Let’s get the worst part of the Cubs’ 6-5 win over the Nationals Sunday night out of the way right away:
Baez: "My heel kind of got jammed, but all good. It depends how it goes tonight, and I want to play (Monday). Joe is going to decide."— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) May 20, 2019
It sure didn’t look “all good” when Javier Baez made a typical Javy play in the bottom of the third inning, then collapsed on the ground grimacing [VIDEO].
Baez limped around a bit, ran it off, appeared to be all right and stayed in the game. It was pretty easy to tell this was still affecting him in his next at-bat and, with the Cubs leading the game 6-1 in the sixth, Joe Maddon prudently took Javy out of the game.
Which had been going quite well until just about then. Kyle Hendricks retired the first 11 Nationals hitters before walking Anthony Rendon with two out in the fourth. It had been a typical Hendricks outing, with weak contact and strikeouts on changeups.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were fashioning a 4-0 lead with one run in each of the first four innings. The ESPN crew (which, incidentally, did a pretty good job of playing it straight Sunday without its usual histrionics or irrelevant videos from spring training) noted that the Cubs can beat teams with several different approaches, and it showed in each of those four runs.
First inning: Jeremy Hellickson walked the first three hitters he faced, then Javy hit into a force play, making it 1-0.
Second inning: A single by Jason Heyward and double by Albert Almora Jr. put runners on second and third, then Kyle Schwarber hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Third inning: Anthony Rizzo goes deep [VIDEO].
It’s now 3-0 and that was Rizzo’s 11th of the season, a popular number on the North Side ballclub these days:
#Cubs HR leaders this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 19, 2019
Fourth inning: Almora doubled again, went to third on a passed ball and scored on Schwarber’s second sac fly of the evening, making the score 4-0.
The Nats made it 4-1 in the fifth, but Hendricks was still cruising along. He helped himself in the sixth after another hit by Heyward and a walk to Almora by laying down this perfect bunt [VIDEO].
I dunno, they gave pitcher Kyle McGowin an error on that play, but it could have gone as a hit for Hendricks, that was a textbook safety squeeze. A ground ball force play by Schwarber put runners on second and third and Kris Bryant was the next hitter [VIDEO].
You know, that ball was almost caught by Brian Dozier, but it looped to the ground and a run scored, making it 6-1. Baez was given the rest of the night off at this point. Easy win, right?
Uh, no. Hendricks issued another walk in with one out in the bottom of the inning, then couldn’t quite get his hands on a comebacker that could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, Addison Russell (who had replaced Javy) rushed a throw over Rizzo’s head and runners were on second and third. That error proved irrelevant moments later when Rendon smacked a three-run homer.
Suddenly it’s 6-4 and this seemingly easy game was close. Hendricks was clearly tiring at this point on a warm, humid night. He allowed two more hits in the inning and Brandon Kintzler was summoned to quell this threat, which he did. Unfortunately, the next inning didn’t go so well. Howie Kendrick was sent up to pinch-hit leading off the seventh and hit Kintzler’s first pitch into the seats to make it 6-5.
Gulp. Please don’t lose this game, Cubs.
Kintzler recorded a couple of outs, and Xavier Cedeno was brought in to face Adam Eaton, who promptly singled.
That brought Steve Cishek into the game. Rendon was the next batter. He hit the ball hard. Fortunately, Russell was there [VIDEO].
That might have saved the game. The Cubs didn’t score in the eighth and Cishek allowed a two-out single in the bottom of the inning before striking out pinch-hitter Adrian Sanchez to send the game to the ninth.
The Cubs also had a two-out baserunner in that inning, on a walk to Willson Contreras. Victor Caratini had been on deck to bat for Cishek, but after the walk, Joe let Cishek take the at-bat.
The ESPN crew was surprised that Cishek came out for the ninth, but I wasn’t. They made a big deal about how he hadn’t thrown more than two innings in seven years. The more important fact was that Cishek hadn’t thrown since Tuesday and went into the ninth at 20 pitches, which isn’t a huge number. He’d thrown 20 or more pitches seven times this year before Sunday.
He dispatched the Nats on seven more pitches on a groundout, popup and groundout and the Cubs had their series win. Beyond that, not a single drop of rain fell on this series. That’s the first time in two weeks that the Cubs have played an entire series without some precipitation.
Joe Maddon has been looking for a time to give Baez a day off and Monday might be a good day for that. Baez, of course, wants to play every day and Joe left the door open for that:
Joe Maddon on Baez: “I think he’s fine” pic.twitter.com/m0lQEYasY3— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) May 20, 2019
Fortunately, the injury appears to be not nearly as bad as it looked when Javy collapsed on the field.
The Cubs thus end this road trip at 3-3, just half a game worse in the N.L. Central standings than they began it. They had a two-game lead after defeating the Brewers last Sunday, and currently lead Milwaukee by 1½ games heading into a seven-game homestand starting Monday night. For individual players, it was nice to see Heyward with a two-hit night, his first since May 1, and Almora with three hits and two doubles, raising his season slash line to .270/.308/.421, pretty much in line with his career norms.
The Phillies come to Wrigley for a four-game series, and the pitching matchup in the opener is highly-anticipated: Yu Darvish vs. Jake Arrieta. Game time Monday is 7:05 p.m. CT, and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago, with a national broadcast on MLB Network (outside the Cubs and Phillies market territories).