For the 21st time in 2017, the Cubs were exactly at .500 at 45-45. This would be the last time they were exactly at that level, though.
They still trailed the first-place Brewers by 5½ games in the N.L. Central.
BALTIMORE — It might have taken more than half a season, but it appears we are, at last, seeing a Cubs team that resembles its 2016 counterpart.
All right, so maybe the Orioles pitching staff is helping out just a bit, but the Cubs not only got another power display Saturday night, but also got an outstanding pitching effort from Jake Arrieta in a 10-3 win over the O’s.
Jake struggled in the first inning, throwing 27 pitches and stranding two runners. It might have been worse if Willson Contreras hadn’t thrown Manny Machado out trying to steal third, an outstanding throw and nice tag by Kris Bryant.
The Cubs broke the scoreless tie in the top of the third:
Albert Almora Jr.’s fourth homer of the season went a long way:
Contreras opened the fourth inning with a perfectly placed bunt single [VIDEO].
He was immediately erased on a double play, but that did not stop the Cubs’ offense that inning. Addison Russell sent a ball out of the yard [VIDEO] for the second straight night:
That ball: Crushed!
After two walks, Almora singled to make it 3-0.
And Jake began dealing. From the second through the sixth inning, he threw just 61 total pitches and allowed just two baserunners, a second-inning walk and a solo home run by Caleb Joseph in the fifth. That’s the Jake we saw in the second half of 2015 and parts of last year, a really encouraging sign.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were pounding Wade Miley all over the yard. Bryant led off the fifth with a single and, as was the case the previous inning, the next hitter (Anthony Rizzo) hit into a double play. But that did not stop the Cubs’ offense. Contreras doubled and Ian Happ walked. After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, the Orioles decided to give Russell an intentional pass to load the bases. Incidentally, the Camden Yards P.A. announcer told the crowd that an intentional walk had been issued. That’s an excellent idea, since such a thing is easy to miss, especially as in this case when it was given in the middle of a plate appearance. The Cubs should do this at Wrigley Field, too.
That triple, hit to the deepest part of Camden Yards in left-center field, made it 7-0 and got the sizable contingent of Cubs fans at the park going, and loud.
Jake got into a bit of trouble in the seventh, not entirely his fault, as Russell bobbled a ball for an error, and after Bryant made a slick play to record the second out of the inning, he couldn’t handle another ground ball down the line. That one was charitably called a hit, and scored the Orioles’ second run, but at 101 pitches Joe figured that was enough for Jake, who departed to cheers from Cubs fans, most of whom were seated on the third-base side, where the visitors dugout is located in Baltimore.
Hector Rondon entered and got Adam Jones to pop up with two runners on base to end the inning.
Anthony Rizzo joined the home-run fun in the eighth [VIDEO].
Rizzo’s 21st of the year was the Cubs’ eighth home run of the series. That made it 9-2, and they added a 10th run in the ninth inning on an RBI single by Javier Baez, who had three hits on the night, all singles. That is, I think, a really good sign for Javy, who didn’t try to smash home runs like his teammates, but instead went with pitches and had an excellent game, driving in two runs. Other Cubs with three hits in this one: Bryant and Contreras. The entire team clicked offensively, with everyone but Jon Jay (0-for-5) and Ian Happ (0-for-4 with a walk) hitting safely in the 16-hit attack.
Eddie Butler, now moved to the bullpen, allowed a harmless run in the ninth before Jones grounded out to end the game with another Cubs win, with most of those remaining in Camden Yards being Cubs fans, on their feet and cheering the final out. I do wonder, though, if Butler is likely odd man out when Kyle Hendricks returns from the disabled list. Hendricks’ return probably means Mike Montgomery goes back to the bullpen, which wouldn’t leave room for Butler.
Also, there’s a note of caution regarding this blowout — the Cubs have produced 19 runs and eight home runs in two games against the major leagues’ worst pitching staff. It won’t be this easy elsewhere. Nevertheless, just hitting like that has to feel pretty good, and sometimes that sort of thing is contagious and continues no matter what pitchers you’re facing.
And for Jake Arrieta, it had to feel great to put up a performance like that in his former home park. When his name was introduced pregame there were loud cheers from Cubs fans, but I also saw many Orioles fans applauding, a nice tribute for a man they’d hoped would do for them what he’s done for the Cubs. I was really encouraged by Jake’s outing and hope it leads to many more similar starts the rest of this season.
Now, we get to the most-anticipated event of the weekend, Jose Quintana’s Cubs debut, and it comes with a chance for the team to record its first road sweep of 2017. The Orioles will counter with Ubaldo Jimenez.