Tuesday had a wintry feel in Chicago, with a strong wind off Lake Michigan making the 50-degree temperature feel much colder.
Wednesday: Instant summer, with a game-time temperature of 80 and winds blowing out strongly toward the outfield at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs took advantage of the breezes with three home runs, including Albert Almora Jr.’s first career grand slam, and defeated the Phillies 8-4.
Also, the phrase “Cole Hamels and Tyler Chatwood both threw four innings in this game and Chatwood pitched better” are words I did not expect to write, nor were they words you expected to read in this recap. But they are absolutely true. And that bodes well not only for Chatwood, but the Cubs bullpen.
Hamels did not start this game out well. By the time a very long first inning was over the Cubs trailed 1-0, despite loading the bases in the bottom of the inning. It got worse in the third, when four Phillies hits, including a perfectly placed bunt single by Bryce Harper (!) made it 3-0.
Anthony Rizzo decided he’d take care of that [VIDEO] in the bottom of the third after singles by Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant.
#Phillies 3 @ #Cubs 3 [B3-0o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) May 23, 2019
Anthony Rizzo homers (12): fly ball to RF (3-run)
Hit: 437.04ft, 110.48mph , 28.91°
Pitch: 87.7mph Four-Seam Fastball (LHP Cole Irvin, 2) pic.twitter.com/wh6tBKU8E7
As noted by Len Kasper, it dented the “d” in the Budweiser sign atop the right-field video board, one of the longest home runs seen hit in that direction since that board was completed in 2015, a bit longer and higher than Schwarber’s famous homer in the 2015 division series against the Cardinals.
Well. Now the game is tied and maybe Hamels can at least complete five innings and... no. He just wasn’t good on this night, slogging through an Edwin Jackson-esque 99 pitches through four. He took the at-bat with two out and no one on in the fourth, presumably to save the bench for later in a tie game, struck out and then made way for Chatwood.
Who was, in a word, outstanding. Chatwood struck out the first two hitters he faced and got a groundout in a quick 1-2-3 fifth. And then the Cubs went to work offensively again. With one out, Bryant doubled and Rizzo walked. Javier Baez struck out, but Willson Contreras walked to load the bases.
When the pitch is so fat that the ball hits the bat, that’s Almora! [VIDEO].
As noted by Len, that was AA’s first career grand slam, and fifth of the year, which matches his total from all of 2018. Silly fun fact:
#Cubs goofy grand slam trivia!— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 23, 2019
Albert Almora Jr. is the first #Cubs player whose last name begins with A to hit a grand slam since Joey Amalfitano on June 12, 1964!
Remember when a lot of you didn’t want to see Almora in the lineup at all because he was hitting so poorly early on? Since April 25: .337/.360/.602 (28-for-83) with seven doubles, five home runs and 16 runs. (Hint: He shouldn’t be leading off, though, not even against lefties.) Per Mark Gonzales, it’s the first time the Cubs have had three grand slams in one month at Wrigley since August 1987.
So now it’s 7-3 and Chatwood is absolutely cruising, hitting 96-97 on the Wrigley pitch speed meter. He did issue a walk and allowed a single in the sixth, then retired six in a row before Andrew McCutchen took him deep with two out in the eighth, a ball that barely made the bleachers in the left-field well. By then, Javy had had some Javy fun [VIDEO].
Baez and Rizzo remain tied for the team lead with 12 home runs. Javy looked not quite 100 percent running on Wednesday, his first start since injuring his heel in Washington Sunday night. Obviously, though, there’s nothing wrong with his bat.
Chatwood was sent out to start the ninth and gave up a leadoff single to Harper. He was obviously going to throw that inning until he allowed a baserunner, and Joe lifted him at that point for Steve Cishek. Chatwood left to a standing ovation, well deserved, and you can imagine how good that must have felt to him, after all his tough times. I give him a tremendous amount of credit. He never made excuses, worked hard, and is now pitching like the Cubs hoped he would after they signed him to that big contract before the 2018 season. I’ve said this before and I will say it again: The Cubs might, just might, have the answer to “closer” right there. Chatwood can throw 97, in this outing he threw strikes (40 in 62 pitches) and when he’s on, his stuff is just electric. His overall walk rate is still a bit too high (5.7 per nine innings), but if he can get that down... it might just be worth a try.
And here’s another big reason the Cubs are winning:
April 19-present— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 23, 2019
Kris Bryant: 139 PA, .315/.446/.685, 10 HR, 26 RBI
Anthony Rizzo: 120 PA, .320/.425/.690, 9 HR, 24 RBI#Cubs
Both of those men struggled a bit early on. But now they are hitting as we had expected them to. So is the entire team: The Cubs lead the N.L. in runs per game (5.38) and have scored just four fewer runs than the league-leading Dodgers, even though L.A. has played three more games. The Cubs’ 190 runs allowed are second-best in the league (to the Reds) and their run differential of +63 is now league-best.
The Cubs maintained their two-game lead over the Brewers in the N.L. Central and have matched their season high at 11 games over .500. They lead the Pirates by 4½ games and the Cardinals by five.
And so, the complaint department is once again closed.
The Cubs go for the series win in an afternoon affair against the Phillies at 1:20 p.m. CT. Jon Lester gets the start for the Cubs and Aaron Nola goes for the Phillies. TV coverage Thursday afternoon will be via ABC7 Chicago.