I think we all knew this Cubs team, which had struggled for several weeks playing 50 games in 52 days, had a good stretch in it. Many of us thought the four days off for the All-Star break would rejuvenate these players, after all but three got the rest over the break.
So far, so good! The Cubs rode a potent offense, highlighted by three home runs, and completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates with an 8-3 victory on yet another gorgeous summer afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Jose Quintana started off strong, allowing just one single in the first two innings, and then the Cubs offense got to work. Anthony Rizzo led off the bottom of the second with a single and Victor Caratini singled him to second. Jason Heyward hit into a double play with Rizzo taking third, and then Robel Garcia gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
That ball was roped. Garcia, so far, appears as advertised: a hitter who can hit baseballs hard, strikes out a fair amount, and plays average defense.
Unfortunately, Q gave that back and more in the third, thanks to a couple of balls that fell in the outfield. I think that the singles by Trevor Williams and Kevin Newman, the first to center and the second to right, might have been caught if Albert Almora Jr. and Heyward had been in their usual positions. Not that Kris Bryant is a bad outfielder, but he doesn’t have the right-field instincts Heyward does, and Heyward seems much more comfortable in right.
Anyway, another single made it 1-0, a sacrifice fly scored a second run for the Pirates, and after a walk to Josh Bell, Jung Ho Kang doubled in the Pirates’ third run of the inning.
The Cubs got one of the runs back in the fourth thanks to Quintana... at the bat! With two out, Garcia doubled again down the right-field line. David Bote was given an intentional pass to pitch to Q, which was the right call, considering he was hitting .029 (1-for-34) at the time with 21 strikeouts.
A little blooper by Q just past the outstretched arm of Bell scored Garcia to make it 3-2. That was Quintana’s first RBI in almost two years, since September 29, 2017.
Q settled down on the mound and had a 1-2-3 fifth and then the Cubs bats really got to work. With one out in the fifth, Bryant singled and Rizzo singled him to third.
That was yet another hard-hit ball off Williams, and it went for a sacrifice fly to tie the game, as the throw went toward second base.
Heyward had grounded out twice previously, once into the aforementioned double play, but that ball was well struck for his 15th home run of the season.
Last time Jason Heyward hit at least 15 HR in a season was 2012, when he hit 27. He homered off Jamie Moyer, Roy Halladay & Mark Buehrle that year.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 14, 2019
Heyward might not get to 27 homers this year, but 20 seems quite possible. He’s having an excellent year both at the plate and in the field.
Quintana got out of the sixth after a one-out single with a double play, and then the Cubs blew the game open in the sixth. With one out, Almora batted for Q [VIDEO].
That ball: Crushed!
Almora’s ninth of the year set a career high for him. Believe it or not, that was the Cubs’ first pinch homer of 2019, and it was the first pinch-homer of Almora’s career.
That made it 6-3 and one pitch later, Kyle Schwarber made the score 7-3 Cubs [VIDEO].
You can see the distance, launch angle, etc. of Almora’s homer still on the video board as Schwarber’s ball left the yard. And that ball: Really crushed!
Surprisingly enough, Clint Hurdle left Williams in for one more batter after that; Javier Baez singled and then the Pirates brought in a relief pitcher. Bryant blooped a single in between three Bucs fielders with Baez taking third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly by Rizzo.
Two quick three-run innings, with home runs and also runs scored in other ways — that’s the Cubs offense we have been used to seeing over the last few years. It’s good to see this rested bunch start to hit that way again.
Brandon Kintzler threw a scoreless seventh, helped out by a double play. Kyle Ryan had a 1-2-3 eighth highlighted by a slick play by Javy to end the frame.
Tyler Chatwood, who last pitched 10 days ago in Pittsburgh, entered to throw the ninth. He allowed a two-out hit down the left-field line that bounced into the seats for what is a book-rule double. This raises an interesting question: What happens when there are nets in that area, which likely happens by next year? That ball would have bounced off the net and back onto the field. Is that in play? Or is it out of play when it hits the net? This is something MLB will have to define before these nets are in place.
Anyway, the next hitter was retired on a groundout and the Cubs had their sweep. I could say here that it “feels” like they could go on a long run of winning, but you never know in baseball. It does seem as if the team’s back playing the way we know they can with the talent they have.
And, more good news: The Giants rode a six-run seventh to an 8-3 win over the Brewers, taking that series. So the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central is now 2½ games over Milwaukee, three over the Cardinals (who won Sunday), 5½ games over the Pirates and 6½ over the Reds, who lost two of three to the Rockies over the weekend.
Speaking of the Reds, they’ll be in town Monday evening to begin a three-game series at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Luis Castillo will go for the Reds. Game time Monday is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago.