This was shaping up to be one of those frustrating losses where opportunities were wasted, and a somewhat unexpected pitching performance went for naught.
The Cubs couldn’t do anything with Zack Wheeler for six innings, and Brandon Nimmo’s two-run homer off Tyler Chatwood in the third was looking like it just might hold up for the remainder of the evening.
Before I get to describing how the Cubs won this game 7-4, let me give some props to Chatwood.
Despite issuing four more walks, he limited the damage to Nimmo’s home run. And instead of having to leave the game in the third inning after 88 pitches, as he did in his last start, Chatwood pitched into the sixth and threw 56 strikes in 96 pitches. There’s still more room for improvement, but that was one of his better outings of the season. Baby steps.
When Chatwood did depart with one out in the sixth and two runners on base, Randy Rosario entered the game and finished up the inning on just four pitches, two each to Adrian Gonzalez (fly out) and Luis Guillorme (ground ball).
Was that what suddenly got the Cubs going? Whatever the reason, they immediately got to Wheeler to begin the seventh. Addison Russell singled, and pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella singled him to third.
Let me pause right here to again write about what a remarkable season La Stella is having. This game marked the one-third point of the season, 54 games. That was TLS’ 12th pinch hit. To put that in perspective, the major-league record for pinch hits in a season is 28 (John Vander Wal, 1995). TLS is now on pace for 36 pinch hits, which would smash that record to bits, and at this pace he’ll break the Cubs franchise record of 20 by August. He’s now hitting .462/.548/.538 (12-for-26) as a PH with two doubles, five walks and seven RBI. It’s just remarkable.
Anyway, Kyle Schwarber, who had entered the game on a double-switch when Rosario came in, made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly.
The next hitter was Ben Zobrist, and he ripped a double into right-center [VIDEO] to tie the game. After an infield out advanced Zobrist to third, Kris Bryant singled him in to give the Cubs the lead, one of three hits Bryant had on the night. That’s a good sign; Bryant is 5-for-9 in this series after being in a 3-for-22 slump. Zobrist also posted a three-hit game:
Ben Zobrist (age 37 years, 5-6 days): oldest #Cubs player with consecutive 3-hit games since Moisés Alou (38 years, 91-92 days) October 2-3, 2004— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 2, 2018
And Zobrist is having a fine year:
Ben Zobrist now at .304/.392/.464 this season. Not bad for a 37-year old.#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 2, 2018
After the Cubs took the lead, Rosario threw a 1-2-3 seventh.
Let me pause here to talk about how good a pickup Rosario appears to be. Theo & Co. have pulled in quite a number of relievers on waivers over the last couple of seasons and until now, none of them had turned out to be anything useful. Rosario, though, looks like a keeper. He’s only 24 and has now had four solid big-league outings, allowing no runs and striking out six in seven innings. Small sample size, but this move is looking good.
In the eighth, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras singled, sandwiched around a pair of strikeouts. That brought up Schwarber [VIDEO].
That made it 6-2, and Schwarber had four RBI despite not entering the game until the sixth inning. Fun fact about Schwarber’s home run:
Pedro Strop entered to throw the eighth, and unfortunately displayed again the inability to get third outs. He issued a leadoff walk, then dispatched the next two hitters on a strikeout and force play. But Jose Bautista hit a two-out double, putting runners on second and third and bringing Brian Duensing in to face lefthanded-hitting Adrian Gonzalez.
Right move, wrong result. Duensing ran a quick 0-2 count, but Gonzalez smacked a Duensing slider into center field for a two-run single. Now it’s 6-4 and Steve Cishek was summoned. He struck out Kevin Plawecki to end the inning.
In the ninth, Bryant singled but was thrown out trying to steal. Bryant, who in the past has been a pretty good base stealer, has been caught three times in four attempts this year. For all the good offensive things this Cubs team can do, they’re just not very good at base stealing. They rank 13th in the N.L. in steals with 18, and the steal percentage of 64.3 (18 SB, 28 attempts) isn’t good.
Bryant staying on first might have resulted in a run, as Anthony Rizzo followed with a double into the right-field corner.
That brought up... Jon Lester.
Lester was batting for Cishek because the Cubs ran out of bench players earlier in the game.
When Lester came to the Cubs he was an awful hitter. He had been 0-for-36 with the Red Sox and Athletics and 0-for-30 with the Cubs before his first big-league hit, off his old friend John Lackey on July 6. 2015.
Beginning with that hit through Friday night, Lester is hitting .139/.211/.184 (22-for-136) with six doubles, three walks, a home run and 15 RBI.
I mean... that’s still bad, but by pitcher standards it’s at least passable. He’s also become an excellent bunter, with 25 sacrifices as a Cub.
In this one, he battled a pretty good pitcher, Jeurys Familia, to a full count before grounding to second. That advanced Rizzo to third, where he scored on a single by Ian Happ. Happ’s hit might not have been deep enough to score Rizzo had he been on second base. So credit Lester for a useful at-bat [VIDEO].
With the score 7-4 entering the last of the ninth, Brandon Morrow entered for a potential save. He walked Jose Reyes leading off the inning, and... man, that’s almost impossible to do. Reyes entered this game with six walks in 76 plate appearances this year.
Fortunately, Morrow retired the next three hitters in order, striking out Asdrubal Cabrera to end it, and posted his 14th save, and the Cubs had a satisfying win. They went 4-for-9 with RISP in this game and had several key hits right when they needed them.
The win put the Cubs at eight games over .500 for the first time this season, and as they have now finished exactly one-third of the 2018 schedule, they’re on pace for 93 wins. And, thanks to the Brewers’ loss to the White Sox (thank you, White Sox!), the Cubs moved to within three games of first place in the N.L. Central, and just one down in the loss column to Milwaukee.
Road gray: 12-2
Blue alt: 3-10
Remember, this is just for fun. But it is remarkable to have such a huge difference. I recall a number of years ago, the Cubs lost 18 straight games that were televised on WGN. It got to the point where even the broadcast crew was mentioning it on air. Though it makes no difference in how the team plays, I hope they keep wearing the gray jerseys. Just to be a “little” stitious, using Joe Maddon’s term.
Saturday night’s pitching matchup is the toughest one in this series. Jacob deGrom, who’s having an excellent season, will go for the Mets. Mike Montgomery, who was outstanding in his first 2018 start last Monday against the Pirates, starts for the Cubs. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT and this is a Fox-TV “Baseball Night in America” game. Check this coverage map to see if the game is on the Fox affiliate in your area, and if it’s not and you have a MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings subscription, you can watch via those services.