If the 2017 Chicago Cubs do begin a long winning streak, now or a little while from now, and go on to win the N.L. Central and have a long postseason run, this moment could be viewed as one of the key turning points:
Kyle Schwarber’s first career grand slam erased a 3-1 deficit and powered the Cubs to a 5-3 win over the Cardinals. That makes this a badly needed series win and brings the Cubs back to the .500 mark at 27-27.
And who knows, maybe that hit saved Kyle a trip to Des Moines.
Up to that moment, this game looked depressingly like Friday’s. More first-inning runs, which has become a thing, a bad thing, for this year’s Cubs. The two runs the Cardinals scored off Jon Lester in the first now make 50 first-inning runs allowed by Cubs pitching in 54 games. The next largest number of runs they’ve allowed in any inning is 29 (third inning).
I mean, it’s great that they came from behind to win both these games, but you can’t keep putting your team behind before they can bat.
On the other hand, you could not blame Lester if he were a little upset with this call by plate umpire Dana DeMuth:
Oh, come on, Dana. That’s almost right down the heart of the plate. What game were you watching? And then he did it again on the very next pitch:
So instead of having a 2-2 count on Stephen Piscotty, Lester walked him on four pitches. That loaded the bases and Jose Martinez blooped a little single into right field and the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead.
That was the only ball hit out of the infield off Lester in the first inning.
Meanwhile, Mike Leake was mowing down Cubs hitters, showing why he entered this game with the best ERA in the National League. The first six Cubs went down meekly, including three groundouts, and then Javier Baez got one of those runs back leading off the third [VIDEO].
Javy’s ninth home run of the year made it 2-1.
Meanwhile, Lester settled down. He allowed two singles in the second and another in the fourth, and that’s when Jon did something we have not seen since he came to the Cubs [VIDEO].
Artistic? No, but you can see at the start of the video how big a lead Tommy Pham was taking, almost daring Lester to try to pick him off. And so he did! Perhaps this will end Jon’s fear of picking off runners. He’s become much better at some elements of the game (hitting, bunting, fielding) than he was when he first came to the Cubs, and hopefully holding runners on will now be a thing with Jon.
Lester got touched for a third run when Yadier Molina homered with two out in the sixth. This was after Baez had singled, advanced to second on a Lester bunt, and tried to take third after a Leake pickoff throw went into center field. He appeared safe at third, and was called safe, but then there was that “you have to stay on the base at all times” thing while the fielder holds his glove on you. That’s become commonplace in the video review era [VIDEO].
It’s hard to do in the moment, and the replay is clear — Baez’s foot briefly comes off third base while Jhonny Peralta holds his glove on him. Thus, out. Comes with the territory — I’m not sure what managers should tell baserunners to avoid having this happen.
Anyway, the game went to the last of the seventh still 3-1 St. Louis after Hector Rondon threw a nice top of the seventh. With one out, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras singled. Baez struck out and pinch-hitter Jon Jay was hit by Leake on a 1-2 pitch.
Who knows? Pitchers aren’t machines. Maybe Leake was upset at himself for hitting Jay while he was ahead in the count. Whatever the reason, he grooved the next pitch to Schwarber and the Cubs had a two-run lead.
That lead was protected nicely by Koji Uehara in the eighth and Wade Davis (12th save) in the ninth. Uehara had some help on this nice grab by Heyward [VIDEO] off the bat of Dexter Fowler.
This was a really nice win on a really nice day; storms skirted the area to the north but dissipated before they got to Chicago and a lake breeze developed, making it a pleasant afternoon with temperatures in the mid 70s. You couldn’t ask for two nicer weather days than Friday and Saturday, nor could you ask for two better wins.
Now let me throw just a tiny bit of cold water on what’s happening with Schwarber. Sure, the grand slam is great, I’m happy for him and it won the game and it has to be a huge confidence boost for him. However, his first two at-bats were again not good, a weak grounder to second and a strikeout. Even with the slam, Schwarber is in a 3-for-40 slump with 17 strikeouts. All three of those hits are home runs — Kyle’s last hit that wasn’t a homer was a second-inning, two-RBI single against the Reds on May 17, more than two weeks ago.
Maybe batting ninth for a while is the answer. The homer might have bought Kyle some time to work things out in the big leagues instead of in Des Moines. Of course I want to see him break out of this slump and succeed, and as I’ve noted before, Kyle’s work ethic is second to none. Here’s hoping he goes 4-for-4 Sunday night.
The Cubs go for the sweep on ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball. Kyle Hendricks takes the mound for the Cubs and Michael Wacha will go for the Cardinals.