Remember that 2-7 start the Cubs had to this season?
That seems like a very long time ago, doesn’t it?
Kris Bryant went 3-for-4 with a home run and Jon Lester turned in another outstanding performance as the Cubs defeated the Brewers 4-1 for their second straight win on ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball. The result was the Cubs taking the weekend series from Milwaukee and extending their lead in the N.L. Central to two games.
Not only did the Cubs beat the Brewers, they beat a weekend’s worth of awful weather. This game was once again played in a steady light rain with temperatures in the mid 40s, far below average for mid-May in Chicago.
The weather might have contributed to some early-game errors. Bryant, the second batter in the first inning, reached on a throwing error by Orlando Arcia and advanced to second on a single by Javier Baez. A wild pitch sent him to third, and Willson Contreras was the next hitter [VIDEO].
“Productive out” is kind of a baseball cliché, but that was one, a ground ball to the right side that scored Bryant to make it 1-0.
The Brewers tied the game in the fourth due to a Cubs error, and it was a tough error on Kyle Schwarber. A fly to left seemed to change direction, Kyle made a diving attempt but dropped the ball and then he couldn’t find it. Christian Yelich wound up on third base, where he scored on a single by Jesus Aguilar.
The Cubs had RISP in the third and fourth but could not score. They took the lead in the fifth on a single by Bryant and this double into the right-center field gap by Baez [VIDEO].
Aguilar led off the sixth with a double and Yasmani Grandal laid down a bunt that died in the wet grass in front of third base. Lester struck out Mike Moustakas, and that brought up Hernan Perez [VIDEO].
That was not an easy play, with the ball and field still wet, but Baez and Contreras made it look routine.
Lester got the first two outs in the seventh, then issued a walk to Lorenzo Cain (the first walk of the game) and Yelich singled. That was it for Jon, who left to a warm ovation after 116 pitches, the most by any Cubs starter so far this season. Brandon Kintzler entered and struck out Aguilar to end the inning. Yelich, despite that hit, was pretty much a non-factor in this series, going 2-for-12 with three walks and three strikeouts. Overall against the Cubs this year, he’s 6-for-24 with a double and a home run, and he continues his bizarre home/away split (1.665 OPS at Miller Park, .732 OPS on the road).
Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin had been lifted for pinch-hitter Ryan Braun in the top of the seventh (Braun grounded out, to loud cheers), and the Cubs immediately got to reliever Adrian Houser . Albert Almora Jr. singled to lead off the last of the seventh, and was sacrificed to second by Addison Russell. One out later, KB went kaboom [VIDEO].
That wasn’t the greatest home-run call by the ESPN crew, who were busy yakking about something else while Bryant’s ball landed in the left-field basket. It was Bryant’s eighth of the season and:
5 HR in last 8 games for Kristopher Bryant— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 13, 2019
And that homer gave Kintzler a cushion as he came back out for the eighth. With two out and a runner on, Kintzler provided some defense [VIDEO].
Kintzler’s toss of the ball after his snag was, as Mike Bojanowski commented to me, “the pitching equivalent of a bat flip.” I give Kintzler credit — after being not very good in 2018 after he was acquired last August, Kintzler has been one of the Cubs’ most consistent relievers this season.
The Cubs didn’t score in the bottom of the eighth and Steve Cishek, who had thrown 17 pitches in Saturday’s marathon, entered for the save chance.
Talk about an economy of pitches! Cishek retired pinch-hitters Eric Thames and Travis Shaw with one pitch each, a fly to left and a popup into short center. Cain was the next hitter, and it took just four pitches to end the game [VIDEO].
It was the fewest pitches thrown by a Cubs pitcher who recorded a save and threw at least one full inning since Brandon Morrow did it a bit more than a year ago, a five-pitch save against the Marlins May 8, 2018. Remember Morrow? Cubs relievers have certainly done the job in his absence. And all that good pitching has led to this:
#Cubs April 8- present— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 13, 2019
22-7 record - best in MLB
2.33 team ERA - best in MLB
During that 22-7 run, the Cubs have allowed just 81 runs, by far the fewest of any team (the Astros are second-lowest in that time frame with 120 runs allowed).
Lester, with his 6⅔-inning outing allowing just one unearned run, now has enough innings to qualify (until after Tuesday’s game, when he won’t), and his 1.16 ERA leads the major leagues (five earned runs in 38⅔ innings this season). More Lester:
Most starts of 6+ innings & 1 or 0 earned runs allowed (2015-present)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 13, 2019
57 Jon Lester
57 Jacob deGrom
57 Justin Verlander
55 Zack Greinke
55 Max Scherzer
54 Jake Arrieta
53 Clayton Kershaw
50 Chris Sale
Pretty good company there, Jon Lester. He was in a joking mood after the game:
Lester praised Bryant's play at first, then joked that he told Rizzo (out with back stiffness) to expect more days off.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 13, 2019
JL: "I already yelled at him. I told him I'm going to have a personal lineup going forward. So every five days he'll have off. We're going to go with that."
Anthony Rizzo was given the night off Sunday, likely a good idea after he played 15 innings in awful conditions Saturday. Rizzo has had minor back issues occasionally over the last couple of years and this was a good way of giving him two days off. He’s officially “day-to-day” but I’d expect him back in the lineup Tuesday night at Cincinnati. The Cubs will spend their off day in Chicago before flying out to Cincinnati to begin a six-game road trip.
This team is now on the sort of roll we have expected. This was a highly successful 8-2 homestand, and it could have been 9-1 if not for Kyle Ryan’s mistake in the ninth inning last Monday against the Marlins. The only game the Cubs were really totally out of was the shutout Friday. They’ve evened up the season series against the Brewers (three wins each), have won 12 of their last 14 and enter Monday with the best winning percentage in the National League (.632, slightly better than the Dodgers’ .628).
Good times. Plus, despite the rain, I was able to keep my scorecard dry and score the entire game.
The Cubs will surely enjoy their off day after playing the last two days in cold and rain. The series in Cincinnati begins Tuesday evening at 5:40 p.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Tanner Roark goes for the Reds. TV coverage Tuesday will be via NBC Sports Chicago.