The Cubs struggled through the entire first half of the 2017 season. At times, they looked good (example: winning six of seven in April to take over first place), at times awful (losing all six games of a trip to Los Angeles and San Diego in May).
43-45 at the All-Star break, everyone knew they’d have to turn things on almost immediately to have any chance to return to the postseason.
And that’s exactly what this year’s team did, going 49-25 after the break and mostly looking the way they did last year. That record is a .662 winning percentage, which would translate to 107 wins over the course of a full season.
Here are the five games I think mattered most in the Cubs’ second-half run.
The first game after the break set the tone. The Cubs had an 8-0 lead in the third inning... and then, slowly, they didn’t. Sitting in Camden Yards as Baltimore kept scoring runs, I remember thinking, “Please don’t blow an eight-run lead.” And then they did. Mark Trumbo hit a two-run homer off Koji Uehara in the eighth and the game was tied.
With one out in the ninth, up stepped Addison Russell [VIDEO].
Wade Davis shut the Orioles down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs had their win. I shudder to think what might have happened to the Cubs in the second half if they had blown that lead and lost this game.
The Cubs had, at last, taken over first place just a couple days earlier by taking two straight from the White Sox. But a loss in the first of a three-game series had dropped them to just half a game ahead of the Brewers entering this Saturday night affair.
Kyle Hendricks gave up a first-inning run, but a Kris Bryant RBI single tied the game in the seventh. The game went to extras; the Brewers had the winning run on second base with one out in the 10th but could not score.
With one out in the 11th, Jason Heyward came to bat [VIDEO].
The win solidified the Cubs’ hold on first place. They would not drop out of first the rest of the season (tied on August 11 for one day).
A bases-clearing double by Albert Almora Jr. gave the Cubs an early 3-0 lead, but like the game in Baltimore, drip-drip-drip the lead went away, one run at a time. That included a home run by former Cub Miguel Montero.
The game went to extras tied 3-3, and like the game in Baltimore, it was poor relief work from Koji Uehara that helped the Jays to a two-run lead. (Justin Wilson, also a culprit.)
But the Cubs got a baserunner leading off the last of the 10th when Kyle Schwarber struck out, but reached on a wild pitch. Ben Zobrist singled Schwarber to third, where he scored on a second wild pitch by Jays closer Roberto Osuna.
A groundout advanced Zobrist to second, and then Javier Baez struck out — and reached on Osuna’s third wild pitch of the inning.
Apart from that inning, Roberto Osuna had just one wild pitch the entire 2017 season. Go figure.
Osuna ran a 1-2 count on Jason Heyward, then hit him, loading the bases.
That brought up Alex Avila [VIDEO].
Baez just beat the relay throw, then stood straight up with his arms in the air. The wild finish completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays and was part of a run where the Cubs won 12 of 15.
The Cubs had a 2-0 lead early, but the Brewers chipped away and took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth off Justin Wilson.
But the Cubs tied the game on a two-out, two-strike RBI single by Javier Baez in the ninth that was reminiscent of his hit in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2016 division series against the Giants.
Wade Davis got out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to send the game to extras.
Jon Jay doubled to lead off the 10th and that brought Kris Bryant to the plate [VIDEO].
Davis finished off the Brewers in just his second multi-inning appearance of 2017, and the Cubs increased their lead in the division to 4½ games.
After the Brewers had won the third game of this four-game series, Jose Quintana threw the best game by any Cubs starter all season, a three-hit complete-game shutout. Just two Brewers runners got past first base in this magnificent performance by Quintana, which gave the Cubs a 5½-game lead with seven remaining. They would clinch the division title three days later in St. Louis.
Here are all 10 of Quintana’s strikeouts from this game in 10 seconds [VIDEO].
There were other games that the Cubs won by blowout in the second half, which were fun, but I thought these five were the most important. Which of these games was your favorite? Or perhaps you have a different choice.
The Cubs’ most important win of the 2017 second half was...
This poll is closed
July 14: 9-8 win over Orioles
July 29: 2-1 win over Brewers
August 20: 6-5 win over Blue Jays
September 21: 5-3 win over Brewers
September 24: 5-0 win over Brewers
A different game not mentioned above (leave in comments)