I’m going to start at the end of the Cubs’ 7-4 win over the Blue Jays Friday afternoon because that’s where most of the action was.
Cruising along with a 5-1 lead courtesy of some strong early offense and outstanding pitching from Jake Arrieta, the Cubs once again got some poor relief pitching, this time from the usually-reliable Pedro Strop. Strop recorded the first two outs on only six pitches in the eighth inning and at that point I was thinking maybe Joe Maddon might even let him throw the ninth.
Well, that ended quickly. Four straight Blue Jays hits made it 5-4 before Strop got out of the inning with a fly to Albert Almora Jr. in center field.
What is it with this bullpen? This sickness has infected nearly everyone in it. Whatever’s causing it, I hope it goes away soon.
Thanks to Javier Baez, the Cubs put some breathing room in the lead in the bottom of the inning. Victor Caratini (who went 3-for-3 and looked good doing it) singled and was forced at second. Then it was Javy time!
The ball landed on the back concourse not far from our section in the hands of a Blue Jays fan, who looked at it for a moment or two and then tossed it to a Cubs fan in the back row of the section next to us. I’d have expected nothing less from a Jays fan; there were thousands and thousands at Wrigley Friday afternoon, one of the largest contingents of visiting fans I’ve ever seen. And all of them were friendly and polite, a great showing from a great fanbase. You probably heard them chanting “Let’s go Blue Jays” at various times during the TV or radio broadcast.
Anyway, Javy not only gave the Cubs a three-run lead with that homer, his 20th, but he made this outstanding defensive play on a sharp grounder by Jose Bautista with one out in the ninth:
106 mph off the bat?— MLB (@MLB) August 18, 2017
Still can’t hit it past Javy. pic.twitter.com/rFqLalQHoV
I daresay the only other major-league shortstops who come close to making that play are Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. That was just amazing work by Javy. But then, we have come to almost expect that from him.
Javy’s 20th homer also accomplished this:
Javier Báez: 5th different #Cubs player to reach 20 HR this season. Ties franchise record (1958, 2004, 2008)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2017
Ian Happ has 17 home runs. If he can hit three more, the Cubs would break both of those records.
Now let’s rewind to the beginning. The loud Jays fan contingent had something to cheer about in the first inning when, with two out, Justin Smoak doubled and Steve Pearce singled him in. After that, though, Jake was pretty much lights-out. Between the second and sixth innings he allowed three singles and a walk and struck out six. Jake’s been great lately:
Jake Arrieta last 9 starts— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2017
2.03 ERA, 57.2 IP, 39 Hits, 16 BB, 48 K, 5 HR, 0.954 WHIP#Cubs
Right now, he has clearly reclaimed the title of No. 1 Cubs starter and... though I don’t want to look ahead too much... I’d slot him in to start Game 1 of the postseason, should the Cubs get that far.
The Cubs plated three runs in the second inning. Ben Zobrist walked, and one out later Caratini doubled, the first of the three hits. Jason Heyward’s infield single scored Zobrist, a single by Javy scored Caratini and then Almora dumped a single into short right that scored Heyward. Baez also tried to score and was thrown out. Joe asked for a lane violation review, but the call was upheld by the review crew:
The Cubs added two more in the fifth on a single by Zobrist, a double by Kris Bryant and a two-run single by Anthony Rizzo.
Jake’s pitch count was low enough so that he started the seventh, but after a double and a one-out walk, Joe removed him to a warm ovation. Pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales hit into a fielder’s choice with Kevin Pillar caught in a rundown and tagged by reliever Carl Edwards Jr. I was a bit surprised that Rizzo didn’t touch first base before throwing home; he could have had a double play, possibly. But C.J. got out of the inning by striking out Bautista.
At 5-1 heading to the eighth, this one looked like a breeze until Strop got into trouble. As I said... I don’t know what’s causing these bullpen meltdowns, but I hope the coaching staff can help them figure it out and stop them.
Wade Davis (25th save) had a 1-2-3 ninth, helped by Javy’s play and also a comebacker that he snagged himself. Both of those balls were hit pretty hard, something to make a note of, anyway. Then Davis struck out Josh Donaldson to end it.
This was Miguel Montero’s first appearance at Wrigley Field since the unfortunate way in which he left the team for Toronto. He got some applause when introduced, as well as a few boos. Those really were uncalled for. Yes, he said some things he probably shouldn’t have. But he also had two of the most important hits in last year’s World Series run (the grand slam in NLCS Game 1, and the hit that drove in the insurance run in the ninth inning of World Series Game 7). For those, I will always remember him fondly.
Montero came into this game having caught just three of 45 runners trying to steal, so after Zobrist doubled in the seventh, he took off for third, where his former teammate threw him out. I suppose it was a worthwhile chance. Credit to Miggy for doing that.
Darwin Barney, who played over 500 games in parts of five seasons as a Cub (2010-14) was barely greeted at all by Cubs fans in his first game as a visitor at Wrigley since September 2014 when he was with the Dodgers. It was as if he was never even here, even though he won a Gold Glove at second base in 2012.
And, this game featured the first-ever Happ-ening: pitcher J.A. Happ of the Jays facing Ian Happ of the Cubs. The Jays won this one: Ian struck out all three times he faced his namesake. The Jays official Twitter account commemorated the first two of these Happ-enstances:
All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but the Cubs really have to fix what’s ailing their bullpen.
They’ll go for two in a row vs. the Jays Saturday afternoon. Jose Quintana goes for the Cubs and Nick Tepesch for the Jays. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT.