What a weird game!
The Cubs defeated the Mets 7-4 Monday evening to extend their winning streak to six.
But not before Jon Lester and Noah Syndergaard, both among the better starters in baseball, got knocked around in the first three innings. And not before Lester demonstrated that yes, he can actually hit and field as well as pitch. And not before the Cubs had to use three relievers to record three outs in the ninth inning with a three-run lead.
Yikes! That’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get started.
Lester was giving up a lot of hard contact, right from the first couple of pitches of the game. A leadoff single by Amed Rosario, a wild pitch and another single by former Cub Austin Jackson gave the Mets a 1-0 lead.
But the Cubs hit the ball just as hard off Syndergaard. Daniel Murphy led off the bottom of the first with a double, and Javier Baez singled him to third. Baez then got himself picked off, which was unfortunate because Anthony Rizzo doubled to right [VIDEO].
That double might have scored two runs; instead, it just tied the game. Ben Zobrist singled, but Rizzo had to stop at third.
So it’s 1-1 going to the second, but Michael Conforto quickly un-tied it with a mammoth home run off Lester:
Longest Mets home runs since Statcast began tracking data in 2015:— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) August 28, 2018
1. Michael Conforto, 472 ft, 8/27/18
2. Yoenis Cespedes, 463 ft, 4/24/18
3. Justin Ruggiano, 461 ft, 8/23/16
4. Yoenis Cespedes, 457 ft, 8/20/16
5. Lucas Duda, 456 ft, 7/28/15
Conforto’s home run bounced into the upper center-field bleachers. Lester then allowed two hard-hit outs, walked Kevin Plawecki, then walked Syndergaard.
Seriously, this kind of thing has to stop. Syndergaard came into the game 5-for-35 with 24 strikeouts and zero walks. That was the 15th walk issued by a Cubs pitcher to an opposing pitcher, which leads the major leagues.
Rosario singled in Plawecki and it was 3-1 Mets.
But then Lester completely settled down, From the third through the sixth, he allowed just two baserunners, one on an error by David Bote, the other on a walk to Conforto. This appears to be what happened:
Yeah, and in turn it's making the cutter, which has been his best pitch of late, much more effective. Soft contact and swings and misses suddenly. Not the first time we've seen Lester find it in the middle of a start. https://t.co/RzeSX2nxYc— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) August 28, 2018
It’s good to see that a veteran pitcher like Lester can make adjustments on the fly like this. And while Lester was shutting down the Mets, the Cubs took care of that two-run deficit.
Baez doubled leading off the third and advanced to third on a Rizzo groundout. Syndergaard then wild-pitched him across the plate to make it 3-2. Then the Cubs put together a nice two-out rally, with Lester as the centerpiece. Jason Heyward walked and Willson Contreras singled him to second. The Mets intentionally passed Kyle Schwarber to load the bases.
Now that was an outstanding piece of hitting, on an 0-1 98 mile per hour fastball, no less. It gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead.
Then Syndergaard settled down and gave the Cubs just two baserunners from the fourth through the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, Lester was helping out his own cause not just with the bat, but with the glove. After Rosario reached on Bote’s error, Lester picked him off [VIDEO].
And then, with two out and a runner on first base in the sixth, Lester caught a sharp line drive off the bat of Jose Reyes, almost in self-defense [VIDEO].
So, after a rough first two innings, Lester wound up with a pretty good outing: six innings, three runs, 94 pitches. Only three strikeouts, but obviously he was figuring out creative ways of getting outs by other means.
That lead lasted exactly two pitches into the seventh. Steve Cishek, who hadn’t pitched since Friday, tried to sneak a slider past Plawecki, who launched it into the left-field bleachers about a section over from our group. Cishek retired the rest of the Mets in order in that inning. It was just the third homer Cishek allowed in 60 innings this season.
Once again, the Cubs took care of that in the bottom of the inning. Rizzo led off with a hit down the left field line that was called foul by third-base umpire Gary Cederstrom, but that was reversed on review [VIDEO].
You can see the ball just barely touch the foul line in left field. It bounced into the seats from there, so Rizzo was placed on second base with his second double of the game. Ben Zobrist followed with an RBI double of his own to left-center to give the Cubs the lead. Heyward advanced Zobrist to third with a single, and then Contreras hit into a force play, scoring Zobrist to make it 6-4.
Carl Edwards Jr. threw a 1-2-3 eighth, and then with two out in the eighth, Rizzo launched one [VIDEO].
That ball: Crushed!
Well now, that would seem to be enough, a three-run lead against a bad team, even with your regular closer out, surely there’s someone in the Cubs bullpen who can record three outs in the ninth inning without allowing three runs?
That “someone” turned out to be three “someones.” Pedro Strop was not effective. He walked the leadoff hitter, recorded one out on a force play, then allowed a single. The Mets sent Jay Bruce up to pinch-hit, so Joe Maddon summoned Justin Wilson to face him. That didn’t work, either, as Bruce singled off Wilson to load the bases.
That brought Jesse Chavez into the game, and he finished it off by striking out Rosario and Jackson for his second Cubs save. Chavez has been one of the better acquisitions by Theo & Co. during this season. He throws strikes, gets ahead of hitters, and doesn’t mess around on the mound. About Pedro:
#Cubs Maddon on Strop: "He's not the regular closer. ... He's not an ordained closer, he has not been to the Vatican and he has not received the holy oils. He's part of the bullpen."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 28, 2018
So it appears we’ll be seeing more mix-and-match at closer until and unless Brandon Morrow returns.
For anyone who still pays attention to individual pitcher “wins,” this game is a perfect example of why they don’t mean anything. Lester threw a decent game, his team put him in position to claim that “win,” and Cishek blew it by allowing the home run. And because the Cubs then took the lead back while Cishek was the “pitcher of record,” he gets the “win.” — along with a blown save, his third.
Joe Maddon has, through his years with the Cubs, had one homestand set up as what he calls “American Legion week,” permitting the players to arrive later than usual and cutting back on batting practice (neither team took BP Monday on a hot and steamy night). This is the result:
By the way, #Cubs now 19-2 during American Legion week, which Maddon started in 2015— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 28, 2018
Maddon’s methods might be unorthodox, but they work. Hope he sticks around for a while.
In addition to Lester’s fine evening, Rizzo continues to be a hot hitter. He was named N.L. Player of the Week Monday for his excellent week last week, and since August 2: .361/.443/.699 (30-for-83) with seven doubles, seven home runs, 11 walks and 13 runs scored. Also:
Anthony Rizzo this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 28, 2018
Before May 1 (18 games):
.149/.259/.189, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Since (102 games):
.301/.393/.536, 21 HR, 77 RBI#Cubs
Rizzo’s season OPS of .851 has just about caught up with his career OPS of .854. If September is as good to him as August has been, his overall numbers this year should look pretty much as they have been for the last five seasons.
The win gave the Cubs another half-game on their N.L. Central lead, as the Brewers and Cardinals both had the night off, and so they lead St. Louis by 4½ games and Milwaukee by five. The Cubs have just about caught up to their divisional rivals in games played. Monday night was game 130 for the Cubs; St. Louis has played 131, Milwaukee 132. This victory also put the Cubs 24 games over .500, the first time they’ve been that many games over since the 2016 season.
The Cubs will try to make it seven in a row Tuesday evening, when we’ll have a marquee pitching matchup of Cole Hamels, who’s been lights-out since joining the Cubs, and Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom. Game time again is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be on WGN.