You could be forgiven if you thought the Cubs and Tigers changed identities over the first four innings Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
It was the Tigers getting sharp hits all over the yard and scoring runs, and the Cubs flailing away at an opposing hurler’s offerings. Kyle Hendricks again had a rough first inning, and a couple of the hits might have been caught with slightly different defensive positioning, but the result was the Cubs down 2-0 before inning number one was over. That gives Kyle an 8.47 ERA in the first inning this year, as compared to a 3.42 ERA in all other innings thrown.
Well, there’s a conundrum for pitching coach Jim Hickey to help Kyle solve. Why is he getting pounded in the first inning and then he looks reasonably good?
While all this was going on, the Cubs were going down meekly. Addison Russell’s third-inning double, after a walk to Willson Contreras, was the first hit. Now there are runners on second and third and this would seem to be a good time to try a safety squeeze with Hendricks, who is a pretty bad hitter. But Kyle never showed bunt, and was called out on strikes. Albert Almora Jr. walked to load the bases, but the Cubs could not score. Neither could they score with two on and two out in the fourth after Hendricks was touched up for a third run.
That Detroit fourth inning might have been worse, as they had two on with only one out, but the Cubs turned a slick double play [VIDEO] when Michael Fulmer tried to sacrifice.
This is where defense can really, really help you, and the Cubs have had more than their share of fine defensive efforts this year.
Finally, the offense solved Fulmer. Hendricks had thrown just 78 pitches through five innings, but Joe Maddon wanted to generate some offense, so Tommy La Stella batted for him. TLS, after a great start to 2018 as a PH, had struggled recently, but not this time. He hit a high fly to left that Mikie Mahtook misjudged and turned the wrong way on. It wound up in the ivy for a ground-rule double, his 14th pinch hit of the season. (The team record of 20, set by Thad Bosley in 1985 and tied by Dave Clark in 1997, is definitely reachable for Tommy.)
That was followed by doubles by Almora and Jason Heyward, and the Heyward double was a thing of beauty, sliced down the left-field line. Ben Zobrist’s grounder advanced Heyward to third, and then a ground ball by Anthony Rizzo that eluded Fulmer and was too slow for Tigers second baseman Niko Goodrum to pick up quickly scored Heyward as Rizzo beat the throw to first. That tied the game, again a nicely-done crooked-number rally that did not require a home run.
Anthony Bass threw a 1-2-3 sixth. Bass has now thrown 13⅓ innings this year without allowing a walk. That’s the most innings thrown by any major-league pitcher in 2018 who has not walked anyone. Sure, he might walk someone before the end of the year, but that’s still a pretty impressive run. Justin Wilson had a scoreless seventh, surviving an errant throw by Russell, and then the Cubs took the lead on a pair of singles, by Heyward and Zobrist, and an RBI fielder’s choice by Rizzo.
Steve Cishek continued the good Cubs relief work by throwing a 1-2-3 eighth and then Kyle Schwarber put the cherry on top of this win in the eighth with this laser beam of a home run [VIDEO].
The title there says “towering” but that’s not even close to being correct:
Schwarber's HR #Cubs pic.twitter.com/IqxuvApUso— Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) July 3, 2018
A 25.1 degree launch angle is basically a line drive, and that ball got out of the yard in a hurry to its resting point 375 feet away from the plate.
Pedro Strop, somewhat surprisingly, warmed up for the save situation and entered for the ninth. Do not worry about Brandon Morrow, though:
#Cubs Morrow is fine. Maddon wanted to give him 2 days off— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 3, 2018
And that, I believe, is smart. If Morrow throws on Wednesday, he’ll then get another day off Thursday.
Strop was up to the challenge, allowing a one-out single but finishing off the Tigers easily otherwise, for his second save of the season and the Cubs had their fifth straight win. The Cubs move to 48-35 and match their high point of the season at 13 games over .500. At this writing, the Brewers lead the Twins late in their afternoon contest in Milwaukee. If that score holds up, the Cubs will remain one game behind the Brewers in the N.L. Central.
The high heat from the weekend was gone, with temperatures in the 80s, but it still must have been hot on the right-field side, as the bleachers on that side began to empty out mid-game. There was a nice breeze blowing off Lake Michigan keeping the rest of the ballpark reasonably cool, at least compared to the weekend.
Kris Bryant, who’s been out for more than a week with a shoulder issue, was eligible to come off the DL Tuesday but wasn’t, though he took some BP on the field. He won’t come off Wednesday, either:
#Cubs Maddon says Bryant won't be activated on Wed. Still feeling something in shoulder— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 3, 2018
For now, that’s probably wise. The team is winning and the extra rest can’t hurt for KB. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go Friday when the Reds come to town.
One more fun fact on this five-game streak:
#Cubs have now had 5-game winning streaks where they averaged:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 3, 2018
10.2 runs per game (last 5 games)
2.4 runs per game (April 26-30)
This brief two-game set wraps up Wednesday afternoon. Jose Quintana goes for the Cubs and Francisco Liriano will start for the Tigers. Game time again is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage Wednesday is via WGN.