Tuesday evening, Kyle Schwarber led off the Cubs’ first inning by homering on the first pitch he saw. The Cubs, though, lost the game.
Wednesday evening, White Sox center fielder Leury Garcia began the game the same way, hitting Jon Lester’s first pitch into the seats. Now, if you looked at the pitching matchup you might have figured it would be a bad evening for the Cubs, but I thought this might be a “turnaround is fair play” type of game, and sure enough, it was. The Cubs smacked Lucas Giolito for more earned runs than he’d allowed in a start since September 2018 and defeated the White Sox 7-3, earning a split of the two-game series on a night where the weather felt more fit for March than June.
The Cubs began to get to work to get that run back right away. Schwarber doubled into the right-field well on a ball that Sox right fielder Ryan Cordell took a weird route to. One out later, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez walked, and that brought up Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
The ball made the left-field basket beneath the ribbon board, but it counts all the same, and the Cubs quickly had a 4-1 lead. Fun fact:
Last 2 #Cubs first inning grand slams (against any team)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2019
Willson Contreras tonight in first inning vs White Sox
Willson Contreras May 11, 2018 in first inning vs White Sox
Jon Lester made quick work of the Sox in the second and third, and in the bottom of the third, it was Willson Time again [VIDEO].
Check out the shallow launch angle on that one — you can’t really hit it at much shallower of an angle and have it go out of the yard:
#WhiteSox 1 @ #Cubs 5 [B3-2o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) June 20, 2019
Willson Contreras homers (15): line drive to LCF (solo)
Hit: 399.58ft, 111.95mph , 17.31°
[2nd of game]
Pitch: 94.6mph Four-Seam Fastball (RHP Lucas Giolito, 7) pic.twitter.com/5yxICkniXo
Also, June 19 might be Contreras’ favorite day of the year:
Willson Contreras— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2019
June 19, 2016: homered in first MLB at-bat**
June 19, 2017: homered
June 19, 2019: homered twice
**2nd MLB game (was defensive replacement two days earlier)#Cubs
Willson Contreras: 6 HR in 45 career at-bats vs White Sox#Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2019
Lester served up another homer, to James McCann, in the fourth and also allowed a second run in that inning to make it 5-3.
In the bottom of the inning, David Bote gave the Cubs a bit of that cushion back [VIDEO].
Bote’s ninth of the year made it 6-3.
In the fifth, Tim Anderson led off the inning for the Sox with a double. Somewhat foolishly, he took off for third and Willson took care of that [VIDEO].
Lester was sent out for the sixth having already thrown 99 pitches. But with the bullpen somewhat overextended, it seemed necessary. He retired the first two hitters, then when Cordell smacked a single to center he was lifted at 114 pitches, two short of his season high set May 12 vs. the Brewers. Kyle Ryan allowed a single before retiring pinch hitter Yonder Alonso to end the inning.
Ryan also threw a 1-2-3 seventh, and Brad Brach, who’s been pretty awful lately, gave up a two-out triple in the eighth before Mike Montgomery finished off the inning with a comebacker.
In the bottom of that inning, the Cubs pushed across an insurance run. Addison Russell, who had double-switched into the game when Lester departed, led off with a single. Two outs later, Schwarber Time [VIDEO].
The ball took a weird bounce off the wall in right field, allowing Russell to score the seventh run. Schwarber, realizing he was caught between second and third, simply stopped and let Yoan Moncada tag him for the third out.
Steve Cishek had been warming up for a possible save situation, but entered anyway even though it was now a four-run lead. He issued a one-out walk to Zack Collins, the Sox first-round pick in 2016 who was making his MLB debut. (Do they give guys the ball from ball four when that happens?) But Cishek retired the next two hitters to end it and the Cubs had their win. Looking at the pitching matchups before this series began, you might have thought the Cubs would win the first game and the Sox the second, and it wound up the reverse... because baseball. The Cubs did quite a number on Giolito:
Lucas Giolito— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 20, 2019
Tonight: 6 Runs allowed in 4.0 IP, 3 HR allowed
Previous 8 starts: 6 Runs allowed in 57.1 IP, 2 HR allowed
(Giolito threw briefly in the fifth inning, but you get the idea.)
And thanks to the Padres completing a three-game sweep of the Brewers in San Diego Wednesday afternoon, the Cubs are back in first place in the N.L. Central by half a game, the first time they’ve been alone in the top spot since June 5.
Now... the weather. It was, in a word, miserable. The entire game was played in a steady light rain, which got a bit harder in the middle innings. By the seventh, probably two-thirds of the 39,776 announced (of which maybe 32,000 or so showed up) had departed. The game-time temperature was 54. For heaven’s sake, it’s June 19, that’s November-like weather. Looking through baseball-reference’s database, I found only two games where the game-time temperature at Wrigley Field was reported that low, or lower, this late in June: June 21, 1972 (51) and June 26, 1982 (54) — and remember, those were day games. So... if you’ve ever wondered how bad the weather can be for a baseball game this time of year in Chicago... this was pretty close to the worst.
Speaking of the weather, Lester had some comments on that plus other reaction to his start in his post-game news conference:
Jon Lester had the interview room laughing after tonight’s win. Here were a few of his one-liners... pic.twitter.com/NpzNzEC0Ho— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 20, 2019
The Cubs wrap up this portion of the crosstown series with a split, and are now 7-6 in interleague play. They’ll face the White Sox again on the South Side in a little more than two weeks for another two-game set. And hopefully, the offense the Cubs showed Wednesday night will be more of an indication of what we’ll see going forward.
The Cubs will return to N.L. play Thursday evening when the Mets come to town to begin a four-game series. Tyler Chatwood will start for the Cubs, and ICYMI late last night, Adbert Alzolay will be recalled to back up Chatwood if needed. The Mets are also making a callup for this game. It was supposed to be Noah Syndergaard’s turn, but he has hit the injured list, and Walker Lockett, who the Mets acquired in trade over the winter, will get the start. Game time is again 7:05 p.m. CT — and we are told it will be cool but probably dry — and TV coverage will be via WGN (and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Mets market territories).