I think all of us could be forgiven for the “Here we go again” thoughts that creeped in after Jose Pirela led off Monday’s game with a home run.
Another first-inning run? Another first-inning homer? This is how bad that’s gotten:
Most leadoff HR allowed in a season, #Cubs history— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2017
7 in 2006
6 in 2017
6 in 2016
6 in 2015
6 in 1924
And we’re not even halfway through 2017 yet. And I’m certain you don’t want to see the 2017 Cubs emulate the 2006 Cubs, who lost 96 games.
However, the news is good. Despite Jon Lester muddling through six innings in which he threw 111 pitches, the Cubs came from behind Monday to defeat the Padres 3-2. In so doing they won consecutive games for the first time since June 6, which was the last win of a five-game winning streak when many of us were thinking, “Maybe this winning streak means they’ve turned the corner.” It didn’t. Maybe this baby winning streak will turn into something bigger.
Anthony Rizzo, leading off for the sixth time, reached base to begin the first inning for the sixth time, and he did it with this perfect bunt:
Obviously you don’t want to see someone with Rizzo’s power do that all the time. Do it just enough and maybe you’ll see defenses spread the shift out a little, which would help. One thing I’ve noticed is that the defender on the left side moves a little further off third base once there’s one strike on Rizzo (or anyone who teams have a shift like this for). The first two pitches to Rizzo were called balls. After strike one, shortstop Erick Aybar moved over closer to second base, which left the line wide open for Rizzo.
Silly fun fact about Rizzo’s bunt:
By the way: 42 MPH exit velocity on the Anthony Rizzo first inning bunt single #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2017
That was fun, and it gave Rizzo a career-high 13-game hitting streak, but it didn’t help. Ian Happ promptly erased Rizzo from the bases with a double play. Former Cub Clayton Richard, who had success in Chicago with ground balls, got the Cubs to hit into four double plays in the first six innings and recorded 11 of his first 15 outs on ground balls.
The Cubs did score one run when Albert Almora Jr. led off the third with a walk. He was sacrificed to second by Lester, advanced to third on a bloop single by Jon Jay, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Rizzo, a ball that was caught up against the left-field wall by Pirela and might have been out of the yard on a windy day.
By this time Lester had given up another homer, to Yangervis Solarte in the third, so the Cubs entered the sixth trailing 2-1. Rizzo led off the inning with a laser beam down the right-field line that rattled around in the corner long enough for him to get to third. One out later, Kris Bryant hit a line drive to medium-deep center field. The Padres’ other ex-Cub in the lineup, Matt Szczur, caught it and threw home [VIDEO].
I understand why Rizzo took that chance even though the ball didn’t go deep. The Cubs know Szczur well. So do you. You know he doesn’t have a great arm, and so Rizzo wanted to force him to make a perfect throw. He did.
That play forced Padres catcher Austin Hedges from the game with what was reported as a “bruised thigh.” Here’s what Hedges, Padres manager Andy Green and Cubs manager Joe Maddon said about the play [VIDEO].
I can see Green’s point, up to a point, but I also think Maddon is correct. So did the umpires, who didn’t make any call other than “out,” and Green made no complaint on the field at the time. There was a report Monday evening that Green was going to ask MLB to suspend Rizzo, but I doubt that happens.
Kyle Schwarber also had to leave the game after fouling a ball off his right ankle [VIDEO] in the fourth inning.
He left after the sixth. X-rays were negative. Hope he’s OK.
The game pressed on. Hector Rondon struggled a bit in the seventh, hitting a batter, issuing two walks and allowing a single, but was helped by Willson Contreras throwing out Szczur trying to steal second after he led off the inning with a hit. With the bases loaded, Hector got Hunter Renfroe on a fly to center to end the inning.
And then, the Cubs offense finally got going. Contreras was the leadoff hitter in the seventh:
Monday was the anniversary of Willson’s major-league debut, when he hit a home run on the first big-league pitch he saw. Fun fact about that:
Willson Contreras: first to hit 1st career MLB HR with #Cubs then homer on the one-year anniversary of 1st HR since Matt Murton 8/15/2006— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2017
For the Cubs, Monday night’s opposite-field blast by Contreras might have been even more important than his first, as it tied the game. Later in the inning Javier Baez singled, went to third on a double by Albert Almora Jr., and scored when Pirela fumbled the ball [VIDEO].
Then it was up to the Cubs’ late-inning relievers. Koji Uehara allowed a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt, but got out of the eighth, and then it was Wade Davis time.
Davis wasn’t sharp. He hit Pirela with one out, then walked Solarte, putting the tying and lead runs on base. But he recovered to strike out Wil Myers on 96 mile per hour heat, and got Renfroe on a comebacker to end it for his 14th save in 14 chances.
This fact seems important:
#Cubs: first time with consecutive quality starts since June 2-3— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2017
Cubs starting pitching this year has been, in a word, awful. They’re likely out actively seeking starting pitching by trade. While a “quality start” doesn’t have very high standards, at least the Cubs met those minimum standards two games in a row. Got to start somewhere, right?
Rizzo being in the leadoff spot seems to have energized this team. They’re 4-2 in the six games and have outscored their opponents 40-24, and Rizzo is hitting .440/.464/.960 in those six games (11-for-25) with two doubles, a triple and three home runs. In his 13-game hitting streak he’s hitting .426/.525/.830 (20-for-47) with five doubles, a triple, four home runs, 11 walks and 11 runs scored.
Rizzo can carry a team when he’s hitting like this. Looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.
After some brief late-afternoon rain, it was a beautiful night at Wrigley Field Monday:
Can’t beat that, and the win made the night perfect.
The Cubs moved to within 1½ games of first place as the Brewers lost Monday night to the Pirates. They are even with Milwaukee in the loss column. They’ll go for their third straight win Tuesday evening. Mike Montgomery will take the mound for the Cubs and Jhoulys Chacin will go for the Padres.