The Cubs once again moved above the .500 mark with Jose Quintana’s gem completing the sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. They were 46-45 and would not see .500 again in 2017. They still trailed the Brewers by 4½ games in the N.L. Central.
Quintana struck out 12, a season high and one short of his career high, and allowed just three hits in seven outstanding innings. Just one Orioles runner — Adam Jones, who doubled leading off the fourth for Baltimore’s first hit — got past first base. Here’s one of those 12 K’s, of Jones leading off the first inning:
Now there’s a solid example for the rest of the rotation to follow!
The Cubs broke through against Ubaldo Jimenez in the second inning when Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ all doubled. Schwarber’s and Happ’s were to the opposite field, yet another good sign for this offense. Contreras had to hold up to make sure Schwarber’s ball would drop, so he stopped at third where Happ’s hit drove them both in. When Jason Heyward singled, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead and after a pair of groundouts, Ben Zobrist’s single made it 4-0.
Two innings later, Jon Jay led off with a single and Zobrist followed with a little dribbler out in front of the plate. Orioles catcher Welington Castillo threw Zobrist out, but Jay never stopped running and wound up on third.
Love seeing hustle like that. Not that it mattered, because the next hitter [VIDEO] was Kris Bryant:
Bryant’s 19th of the year was his first since July 7 and gave the Cubs a 6-0 lead. KB went 3-for-4 on the day and 6-for-14 in the series — and that despite going 0-for-5 on Friday! It also produced this milestone for Bryant:
Meanwhile, Quintana was just dealing. He didn’t walk anyone and threw 67 strikes in exactly 100 pitches covering his seven innings. Apart from Jones’ double and the two singles he allowed, only two other Orioles hits even left the infield, a pair of fly ball outs by Trey Mancini. It’s one of the most dominant performances I’ve seen from any Cubs pitcher all year. Before Jones’ double, even this kind of thinking was happening:
In case anyone asks later on, has a #Cubs pitcher tossed a no-hitter in his first start following a trade?— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 16, 2017
Yes. Don Cardwell 5/15/1960
I believe that’s still the only no-hitter thrown by any pitcher in his first start for a new team following a trade.
The Orioles’ starting pitchers were spectacularly awful in this series:
In 3 Gs vs #Cubs, O's starting pitchers combined to give up 21 ER over 11 1/3 innings for a 16.68 ERA— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 16, 2017
Which led to observations like this:
In a way, it's impressive a major league team has put together a pitching staff this awful. Not easy to do. #Orioles— Justin McGuire (@JMcGuireMLB) July 16, 2017
The Cubs scored 27 runs in the three games, which is two more runs than they scored in their most recent entire six-game homestand. The final two Cubs runs of the game scored [VIDEO] courtesy of Anthony Rizzo in the ninth:
That was Rizzo’s 22nd of the season, in 91 games. That’s a pace for 39, which would be a career high. And Rizzo’s blast was no-doubt-about-it:
Setting a career high Sunday was Contreras with his four hits. After the game:
#Cubs Contreras: "I think we are back. We're back to where we were last year"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 16, 2017
It might be a bit too early to make that declaration, but certainly with these three wins, in which they outscored the O’s 27-11, they have made a strong statement coming out of the All-Star break that they want to be that team again. The addition of Quintana, who looked ace-like Sunday, was a statement from management that they’re not afraid to add top-notch talent to make another run at postseason success.
The sweep was the Cubs’ first on the road this year, and the first time they’ve won three straight road games at all in 2017. It’s their third interleague road sweep in team history (last year at Oakland, 2014 at Boston the others), and they’re now back over .500 at 46-45, hopefully to stay there the rest of the year. The eight-run win also gives the Cubs a +16 run differential (426 scored, 410 allowed) and hopefully that will also continue to increase.
The huge throngs of Cubs fans at Camden Yards (I assume you could hear us loud and clear at the end of Sunday’s game) made it feel like a home game. Orioles fans were friendly and accommodating and I spoke with one team employee who clearly understands that his team is heading into a down phase, and fully expects them to be shopping Jones, Zach Britton and even the popular Manny Machado before the break. It was a great trip to a fine city and ballpark to watch baseball and the sweep made it all the better. Incidentally, perhaps a petition drive should be made to the Cubs to send me on all the road trips. I’ve now seen five road games this year (these three, and the last two of the April series in St. Louis) and the Cubs have won them all.
Unfortunately, I can’t make it to Atlanta, the Cubs’ next stop on this six-game trip, where a three-game set against the Braves begins Monday night. The Phillies defeated the Brewers 5-2 Sunday afternoon, so the Cubs move to within 4½ games of first place in the N.L. Central (and down just three in the loss column). While the Cubs play the Braves, the Brewers will be in Pittsburgh for a four-game set against the Pirates.
Jon Lester goes for the Cubs Monday night against Julio Teheran. Let’s keep this winning streak going.