Now that’s the kind of ballgame I like. Beautiful, sunny summer weather, pleasant temperatures, a little lake breeze, fast pace, solid defense and one freaky inning that gave the Cubs a 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks. (At 2:39, this game was the 11th-fastest of the 2018 season for the Cubs.)
Jon Lester was solid through six innings, allowing just three hits and at one point retiring 11 straight D-backs. He was helped out in the second by this nice snag [VIDEO] by Albert Almora Jr. in center field.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were being stymied by Robbie Ray, a lefthander who’s struggled much of this season. They finally put a run across in the fourth. Almora led off with a double, his second of the game, by pure hustle [VIDEO].
Ben Zobrist was next, and his RBI single [VIDEO] gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. It appeared this might be a big inning when Willson Contreras followed with a single, but the D-backs turned a double play and then D-backs catcher John Ryan Murphy picked Zobrist off third base [VIDEO].
Zobrist was called safe on the field; it looked like he pulled a Javy, putting his right arm over the tag, but the review crew reversed the call. It’s hard to see, but Chris Owings must have tagged Zobrist on the side before he got his arm down. That ended the fourth.
Lester, who threw a lot of pitches early, had settled down and thrown 96 pitches through six, so Joe let him begin the seventh. Oops, bad call — A.J. Pollock worked a seven-pitch at-bat, then hit a solo homer that tied the game. Lester was then lifted; he had an outstanding outing apart from the homer, with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Carl Edwards Jr. entered and retired the next three D-backs, but not without help from Ian Happ [VIDEO]. That outstanding running grab was the third out of the inning. The Cubs didn’t score in the seventh off Ray, but he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth. CJ retired the side 1-2-3 in that inning, too. He struck out two in his two-inning appearance:
Carl Edwards Jr.: 200th career strikeout.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 25, 2018
69 Hits allowed
68 Walks allowed
That set up the Cubs’ winning rally, which had some help from some sketchy Arizona defense.
Javier Baez, who didn’t start but was out on the field testing his knee before the game, was cleared to pinch hit. He entered to a loud ovation, and hit a little roller in front of the plate. D-backs pitcher T.J. McFarland threw the ball away, and Javy wound up with a single and went to second on the throwing error [VIDEO].
Javy obviously couldn’t run well; he jogged around first after the error, but made it to second without a throw. He stood there for a short time before Tyler Chatwood came in to run for him. Obviously, Javy’s knee isn’t 100 percent. Ian Happ walked, and then Jason Heyward was sent up to bat for CJ.
Heyward hit a ground ball to second. We’ve seen him do this many times, right? This time, the D-backs, who had turned two slick double plays earlier in the game, tried to do it again... only shortstop Nick Ahmed threw the ball into the D-backs dugout. That allowed Chatwood to score the lead run.
Tommy La Stella followed with a walk and it looked like the Cubs might score an insurance run or two, but then Arizona did turn a double play on a grounder by Anthony Rizzo to end the inning.
Pedro Strop was “closer for the day” and he had to face three tough hitters: Ketel Marte, Paul Goldschmidt and Pollock. Marte flied to right, and then Goldschmidt lofted a little popup to medium deep right field.
It’s just before 4 p.m. The sun has started its descent to the west-northwest. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. This is absolutely the toughest time for a right fielder to try to catch a ball like that, and Heyward fought off the sun as best he could, but the ball dropped in front of him for a double. But Strop got Pollock to fly to center and Steven Souza Jr. grounded to short, and the Cubs had the win.
Thanks to the Nationals’ 7-3 win over the Brewers Wednesday afternoon, the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central increased to 2½ games over Milwaukee. The Cubs also gained a game on the Cardinals and Pirates, who both lost afternoon games Wednesday, the latter breaking Pittsburgh’s 11-game winning streak.
The other thing I’d like address here beyond the game result is the status of Kris Bryant. Bryant was unavailable for this game and likely won’t play Thursday either:
Maddon not sure if Bryant will be available Thursday, as for possibility of DL stint: “it’s not impossible. Everything is in play.” Darvish to throw off a mound again this weekend in STL— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) July 25, 2018
So that means the Cubs will play a man short for three days in a row unless they DL Bryant. If this game had gone into extra innings — a real possibility — the Cubs would have been down to one position player, Victor Caratini, and then had to go to pitchers to pinch-hit. That’s obviously not optimal. Keep an eye on Iowa’s lineup Wednesday night in Fresno (9 p.m. CT start); if David Bote isn’t in it, that likely means Bryant will be DL’d and Bote will be back on the 25-man roster. That’s what I’d do, anyway.
One last fun fact for this one:
Thursday, the Cubs go for the series split. Chatwood will start for the Cubs and Zack Godley goes for Arizona. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Thursday is on NBC Sports Chicago.