One thing that was not absent from the Cubs during their slog of a July was excellent starting pitching. It was lack of hitting and bullpen meltdowns that made the month just ended not a great one.
The Cubs got more of that Wednesday evening from Kyle Hendricks, along with good bullpen work (at last!) and a couple of unearned runs that led to a satisfying 2-0 win over the Cardinals.
Hendricks did give up hits, a fair number of them, but scattered them through his seven-inning outing. He allowed one hit in the second inning, two in the third, two more in the fourth, one in the fifth and one in the sixth, but always came back with a key strikeout or other out on weak contact. One of those outs in the seventh was on this nice reach [VIDEO] into the Cardinals dugout by Anthony Rizzo.
But the Cubs were having trouble off Miles Mikolas, who has been very tough pitching in St. Louis this season. They finally broke through and took the lead in the sixth inning. Kris Bryant reached base with one out on a fielding error. Rizzo walked, and one out later, Ian Happ stepped to the plate [VIDEO].
That was a nice piece of hitting on a 1-2 pitch, and produced Happ’s first big-league RBI of 2019.
The Cubs increased their lead to 2-0 in the eighth. With two out, Javier Baez lifted a ball down the left-field line that was called foul.
But wait! On further review, that ball hit the ground in fair territory, then bounced into the seats [VIDEO].
The review crew correctly ruled that a fair ball and Baez was placed on second base.
Then Javy did himself some Javy [VIDEO].
The Cardinals had Baez picked off second, so he took off for third, and Matt Wieters’ throw bounced into center field, allowing Javy to score the Cubs’ second run. With the errors involved, both the Cubs’ runs in this game were unearned.
The Cubs had an all-Kyle sequence right after that:
After Kyle Schwarber grounds out to end the top of the 8th, Kyle Ryan jogs in from the bullpen to replace Kyle Hendricks.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 1, 2019
Hendricks tonight: 7 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 104 (75).
Hendricks vs. the Cardinals in 2019: three starts, 23 innings, 0.39 ERA, 0.826 WHIP, no walks. With two series left against St. Louis in September, you can bet Joe Maddon will arrange his rotation so that Hendricks faces them two more times. He’s been dominant against the Cardinals for most of his career:
The Cubs have won each of Hendricks' last 11 starts vs. St. Louis. That is the longest team winning streak in one pitcher's starts against the Cardinals for the Cubs dating back to at least 1908.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 1, 2019
Elevated sinkers and changeups down on the edges made up most of Hendricks' 104 pitches vs. Cardinals on Wednesday (7 IP, 0 R).— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 1, 2019
KH: "The changeup was good and the fastball command was good overall. So, we were able to just stick with that." pic.twitter.com/1EZRga4poT
Kyle Ryan was in the game to face just one hitter, Dexter Fowler, who isn’t nearly as good against LHP. Ryan retired Fowler on a groundout and then Brandon Kintzler was summoned to face Jose Martinez and Paul Goldschmidt. Kintzler struck out Martinez and Goldschmidt hit a popup a few feet in front of the plate that Kintzler handled himself.
That left things to Craig Kimbrel, whose last outing (in Milwaukee) was a disaster.
This one was better. Kimbrel again was throwing 97 mile per hour fastballs, although he did give up a couple of hits, putting the tying run on base with one out. Then he got Wieters to hit a ground ball to third, and struck out Yairo Munoz to end things, posting his eighth save.
That made this the first game between the Cubs and Cardinals this year to be won by the visiting team, as all the previous three series had been swept by the home club. The win moved the Cubs back into a first-place tie with the Cardinals, with the Brewers remaining one game behind after a win in Oakland late Wednesday evening. The victory also gave the Cubs a winning July at 12-11.
The Cubs and Cardinals will play this evening, a bit of an oddity since the Cubs have an afternoon game at Wrigley Field Friday. (On the other hand, playing in St. Louis in the daytime in August might not be advisable.) It won’t be that much of a disadvantage, though, as the Brewers have an afternoon game in Oakland Thursday and thus both teams will likely be arriving in Chicago around midnight.
Jon Lester will start for the Cubs Thursday evening and Jack Flaherty will go for the Cardinals. Game time is 6:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via NBC Sports Chicago (and on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Cardinals market territories).