Ready for another eight weeks or so of this kind of intensity?
Pennant-race and playoff baseball — there’s nothing quite like it, and we had a taste of that Wednesday evening in the Cubs’ 6-4 win over the Brewers.
Good starting pitching? Check. Close play at the plate? Check. Timely hitting? Check. Solid relief pitching? Check. (Mostly.)
Oh, and a little bit of El Mago. What more could you ask for?
Jose Quintana, who’s been better for the last few weeks, started out well in this game, with three shutout innings. Then the Cubs offense got to work in the fourth. First up, Daniel Murphy [VIDEO].
Murphy’s 10th homer of the season — and fourth as a Cub in just 57 at-bats — gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Javier Baez followed with a single and that’s when all the fun started.
First, there was the fun of watching Jhoulys Chacin make two pickoff throws to first while Javy was standing on the bag:
“They know I want to run, and right before ‘Riz’ stepped up to the plate, I was watching the catcher and he wasn’t giving signs so I knew (the throw) was coming back,” Baez said. “Then after the first one I looked at him again and he looked like he was giving signs, but I saw him (being) so fake about it, so I just stayed there.”
So not only does Baez have great instincts, he’s a really smart baserunner.
Anthony Rizzo singled to center and Javy never stopped running toward third. That made Lorenzo Cain airmail a throw in that general direction and... well, watch [VIDEO].
Every time you think Javy has done the ultimate on the basepaths, he does it again. This one looked similar to the play he made Monday to score a run on an error by Cain. One thing that’s been said about Baez is that he has none of the fear or hesitation that might make another baserunner not try those kinds of things, or where someone else might get thrown out. Javy simply doesn’t blink when wanting to create havoc on the basepaths. He just does it, and nearly every time, his instincts are right. He’ll get the extra base, or score a run as in this situation, force the defense to make a bad play. He IS El Mago.
One more note about this play. The Brewers have acquired a lot of infielders, as you know. But they just don’t seem to play solid defense, and get easily rattled in the field. The Cubs have shown over the last three seasons how important defense is to winning. The difference between the two teams defensively has never been shown quite so vividly as in this series.
Anyway, it’s now 2-0 and the rally continued. Ben Zobrist doubled in Rizzo and one out later, Zobrist moved to third on a passed ball, where he scored on an infield single by Willson Contreras.
That’s an excellent way to rally, both on power and baserunning, nicely done.
Q nursed the lead through six innings. The Cubs added runs in the fifth and sixth, even as the Brewers matched them in the fourth and sixth, so the seventh began with the Cubs up by four at 6-2. The Cubs could have had more in the fifth, but Rizzo was called out at the plate on this play [VIDEO], which was ruled “call stands” on review.
There was at least one angle on the video where it looked like Rizzo had reached the plate before he was tagged, but it apparently wasn’t conclusive enough to overturn. Also, as noted by Len Kasper on the broadcast, a catcher can block the plate if he has the ball, which is what happened — the ball got there before Rizzo did, so Brewers catcher Erik Kratz was within the rules by blocking the plate.
One of those Cubs runs noted above was on this majestic blast [VIDEO] in the sixth inning by Kyle Schwarber.
That ball: Crushed!
And not only that, Schwarber did that after tweaking his back on an earlier slide where he was thrown out:
Maddon said Schwarber's back started acting up after his slide into third. He let Maddon know before his final at-bat and then homered. Maddon said it was his best swing of the season. He's day to day.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) September 6, 2018
Quintana recorded the first two outs in the seventh and I thought he could have continued, but Joe Maddon didn’t want him facing Cain after throwing 104 pitches. So Jesse Chavez entered, and immediately gave up a single to Cain. It got worse with the next hitter, Curtis Granderson, who was batting for Hernan Perez. Granderson homered to make it 6-4.
Yikes. You were nervous at this point, right? (Yes, you were.)
The Cubs put two runners on in the eighth but Albert Almora Jr. hit a sharp line drive to Mike Moustakas at third with the runners going. Kris Bryant was doubled off first to end the inning.
Joe deployed just about all the relievers he could in this game. Steve Cishek retired the first two men in the last of the eighth, but didn’t want to have him face the lefty-hitting Moustakas, so Justin Wilson was summoned. These are the types of situations Wilson was acquired for, and he got Moustakas to pop up in foul territory (though not until Contreras nearly tripped over a pile of bats in the Brewers on-deck circle).
The Cubs went down 1-2-3 in the ninth and so it was Pedro Strop’s turn. Strop, who had not thrown since last Thursday, seemed a bit rusty and maybe was overthrowing a bit. He walked Travis Shaw on four pitches, then gave up a pinch single to Christian Yelich.
But Strop bore down. Eric Thames hit a routine fly ball to center and Cain hit into a force play. That brought up Granderson, who had remained in the game after his pinch homer.
Strop ran a 2-2 count on Granderson before getting him to swing and miss at a slider, and the Cubs had their hard-earned win.
And then they get to do this all over again with the Brewers next week at Wrigley Field!
Also, this is the sort of thing the Cubs are likely going to have to do in the postseason, mix and match late-inning relievers, because Brandon Morrow might not be back:
As of now, #Cubs feel they'd be lucky to get Morrow back. Maddon: "It's hard to get him up to speed. You have to talk about building arm strength up, seeing hitters, throwing, day off, throwing again, and then just to be cautious regarding consecutive appearances"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 5, 2018
Can the #Cubs win without a bonafide closer? Maddon: "We got close with the Rays. We didn't have that one guy at the end and we did not not win that because the bullpen was ineffective."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 5, 2018
I had to read that second quote a couple of times and you probably did too. Maddon meant the Rays didn’t lose (“not not win”) because of bullpen ineffectiveness. Most of the year, guys have stepped up since Morrow has been out. There’s no reason they can’t continue to do so.
The Cubs are now 10-6 against the Brewers this year. That accounts for the entire current four-game spread between the two teams, and even though the Cubs lost the series at Miller Park, they lost only one game of their division lead while knocking three more games off the calendar, and reducing their magic number to 19.
The Cubs lead the Cardinals by 4½ games after St. Louis beat the Nationals Wednesday night (though they nearly blew leads of 6-0 and 7-1 before winning 7-6). The Cubs head to Washington to face those Nats in a four-game series beginning Thursday evening. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs against Washington’s Stephen Strasburg. Game time Thursday is 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.