The Cubs spent much of late June alternating losses and wins. Thus this win, which brought them to 38-36, kept them two games over .500, and moved them to within half a game of the first-place Brewers in the N.L. Central.
When Jon Lester served up a three-run homer to J.T. Realmuto in the first inning of Saturday’s game, giving the Marlins a 3-1 lead, I couldn’t help thinking, “Here we go again.”
Now be honest. You thought that, too, after the Cubs increased their number of first-inning runs allowed to 61, and after the 17th homer served up by Cubs pitching in the first inning. This isn’t good:
Opponents hitting .293/.369/.563 with 17 HR (with 61 runs) vs #Cubs in first inning this season (74 games)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 24, 2017
This story, though, has a happy ending. Lester retired 13 straight Marlins after Realmuto’s homer, allowed only two more hits after the first inning, and timely hitting from several different Cubs gave them a 5-3 win over the Fish.
It started out well. Jon Jay, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ singled in the first inning, producing a 1-0 lead before Lester gave it back up with the home run.
After that the Cubs offense looked pretty pathetic until the fourth. There was another “here we go again” moment in the third after Jay led off with a single: Kris Bryant hit into a double play, and I’m sure you’ve seen enough of that lately.
But in the fourth the Cubs tied the game. Addison Russell led off with a single and Happ sacrificed him to second (on a bunt that originally was not ruled a sacrifice, but was correctly changed later). Javier Baez singled in Russell to make it 3-2 and alertly took second when Christian Yelich threw in the general direction of... well, somewhere that wasn’t near the play.
Almora’s double made it 3-3. In the sixth, Russell again led off with a hit, this time a double. He went to third on a single by Happ and then it was Baez’s turn to knock in runners [VIDEO].
Baez’s double over Giancarlo Stanton’s head scored both runners and gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead.
Lester continued to mow down Marlins hitters. He retired 15 of the last 16 hitters he faced. Dee Gordon singled off him to break up the 11-straight run, stole second and then was thrown out by Contreras trying to steal third [VIDEO].
That one was ruled “call confirmed” on review — check out the really nice tag by Javy on an excellent throw by Contreras.
This was an excellent recovery by Lester of a game that looked like it might get away from him after just one inning. Instead, he threw seven full innings, allowing just the three runs, a total of four hits and a walk, and struck out four. He threw 70 strikes in 108 pitches. Kudos to Lester on this excellent outing.
And kudos to the Cubs for hits in key situations. They went 6-for-15 with RISP and scored when they had the opportunities. More of this, please.
Carl Edwards Jr. threw an efficient 1-2-3 eighth (11 pitches).
Wade Davis posted a 1-2-3 ninth for his 15th save. He still has no blown saves and with two strikeouts Saturday, he has 38 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings. Put another way, he’s struck out 36.9 percent of all the batters he’s faced (38 of 103).
Here’s another reason this victory is significant: It was the Cubs’ first win without hitting a home run since June 16 over the Pirates. The Cubs are just 8-16 when they don’t homer this year. By comparison, they were 28-25 in 2016 when not hitting a home run.
Thanks to the Braves’ win over the Brewers Saturday afternoon, the Cubs move to within half a game of first place in the N.L. Central, and they also move one game ahead of the Brewers in the loss column.
The Cubs go for the series win, and potentially first place, Sunday afternoon. If the Cubs win and the Brewers lose, the Cubs will head to Washington in first place in the N.L. Central. Mike Montgomery will go for the Cubs and Edinson Volquez for the Marlins.