The Cubs scored early and often Sunday afternoon in San Diego, and held on to sweep the Padres with a 7-4 victory that sent them into the All-Star break with a 4-2 California road trip, a 9-3 record in July and a 2½-game lead in the N.L. Central.
More on the last part of that later, but let’s unpack this win.
You could tell this was going to go the Cubs’ way as early as the first two batters of the game. Anthony Rizzo led off with a nicely-placed single against the shift, to left field, after a seven-pitch at-bat. Then Kris Bryant worked a walk after a 10-pitch at-bat, so the Cubs had two baserunners and Padres starter Eric Lauer had thrown 17 pitches already without retiring anyone.
One out later, Javier Baez and Addison Russell hit back-to-back RBI singles to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Baez took third and Russell second on the throw in, and Javy scored on an infield out.
That’s a 3-0 lead and Lauer threw 37 pitches in the first inning, so you figured he wouldn’t be long for the game.
The Cubs put two more across against him in the second inning. Lauer hit David Bote with a pitch. Jon Lester tried to sacrifice him, but Bote was forced. Rizzo doubled, sending Lester to third, and both scored on a single by Jason Heyward, making it 5-0. Lauer exited the game for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the second, having thrown 56 pitches to record six outs.
The Cubs made it 6-0 in the fourth. Bote, making the most of what’s likely to be a one-game cameo appearance before he heads back to Iowa, led off with a walk. Then he stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error before scoring on a sacrifice fly by Rizzo.
Lester had been mowing down Padres hitters while all this was going on. He was helped out by this slick pickoff play [VIDEO] by Willson Contreras in the second inning.
Christian Villanueva touched Lester for his 19th home run, in the bottom of the fourth, to make it 6-1.
Bote reached base again in the sixth on a double down the left-field line, following a single by Contreras. Rizzo was walked to load the bases and then Bryant was hit by a pitch from Padres submariner Adam Cimber (that’s one weird-looking motion, incidentally) and the Cubs had a six-run lead at 7-1.
Lester got into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the sixth, Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and after Jon hit Freddy Galvis to make it 7-2, Joe Maddon lifted him in favor of James Norwood, who issued a bases-loaded walk to make it 7-3 before getting out of the inning.
Lester threw 101 pitches over 5⅓ innings, allowing six hits and three walks, and was charged with three runs, leaving his season ERA at 2.58 entering the break.
Hunter Renfroe homered off Pedro Strop in the seventh to make it 7-4. A single followed, and the game might have become uncomfortably close if not for a bizarre double play [VIDEO].
Baez booted a grounder hit by Villanueva, but it rolled right to Russell for the force at second, and the relay just beat Villanueva to first to end the inning. El Mago doing magic even when he does something wrong!
Justin Wilson issued one walk in an otherwise scoreless eighth, and Brandon Morrow finished up for his 22nd save, helped out by a slick play by Bote at third base.
Rizzo will likely go back to the middle of the order after the break, but as the leadoff hitter in this series: 6-for-12 with two walks, two runs scored and three doubles.
I mentioned the Cubs moved to a 2½-game lead in the division with this win, and normally I’m not in the business of running highlights from games other than Cubs games here, but you have to see how they did that, as the Brewers lost to the Pirates. Milwaukee blew a 5-2 eighth-inning lead, allowing the Bucs a run in the eighth and two in the ninth. With two out and two strikes on David Freese, Freese tripled over Lorenzo Cain’s head to score the tying run for the Pirates.
The Brewers took a 6-5 lead in the top of the 10th, and with two out and two on in the bottom of the 10th and a torrential downpour beginning at PNC Park, this happened [VIDEO].
Colin Moran, who scored the winning run, is likely out if that throw is handled by Brewers catcher Erik Kratz, but the ball gets away and the Pirates come away with the win. Thank you, Pirates, for sweeping the Brewers in a five-game series, something very rare in Brewers history:
#Brewers have been swept in a five-game series just twice previously: September 1985 in Kansas City and August 1990 against the Chicago White Sox. Never in the National League.— Tom (@Haudricourt) July 15, 2018
And now it’s happened to them once in the National League, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cubs. The Cubs have the best record in the N.L. at 55-38 and the Brewers are 55-43, so the entire 2½-game lead is courtesy of the five-game lead the Cubs have in the loss column. Eventually, with more off days for the Brewers than the Cubs in August and September, that five-game gap will be equalized, but a team can’t make up games in the standings that they have already lost.
We will have lots of Cubs and MLB content here at BCB over the All-Star break. Of course, Baez and Kyle Schwarber will be participating in the Home Run Derby Monday, so there will be lots about that including a “game” thread, and then Baez and Contreras will start the All-Star Game Tuesday, with Lester attending the festivities as a player chosen to the team who won’t participate.
It’s anticipated that Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs Thursday evening at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals, who have not yet listed a starting pitcher for that game. Thursday’s game is a MLB “showcase” game, the only game on that day coming out of the All-Star break. It’ll be at 6:05 p.m. Thursday and there will be national TV coverage via ESPN.
And one final note. Over the last three seasons, the Cubs have the following records after the All-Star break:
2015: 50-25 (.667)
2016: 50-23 (.685)
2017: 49-25 (.662)
Total: 149-73 (.671)
I would expect nothing less from this year’s edition. One of Joe Maddon’s biggest strengths as a manager is knowing how and when to rest his players so they’re strong in August and September. There are fewer games in the “second half” this year due to the later All-Star break, just 69 games remain in the 2018 season. If the Cubs play .671 ball over those 69 games, they’ll go 46-23 (.671 is actually a bit more than 46 wins, I rounded down).
Do that and we’re looking at a 101-win season. Should be fun. Hang in there for the second-half ride.