A picture-perfect, 73-degree afternoon at Wrigley Field. A capacity crowd. Two strong, contending teams.
And the Chicago Cubs outplayed the Los Angeles Dodgers on the mound, in the field and at the plate for a satisfying 4-0 shutout win that took the series from L.A. and put the Cubs in position to begin their road trip in first place if the Pirates can defeat the Brewers Wednesday night.
The Cubs scored in the first inning after Jon Lester had a somewhat-shaky, 22-pitch top of the inning which he ended scoreless after three long fly balls were caught. Kris Bryant hit Ross Stripling’s first pitch for a single, and after Jason Heyward forced him, Ben Zobrist and Heyward executed a perfect hit-and-run, the kind you rarely see in modern baseball. Heyward took off for second and Zobrist poked a ball to the exact spot Justin Turner had vacated. Another force play, hit into by Anthony Rizzo, scored Heyward for a 1-0 lead.
Javier Baez doubled and stole third in the second, but was stranded.
Then the defensive show began. Chris Taylor doubled with one out in the Dodger third and went to third on a single. Then Turner hit a fly ball to Heyward [VIDEO].
Perfect defensive setup by J-Hey, he measured his position and knew exactly what he needed to do to throw home, and Willson Contreras had the perfect position for the tag. The double play kept the game at 1-0 Cubs. We are told Willson suffered a bloody nose during the play, but is otherwise fine.
In the fourth, Kyle Schwarber made it 2-0, going oppo! [VIDEO]
Schwarber tied Javy for the team lead in homers with that one, his 14th of the year.
Not to be denied a featured place in this recap, Javy led off the fifth with a double and was sacrificed to third by Lester. Bryant singled him in to make it 3-0, and the Cubs might have scored more in that inning. Heyward doubled KB to third, but a grounder to first by Zobrist resulted in a tag play at the plate, Bryant heading home on contact.
Meanwhile, after the play at the plate in the second, Lester was cruising. He didn’t have perfect command in this game, issuing three walks and striking out only one, but he managed to get Dodger hitters to hit baseballs right at Cubs outfielders. 13 of the 21 outs recorded by Lester were by outfielders, one of them this terrific diving catch to begin the seventh [VIDEO] by Albert Almora Jr.
I was a bit surprised that Joe Maddon let Lester throw the seventh after ending the sixth at 106 pitches, but it was not a hot nor humid afternoon, and Lester likely told Joe he felt good enough to throw one more. Lester wound up allowing five hits and three walks over seven shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.10 and making a strong case for an All-Star appearance. He wound up with 119 pitches, just the eighth starter in all of MLB this year to throw that many, and the first Cubs starter to do so since... Jon Lester threw 120 against the Yankees at Wrigley, May 7, 2017.
The Cubs plated one more in the eighth when Javy legged out a triple to the left-field corner and scored on a pinch single by Tommy La Stella, who had been having somewhat of a rough time as a PH recently. The hit was his 13th as a PH this year.
Anthony Bass came in to throw the eighth, and allowed a leadoff double to Enrique Hernandez. After that... more Javy being Javy [VIDEO].
Baez has such great baseball instincts. You cannot teach moves like that. We are lucky to have him.
Bass came out again for the ninth, and got the first two hitters easily on ground balls. And then, one more great defensive play, this one by KB, ended the game. Bryant snared a sinking line drive by Yasmani Grandal to end it, and I wish I could show you a video highlight of that one, but there doesn’t seem to be one around. Trust me, it was the perfect capper to this great afternoon.
As Tim Huwe suggested here last week, Bass might be a decent trade piece for some international bonus money as that signing period begins again July 2. Bass would be the likely demotion when Carl Edwards Jr. returns, so why not? Bass certainly might have gotten some scouts’ attention with his performances so far.
Some fun facts about Lester, Baez and Schwarber before I wrap this up:
Jon Lester last 6 starts at Wrigley: 0.47 ERA in 38.1 IP #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2018
Javier Báez has 6 triples and 14 home runs this season.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2018
He's the first #Cubs player to reach both of those totals before the all-star break since Billy Williams (8 3B, 15 HR) in 1967
Kyle Schwarber with his first "Dunn" of the season, believe it or not.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2018
For those who don't know, a "Dunn" is a K, BB & HR in the same game.
Mike Trout leads the Majors with 9 this season because Mike Trout leads the league in everything.
The game was also the Cubs’ 10th shutout of the season. They had just eight all of last year. You might want to start keeping track of this: The post-1920 team record (and I limit this to post-1920 because prior to that was the Deadball Era, when scoring was at a premium and there were many more shutouts than now) for shutouts in a season is 18, set in 1969, tied in 1972. This team has a real chance to break that. The major-league post-1920 record for shutouts is 27, set by the 1968 Cardinals.
They gave the Dodgers, who entered this game third in runs in the National League, just five runs in the three games.
And this team moves back to a season high tying 13 games over .500 — and I’d say they have done that without having totally clicked on all cylinders yet. When this team finally does that, they could go on a very long winning streak.
Perhaps that will start Thursday in Cincinnati, when the Cubs open a four-game set against the Reds. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and Matt Harvey for the Reds. Game time is 6:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage Thursday will be on NBC Sports Chicago.