The All-Star break clearly did the Cubs some good, as they began it with a shutout of the visiting Texas Rangers. The team’s record improved to 54-35 and they had an eight-game lead in the N.L. Central.
Even an annoying little rainshower that dampened Wrigley Field in the last couple of innings couldn't ruin a sparkling performance by the Cubs on the mound, in the field and at the plate in their 6-0 win over the Rangers, a victory reminiscent of the way the team was roaring through the season's first two months.
I could start with any of those things, but as most of you know, I've been a big Kyle Hendricks fan for a long time, and this was his first start ever against the team that originally drafted him before trading him to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster deal.
That's turned out to be an excellent swap for the Cubs, and Hendricks was really on his game Friday. After a bit of a struggle through the first inning, he got his sinker working and eventually got 10 outs on ground balls. One of the outs that wasn't was this stellar catch by Albert Almora Jr.:
That was with a runner on first and one out in the fourth inning, with the score still 1-0 Cubs, so it had real significance. Hendricks was eventually pinch-hit for in the sixth after throwing just 87 pitches, but even that move worked, as Matt Szczur hit a two-run single to cap the Cubs' five-run inning that put the game away. Other key hits in that inning: a double by Anthony Rizzo after a leadoff single by Kris Bryant. A walk then loaded the bases, Addison Russell drove in two runs, then another one scored on a terrible throw by Prince Fielder [VIDEO] trying to get Willson Contreras straying too far off third base:
Two outs later, Szczur's single capped the inning.
More excellent Cubs defensive plays from this game:
- A nice running stop and throw by Javier Baez in the first
- A great throw by Contreras and tag by Baez to cut down Rougned Odor stealing
- A diving stop by Rizzo and throw to Hendricks to get Robinson Chirinos leading off the fifth
- A great backhand stop by Bryant and throw to Rizzo to end the eighth with two runners on
- And, finally, Almora makes a great sliding catch for the last out
All of that supported Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr., Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm, who combined on a five-hit shutout, the Cubs' eighth of the season but first since June 17, which was when all the current losing began.
So all of it is great to see: the solid pitching, the great defense and the timely hitting that produced the five-run inning. I was encouraged by Grimm's 1-2-3 ninth, even though the Rangers did hit the ball, they hit it right at people, and that was a perfect low-leverage situation to be in.
A couple of notes about some of the defensive plays mentioned above:
Willson Contreras with a 1.88 pop time to get Odor. Arm strength of 85.3 MPH. Both of those numbers are very good... #Cubs— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 15, 2016
Albert Almora's diving catch is caught by other OF'ers 56% of the time.— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 15, 2016
Route eff: 94.6%
First step: 0.27 seconds
Top speed: 18.2 MPH
That refers to Almora's first catch, the one in the fourth inning that's embedded above.
The Cubs improved their record in "blowout" games (defined by baseball-reference as games won by five or more runs) to 29-8, and then there's this:
2016 #Cubs: first time in franchise history with a shutout in season opener AND a shutout in first game after All-Star break (1933-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 15, 2016
Let's hope that this leads to a string like the Cubs put together after that shutout in the season opener against the Angels: eight wins in nine games, 17 in 22, and 23 in 29.
For Hendricks' part, he now has an 0.87 ERA over his last six appearances (five starts) covering 31 innings, and in that time he's allowed 23 hits and 10 walks, and struck out 28, this from a guy who doesn't break 90 on the Wrigley pitch speed meter. Again: "All he does is get guys out." The Hendricks deal is one of the better ones the Cubs made, and they threw two other pitchers in this game they acquired from the Rangers by trade in Grimm and Edwards. Strop also pitched for the Rangers from 2009-11, before he went to the Orioles.