Just when things were beginning to look a little scary for the Cubs as they work toward winning the N.L. Central, MVP candidate Javier Baez lifted the team on his back and helped trigger an 8-3 victory over the White Sox Saturday evening.
Ben Zobrist singled with one out in the first inning and up came Javy [VIDEO].
Baez’s 34th home run of the season gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. You can see many empty seats in that video; the park did eventually fill up, the White Sox’ first sellout of the season. More on that later.
Javy giveth, and Javy sometimes taketh away. In the bottom of the first, he rushed a throw on what looked like a routine ground ball by Yolmer Sanchez, and the ball sailed in the general direction of 35th Street. Sanchez wound up on second base and scored on a single by Avisail Garcia and it was 2-1.
Give Sox starter Lucas Giolito some credit. He retired 10 Cubs in a row after Baez’ homer until Kris Bryant singled with two out in the fourth. Meanwhile, Jon Lester served up a home run to Tim Anderson leading off the third that tied the game.
But the Cubs broke through for three runs in the fifth. Kyle Schwarber and David Bote singled and Daniel Murphy broke the tie [VIDEO].
Murphy’s double scored Schwarber to give the Cubs the lead, and Zobrist was next [VIDEO].
Ben’s 10-bouncer up the middle gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead. But Lester, who had struggled with long counts all night, allowed the Sox a run on an RBI single by Matt Davidson in the bottom of the inning. Lester finished with 102 pitches in five innings. He didn’t walk anyone, but the Sox kept chipping away with hits, putting him out of the game after five.
That’s when the Cubs’ pen really stepped up, as they have done most of the year. Carl Edwards Jr., Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson and Steve Cishek combined for four shutout innings, allowing just two walks and striking out five. It was particularly good to see CJ throwing strikes; despite the walk he threw 12 strikes in 20 pitches and looked much more like the CJ we saw last year, and early this year before he spent time on the DL with a shoulder issue. Joe Maddon had spoken about this recently, saying the Cubs “had to get CJ right” in order to succeed. Hopefully, this is a first step toward getting Edwards back in position to throw in higher-leverage situations.
The Cubs broke the game open in the top of the ninth off Rob Scahill. Schwarber led off with a double and was immediately replaced by Terrance Gore, who advanced on a wild pitch. Albert Almora Jr., who had entered the game in the seventh when Joe shifted players around for better defense, batted one out later [VIDEO].
That’s a contact play, with the runner going as soon as the ball is hit. The infield is in; you can see Sox third baseman Sanchez maybe 40 feet from the plate. And still, Gore is safe. He’s just that fast. Almora reached, and after Zobrist walked, Baez singled in another run, and Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball that could have been a double play, but Baez’s slide broke it up.
The play was ruled “call confirmed,” and that’s when Sox shortstop Tim Anderson lost it [VIDEO]. (White Sox announcers on this call.)
Anderson and Sox manager Rick Renteria were both ejected. Now, Joe West is involved here, but you can’t do that. The play was reviewed, call was confirmed, and to see a player argue like that? Renteria tried to protect his player, but seriously... that’s a bad look for Anderson and the Sox.
Incidentally, props to the Sox video board crew, who put a note on their board about exactly why that play was being reviewed (“slide interference”). The Sox also make PA announcements when an intentional walk is issued. These would be good additions at Wrigley Field. (Hint, hint.)
Just before that ninth inning began, the Brewers lost 3-0 in Pittsburgh, reducing the Cubs’ magic number to seven, and the Cubs’ win dropped it to six. The win was the Cubs’ 90th of the year, giving them four straight seasons with 90 wins. That’s the first time the Cubs franchise has had four consecutive 90+ win years since a nine-year run from 1904-12. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: We are living in a golden age of Cubs baseball. Savor it.
Meanwhile, Lester had lots of great things to say about Baez after the game:
#Cubs Lester on Baez: "People want to nitpick that he doesn't walk but [he's hitting] .300 with 34 homers and 100 [RBI] -- I know the other [MVP candidates] are good but when you add multiple positions to a guy, that changes my vote for sure." https://t.co/jZec9GF8Q7— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 23, 2018
He’s right. As for Javy:
#Cubs Baez: "We know what we've got. We just have to stay away from every other team. They have to pay attention to us, not us to them. If we do that, we should be good. We're going to battle with what we've got."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 23, 2018
And he’s right, too. The Cubs just need to take care of business and they will win the N.L. Central and go into the postseason with the best record in the National League.
Now, a note about the sellout crowd on the South Side Saturday night, late-arriving mostly due to traffic and highway construction. Whose dumb idea in the White Sox front office was it to have a 3:10 game on Friday and 6:10 game on Saturday in this series? Weekend night Cubs/Sox games on the South Side are an invitation to trouble and they had some. There were at least four fights in the stands — and that’s only what I could see from where I was sitting in the left-field corner, there could have been others. Security seemed somewhat understaffed and overwhelmed by these and I watched them eventually lead away quite a number of people for ejection. The Sox should have scheduled Friday’s game for 6:10 and Saturday’s for 3:10. A Saturday game in September at 6:10, after people have been drinking all day watching college football? Really, really bad idea, White Sox. The two Cubs/Sox games on the South Side in 2019 are set for Saturday, July 6 and Sunday, July 7. Game times have not yet been set for these dates and I’d urge the Sox to make these both day games.
The Cubs go for the series win (and, if you care, the Crosstown Cup) Sunday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Carlos Rodon goes for the Sox. Game time is 1:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage is via ABC7 Chicago. The game preview will post here at 11:30 a.m. CT.