There has certainly been a lot of exciting Cubs baseball over the last three-plus seasons.
And yet, I don’t think I have enjoyed a weekend of regular-season Cubs baseball more than the past four days, a four-game Cubs sweep of the Brewers that culminated Sunday afternoon with a well-pitched 2-0, two-hit shutout victory.
At last, Tyler Chatwood showed the form that prompted Theo & Co. to sign him to a three-year contract this past offseason. One of the things that had hurt Chatwood in his previous starts was too many walks. His walk rate of 7.9 per nine innings prior to Sunday was nearly double his previous rate of 4.2.
Sunday, Chatwood was in command through seven outstanding innings. He did issue three walks, but that’s more in line with his historic walk rate. Other than that, all he allowed was two singles, one by Ryan Braun in the first, the other by Christian Yelich in the third. Braun was erased on a double play, and after Yelich’s single, Chatwood retired 11 in a row until he walked Jesus Aguilar in the seventh. Another double-play ball bailed him out of that inning. That dropped his season walk rate down to 6.9, and I imagine it’ll continue to drop until it’s back to his career average.
Meanwhile, Brewers starter Zach Davies was nearly matching Chatwood. The Cubs loaded the bases with two out in the second inning and Chatwood sent a ground ball up the middle that Orlando Arcia ranged over and fielded for the third out.
The Cubs finally broke through in the fifth. Addison Russell tripled down the right-field line to lead off the inning, and after Jason Heyward struck out, Chatwood was again the hitter. He bounced a ball to almost exactly the spot he’d hit the one in the third — except this time, the Brewers had a pulled-in infield and the ball got through for an RBI single:
Chatwood’s been a pretty good hitter over the course of his career. Entering Sunday’s game he was a lifetime .212 hitter with three doubles and a triple in 165 at-bats, with 14 RBI.
The Cubs increased the lead to 2-0 in the sixth. In the top of that inning, a Chatwood pitch went off the knob of the bat of Lorenzo Cain for a foul ball. It was pretty clear the ball hit the bat; had it hit Cain’s hand, he certainly would have exhibited more pain than he showed. Craig Counsell decided to challenge:
As you can see, there wasn’t much doubt about it, though it was ruled “call stands.”
Anthony Rizzo got hit by Davies’ first pitch with one out, the seventh time he’s been hit this year, tying his teammate Kris Bryant for the major-league lead.
Usually, Rizzo simply drops his bat and trots to first base after a HBP. On this one, he stopped and stared at Davies for a bit before heading to the base, clearly not happy about what the Brewers had done. It occurred to me and Mike Bojanowski that the Brewers have a “swagger” about them that hasn’t quite been earned, not yet, anyway.
This wound up eventually costing Milwaukee a run. Willson Contreras followed with a double, sending Rizzo to third, and after Kyle Schwarber was intentionally passed, Russell sent a fly deep enough to center field to score Rizzo with the Cubs’ second run.
After the seventh it was up to the Cubs’ pen. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Arcia, the first hitter he faced, but then struck out two of the next three to complete a scoreless inning. That gives CJ 23 strikeouts in 13⅔ innings, or an average of 15.1 per nine innings. He has definitely cut down on the walks this year; that was just his fifth walk on the season.
Then it was Brandon Morrow’s turn, and he retired the Brewers in order with relative ease to post his seventh save. Morrow has now faced 37 hitters and just nine of them have reached base (six hits, three walks).
This entire weekend was impressive. The Cubs got outstanding pitching — two runs allowed (one earned) in four games, and swept the series despite scoring only nine runs in the four games. More impressive numbers:
#Cubs have allowed 9 runs in 8 games vs Brewers this season.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 29, 2018
5 shutout wins vs Brewers this season is most by Cubs in a season vs a single opponent since they shut out the Mets 5 times in 1973
And that’s five times in eight games; the Cubs still have 11 games remaining against the Brewers this season. I imagine the Brewers will be happy to not have to face the Cubs again until June, especially with numbers like this:
#Cubs starting pitching vs Brewers— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 29, 2018
This series: 0.00 ERA (1 unearned R), 27.0 IP, 11 Hits, 6 BB, 24 K, 0.630 WHIP
This season: 0.90 ERA (1 unearned R), 50.0 IP, 28 Hits, 11 BB, 46 K, 0.780 WHIP
Also: Cubs starters, over the last six games, have allowed four earned runs in 40 innings, an ERA of 0.90. Their 95 runs allowed for the season is second-best in the National League behind the Diamondbacks (85). And, even with the relative lack of run-scoring by the Cubs this weekend, they still rank third in the N.L. in runs (130) and second in runs per game (5.2).
It won’t get easier with the Rockies and their high-powered offense coming to town Monday evening, though the Rox just got shut out by the Marlins Sunday and scored just three runs in their three-game set in Miami. The weather, which was pleasant Sunday if a bit chilly, is supposed to turn much warmer Monday, with temperatures in the 70s and the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field. Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Kyle Freeland starts for the Rockies. Game time is 6:05 p.m. CT, an hour earlier than most Cubs home night games, because this game will be on ESPN outside the Chicago and Denver markets. Chicago-area coverage is on NBC Sports Chicago.