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Cubs 4, Giants 1: Nothing’s ever easy

What a strange afternoon.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

So let’s say I had told you, early this morning, that:

  • Jon Lester would miss his start due to illness, and
  • Anthony Rizzo would be ejected from the game, and
  • Kris Bryant would depart with a minor injury.

You’d have probably thought the Cubs would lose, and lose big-time.

Of course you know that didn’t happen, because baseball!

The Cubs defeated the Giants 4-1 Wednesday afternoon, avoiding a sweep in San Francisco, and they did it in part due to a great performance by Lester’s substitute starter, Tyler Chatwood, and several long balls.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of this odd game.

It didn’t take long for the Cubs to take a first-inning lead, as they had done Tuesday night. Thanks, Javy! [VIDEO]

Javier Baez’ 25th home run of the season came on the eighth pitch of the game. Fun fact:

Two innings later, Javy hit a ball that got stuck under padding in right field [VIDEO].

Baez kept running, but the ground rule in San Francisco is similar to the “stuck in the ivy” rule at Wrigley Field — when a ball gets stuck there, it’s a dead ball and two bases.

Four pitches later, Bryant rendered that irrelevant [VIDEO].

KB’s 21st of the year made it 3-0.

Chatwood, throwing well, did issue a walk in the third that helped lead to the Giants scoring a run. But overall, Chatwood had an excellent outing, often touching 97 or 98 miles per hour, and completing four innings with four hits, one walk and one run allowed, with five strikeouts. He threw 43 strikes out of 68 pitches and raised the question: Why has he pitched in only three games out of the Cubs’ last 21?

Chatwood, at last, has gotten his walk rate down to the area where it was when he was with the Rockies. It’s now 4.9 per nine innings. That’s still a bit high, but it’s far better than the horrendous 8.2 per nine ratio he had last year. Chatwood has become a useful part of this pitching staff. He’s earned more mound time, in my view.

The Cubs got one more long ball, from Albert Almora Jr. in the fourth [VIDEO] to make it 4-1.

Then the game started getting weird. In the top of the fifth, KB struck out, and this happened [VIDEO].

You can see Bryant sort of grimacing as he walked away, and he left the game:

Hopefully, this is just a precaution, and with the off day Thursday and the Cubs not playing until Friday night in Milwaukee, he’ll be good to go.

The next hitter was Anthony Rizzo, who ran the count to 3-0 before being called out on strikes to end the inning... and then, weirdly, he was ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker. Here’s the reason for Rizzo being unhappy with Baker:

Pitch number five below is the one Rizzo was upset about:

And looking at that, you can understand why. Baker, in my view, is a bad ball-and-strike umpire. You might remember this call he made in a Cubs/Cardinals game at Wrigley in September 2017:

This is what happened after that call [VIDEO].

As noted in the tweet above, Willson Contreras and John Lackey were both ejected, but they were absolutely right, and so was Rizzo in today’s game. It’s just the second time Rizzo has been ejected in his career — the first time was in 2014, and not for the game you think (the kerfuffle with Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati). It was for this call [VIDEO].

And Rizzo was probably right about that one, too.

Anyway, that gave the Cubs a very short bench for the rest of the game, as Victor Caratini had to enter to play first base and David Bote at third, which left just Martin Maldonado and Daniel Descalso as available position player reserves. It forced Joe to send up Brad Brach to pinch-hit for Rowan Wick, which, as Len Kasper noted on the broadcast, was odd because Wick was originally drafted as a position player (and hit 20 home runs in 74 games in Low-A in 2014).

The Cubs bullpen did an outstanding job in relief of Chatwood. Kyle Ryan, Wick (who looks like a keeper), Pedro Strop (who looked good in this one), Brandon Kintzler and Craig Kimbrel threw five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk, with five strikeouts. Kimbrel allowed two of those hits (one a bloop that could have been caught) in the ninth before he posted his seventh save since joining the Cubs. For whatever it’s worth, Ryan was credited with the individual “win.”

So the Cubs salvage one game out of the three-game set in San Francisco, and snap a three-game losing streak (and also a three-game road losing streak dating back to the final game of the White Sox series before the All-Star break). The Brewers also won Wednesday afternoon, so they remain two games behind. The Cardinals will face the Pirates Wednesday evening, and if Pittsburgh wins, the Cubs’ lead will increase to 1½ games.

The Cubs will have Thursday off and will spend it at home in Chicago before taking buses up to Milwaukee early Friday. They will remain on rotation through the first two games of the Brewers series that begins Friday evening at 7:10 p.m. CT. Jose Quintana will start Friday for the Cubs against Gio Gonzalez for the Brewers. TV coverage Friday will be via NBC Sports Chicago.