The game-time temperature at Wrigley Field Thursday was 47 degrees.
That’s still about a dozen below the average high for April 19, but man, it felt like
summer spring with the sun shining, a beautiful afternoon, if a bit chilly. The Cubs’ bats came alive off Luke Weaver and Matt Bowman and held on for an 8-5 victory over the Cardinals, ending the seemingly endless homestand on an up note.
The Cardinals made one of those proverbial “manufactured runs” in the first inning off Jon Lester, who hit Harrison Bader with one out. Bader stole second and went to third when Willson Contreras’ throw went into center field, and then Lester wild-pitched Bader in to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
That didn’t last long. Javier Baez tripled with one out in the first, and Kris Bryant singled him in. A single by Anthony Rizzo put Bryant on third, and one out later the Cubs had the lead they would not relinquish, 2-1 on a single by Kyle Schwarber.
Then the Cubs teed off on Weaver, who, because the Cardinals were down a reliever after sending John Brebbia down to make room for an extra outfielder, was kind of in “take one for the team” mode, as Mike Matheny left him in to take extra pounding.
Jason Heyward led off the second inning with a nicely-placed single to the opposite field. After Lester sacrificed him to second, Albert Almora singled him in. Baez was next with another single, and here’s why that’s noteworthy:
UPDATE— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 19, 2018
Javier Báez: 14 hits this season
5 Home Runs#Cubs
Almora scored on a sacrifice fly by Bryant, and then a single by Rizzo got far enough into the outfield to score Baez all the way from first, with Rizzo taking second on the throw in. That made it 5-1, and one batter later it was 6-1 on another RBI single by Schwarber.
Meanwhile, Lester settled down after that shaky first and retired 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced before Jedd Gyorko broke up a no-hit bid with a one-out single in the fifth. No, Lester didn’t really have no-hit stuff or command in this one, but he wound up allowing just two singles in addition to the hit batter and one walk, an excellent outing.
In the bottom of the fifth, Addison Russell singled with one out. Heyward was next:
That ball: Crushed!
FYI, Heyward's HR had exit velo of 111 mph and traveled 423 feet. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) April 19, 2018
And it had to be, slicing through a wind blowing in strongly at 11 miles per hour with higher gusts. That wind knocked down a couple of fly balls by Cardinals hitters that were caught by Heyward.
For those of you who have been criticizing Heyward: He has been hitting baseballs hard all year, from the beginning of spring training until now. I believe we are starting to see the results of his work over the winter with Chili Davis, and some of those hard-hit balls that haven’t fallen in so far will start to. He’s working the ball well to the opposite field, and this might be his hardest-hit home run since he came to the Cubs.
Incidentally, one of these days I’ll get a photo of this: The Cubs have begun to put home-run numbers (exit velo and launch angle) on the right field video board. They don’t leave it up very long, which is why I haven’t been able to get a photo. But next homestand, when hopefully I won’t have to dig through several layers of clothes to get to my phone, I’ll get one.
Heyward’s homer made it 8-1, Lester followed with a single, his first of the year, and it looked like an easy win. That was the case even after the sixth, when the Cubs had the bases loaded with one out and Matheny summoned Luke Gregerson, who got Russell to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Here’s where I open the complaint department door just a tiny bit. Eddie Butler relieved Lester to start the seventh. It seemed the right call, as Butler’s been really good this year and Lester was at 96 pitches.
Butler, though... was just bad. He issued two walks and gave up two hits and left with the score 8-2. Steve Cishek then hit Kolten Wong with the bases loaded to make it 8-3, and a ground ball that could have been a double play resulted in two runs when Baez threw away the relay.
Now it’s 8-5 and a bit of nervous time. Cishek, though, finished the inning with no further damage and Carl Edwards Jr. allowed a hit and a walk in the eighth, but struck out the side. That gives C.J. these numbers:
Another strikeout for Edwards to escape a jam and end the eighth.— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) April 19, 2018
Stat of the day: Edwards just tied Lester and Chatwood for the team lead at 18 Ks. (In 9 IP)
The major-league record for SO/9 ratio for a season, for a reliever who threw at least 50 innings, is 17.67, set by Aroldis Chapman in 2014. I don’t know if 18 strikeouts per nine innings (two per inning) is sustainable for Edwards, but if it is he’ll be in record territory.
Brandon Morrow threw an uneventful 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
About 10,000 of the announced 29,648 showed up for this game, most of them looking for sunny areas so they didn’t have to sit and freeze in the shade. I can imagine it was quite cold in areas where there was no sun, with the wind blowing strongly off Lake Michigan. The weather this homestand has been about the coldest and wettest I can remember over such a sustained period, and there have been more days with snow in Chicago this April than in many decades, if ever. Thus it was nice to see the sunshine warm things up, even to the upper 40s.
And, it was nice to see the Cubs bats come alive. Every starter in the game had at least one hit, and Baez’ 2-for-5 day, with the single and triple, raised his slash line to .250/.344/.679. And Heyward’s 2-for-4 with the home run makes his slash line .226/.306/.358. Baby steps, J-Hey is getting there.
The Cubs head to Denver for a three-game series against the Rockies beginning Friday night, and once again I have to say weather permitting, because the Denver-area forecast for Friday does not look good. If they play, Kyle Hendricks goes for the Cubs and Jon Gray for the Rockies. Game time Friday: 7:40. TV: WGN.