- really nice work by Lester.
- Another slick stop and throw by Baez with two on and nobody out in the seventh.
So the Cubs are back to clicking on all cylinders. They gained half a game on the idle Cardinals and reduced their division-clinching magic number to 27. And, with the Pirates' loss to the Astros, Pittsburgh dropped to 15 games out of first place and their elimination number from the division race is 24.
One more fun fact, this one about Jackson, before I wrap up this recap:
Edwin Jackson debuted on his 20th birthday with #Dodgers. Starting LA first baseman? Ron Coomer, replaced by Robin Ventura in 8th inning.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 23, 2016
The Cubs go for two straight over the Padres Tuesday evening (and again try to get to 35 games over .500), again a late-night start in Chicago (9:10 p.m. CT). Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs and Christian Friedrich for the Padres.