When Kyle Hendricks served up a two-run homer to Marcell Ozuna in the first inning Saturday, you could have been forgiven if you thought (because I had the same thought), “Here we go again.” Hendricks has been susceptible to the home-run ball this year and has, on occasion, had trouble locating. The latter, too, happened in this game.
After Ozuna’s homer, the Cubs came back to within 2-1 in the third inning on a walk, a groundout and an RBI single by Willson Contreras.
Then Addison Russell stepped to the plate leading off the fourth. His solo homer [VIDEO] tied the game at 2. Russell since May 25: .357/.390/.518 (20-for-56) with three doubles and two home runs. Still think the Cubs need Manny Machado? (Hint: No.)
The Cardinals came right back in the bottom of that inning, with pitcher Carlos Martinez driving in a run with a single that made it 3-2 St. Louis. As I noted above, Hendricks seemed to have trouble locating, and that’s really his game. If he can locate, especially his changeup, he’ll get outs. If not, he’s going to get hit pretty hard, and issue walks, and he did the latter too much in this one, four walks overall.
But the Cubs came right back and tied the game in the top of the fifth. After Kris Bryant walked, Contreras laid down a bunt that was clearly intended to be for a hit, and a bad throw by Martinez made both runners safe. Kyle Schwarber’s single [VIDEO] plated KB to make it 3-3. The hit came on a significant anniversary for Kyle:
Kyle Schwarber made his MLB debut 3 years ago today, entering as a defensive replacement in 9th inning. He struck out vs Marc Rzepczynski#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 17, 2018
He did just a bit better after that strikeout.
Anyway, Hendricks managed to post a decent outing (six innings, three runs) despite allowing too many baserunners (seven hits, four walks). And the Cubs took the lead in the top of the seventh. Anthony Rizzo led off with a single, Contreras bunted again, this time to sacrifice, and after Rizzo advanced to second on the sac, Schwarber was intentionally passed. The Cardinals retired Russell for the second out, but Ian Happ doubled down the right-field line [VIDEO] to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead.
The Cubs extended the lead in the eight. Ben Zobrist reached on a throwing error, and Jason Heyward was next [VIDEO].
As you see above, that ball was thrown pretty hard — 99 miles per hour — and it left Busch Stadium just as quickly:
Barrel: Jason Heyward (8) [CHC] off Jordan Hicks [STL]: 103.9 mph, 23 degrees (Home Run - 410 ft)— MLBExitVelocity (@MLBExitVelocity) June 17, 2018
J-Hey’s fourth of the season gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead.
Meanwhile, the bullpen was doing its usual excellent job. Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop faced six batters total and retired them all, two by strikeout.
Then it was Brandon Morrow’s turn. Morrow hadn’t thrown in nine days, and sure, he could have thrown in one of the blowouts during the week, or losses, but Joe Maddon has a good reason for not doing that:
“All of a sudden you do that, you’ll need him for three or four days in a row,” Maddon said Saturday. “We’re in a big stretch (without a day off), but guys like him are normally able to take care of what they need (to) in the bullpen.”
Morrow didn’t appear sharp, likely due to the layoff. His velocity was fine, but his location was all over the place. He gave up a pair of singles leading off the inning, and then retired pinch-hitter Greg Garcia. Then while Matt Carpenter was batting, this happened [VIDEO].
Goodness, that was some bad-looking defense by the Cubs. The ball was called foul by third-base umpire Paul Nauert, and the replay crew ruled “call stands.” That was a fortunate break for the Cubs, because the best-case scenario would have been bases loaded, nobody out, and since umpires are permitted to place runners in situations like that if a call on the field is overturned, it’s possible a Cardinals run would have scored.
Morrow struck out Carpenter, then ran the count full on Tommy Pham before striking him out to end it for his 16th save, and not his prettiest one of the year. He had to throw 25 pitches to finish up.
But a win is a win, and with the Brewers losing to the Phillies earlier Saturday, the Cubs move to within half a game of first place in the N.L. Central, and also now have one fewer loss than the Brewers (the fewest losses in the N.L. at 27).
One last thing I’d like to mention here, a followup to some of the discussion of Friday’s win. No, Joe Maddon wasn’t “trolling” or “playing to the cameras” when he made a pitching change in the ninth inning Friday:
Before the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked for the second time why he elected to summon left-handed reliever Randy Rosario with one out in the ninth inning with an eight-run lead Friday night, and Maddon made his point in a calm but direct manner.
Maddon said he decided to pull righty Luke Farrell after 28 pitches regardless of the situation, even with Cardinals reliever John Brebbia batting next.
“Quite frankly, if anyone didn’t like it, that’s too bad,” Maddon said. “It’s all about saving my guys. (Anthony) Bass and Farrell should be available (Saturday).
“Sometimes people don’t get it when you’re trying to conserve and preserve people.”
Hope that settles that. Maddon’s strategies might seem a bit unorthodox, but he knows what he’s doing, and I agree with him that rest is extremely important in keeping this team fresh for games in August and September... and October.
The Cubs go for the sweep Sunday night on ESPN’s featured game of the week. Jose Quintana starts for the Cubs and Jack Flaherty goes for the Cardinals. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CT.