The Cubs defeated the Braves 8-3 Monday evening, but I know what you want to hear about is the little kerfuffle between Willson Contreras and Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.
That happened in the bottom of the second inning of a scoreless game. Jon Lester had retired the first six Braves and the Cubs did not score in the bottom of the first.
Contreras led off the second [VIDEO].
Willson’s homer into the basket, his 16th, gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
There had been some chirping between Contreras and Flowers both before and after the homer. Benches and bullpens cleared (and it’s always humorous to see relievers running in from the bullpens during one of these), no punches were thrown, a lot of milling around happened, and eventually play continued. One note — you can see Jason Heyward pulling Willson out of the way when things began to get heated, another quiet sign of J-Hey’s leadership qualities.
This is what sparked the little brouhaha:
Contreras was upset Flowers chimed in when he was speaking to umpire:— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 25, 2019
"Those pitches weren't even close to the strike zone. And he got mad, because I was talking to the umpire about that. He jumped into the conversation. So, I just told him to do his job and I'd do mine."
Posting a vid of Contreras postgame. Sounds like Flowers was trying to steal some strikes and Contreras got annoyed (think with the ump actually). Catching stuff is how Maddon put it.— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) June 25, 2019
Here’s more from Willson [VIDEO].
The end result was Flowers being booed every time he came to bat for the rest of the game. Oh, one more note:
Here’s Willson Contreras, on Jeff Francouer’s comments during Braves broadcast Monday night. Francoeur said “I wish I would’ve just thrown a haymaker” when recalling on-field argument with Contreras on July 7, 2016.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 25, 2019
First, Contreras let out a laugh, then responded... pic.twitter.com/RteLKcOKcl
Fun fact about Willson’s homer:
Willson Contereras— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 25, 2019
16 HR in 67 games this season
16 HR in last 168 games entering this season#Cubs
Anyway, things were settled down and the game continued. Lester allowed a hit leading off the fourth, but got out of that inning with no runs, thanks in part to a nice running catch in left field by Kyle Schwarber.
Then the Cubs added a second run in the bottom of the inning. Javier Baez led off with a single and stole second.
Contreras’ RBI single off Dansby Swanson’s glove made it 2-0.
The Cubs blew the game open in the fifth. Carlos Gonzalez led off with a walk and Lester singled. Schwarber hit a ball that got stuck in the left-field ivy. CarGo scored and Lester thus had to stop at third (he likely would have stayed at third anyway). A single by Kris Bryant made it 4-0, a single by Anthony Rizzo plated the fifth run and a double by Javy gave the Cubs run number six. At that point, Teheran was finally pulled by Braves manager Brian Snitker. Fun fact about Javy’s double:
Most Extra-Base hits in MLB since beginning of 2018— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 25, 2019
124 Javier Báez
124 Trevor Story
124 Christian Yelich
117 Mookie Betts
116 Nolan Arenado
115 Freddie Freeman
Contreras was the first batter faced by reliever Chad Sobotka and he came through again [VIDEO].
The next two hitters were out to complete the inning, but that five-run frame was really nicely done — no homers, just solid hit after solid hit, and even a productive out that scored a run.
It’s 7-0 heading to the sixth, then, and Lester allowed a leadoff single. Swanson grounded to Javy, who tried to start a double play, and unfortunately, David Bote dropped the ball and both runners were safe. Two outs later they both scored on a single by Nick Markakis and it was 7-2, both runs unearned due to Bote’s error. Lester completed six innings, allowing five hits and no walks with seven strikeouts, his best outing since June 3 against the Angels.
Brandon Kintzler, who hadn’t pitched since June 18, threw a scoreless seventh and then Tony Barnette made his Cubs debut. Here’s a perfect description of Barnette’s first Cubs appearance:
Tony Barnette held batters to a 1-for-26 showing in June during his rehab stint at Triple-A. He allowed a leadoff homer and then a bloop single to the first two batters he faces with the Cubs, because baseball.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 25, 2019
Then, with one out in the bottom of the eighth, it was J-Hey’s turn to go deep [VIDEO].
Heyward got a hanging breaking pitch from Touki Toussaint (now THAT is a great name!) and sent it into the bleachers for his 11th home run of the season. Heyward since June 11 (last 12 games): .372/.413/.581 (16-for-43) with three doubles and two home runs. Overall this season: .266/.358/.441 (.799 OPS) with 11 home runs. Heyward’s 2015 season in St. Louis: .293/.359/.439 (.797 OPS) with 13 homers. He’s basically having the season he had that year, the year that convinced the Cubs to sign him. And, he’s on pace for his most home runs since 2012, when he hit 27 for the Braves.
So at the very least, the Jason Heyward complaint department is closed.
And after Steve Cishek dispatched the Braves 1-2-3 in the ninth for the Cubs’ 43rd win of the season, the entire complaint department is closed this morning. That was the way this team can win games, with good long-sequence innings as well as power, solid starting pitching and effective relief. And with Craig Kimbrel likely set to join the team later this week, that should set up the bullpen with more clearly-defined roles. When he first arrives, Kimbrel will go no more than one inning:
“With Craig, as he gets here, he’ll be slotted and very carefully. As we get to the latter part of September, if it’s necessary, that’s when I think you look for the four outs, I hope not five. The bullpen should hopefully avoid that by being able to absorb the eighth inning well. But (Kimbrel) will be a three-out guy when he gets here.”
In the meantime, the Cubs extended their first-place lead over the idle Brewers to one full game. The Cardinals trail by 2½ and the Reds and Pirates are six games behind.
One last note on Contreras, Flowers and the pitch calls Monday:
Here are the called strikes and ball calls for both Cubs and Braves on Monday. The circled pitch is the one Contreras complained about in the 2nd -- one pitch before his homer, and benches-clearing episode.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 25, 2019
Braves catcher Tyler Flowers: "He got plenty of calls for his guys too." pic.twitter.com/uSWkn3IL1i
The Cubs and Braves will meet again Tuesday evening, weather permitting (sigh). Adbert Alzolay will get his first Cubs start, and Max Fried will go for Atlanta. Game time is, as usual, 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago Plus.