Anthony Rizzo’s injured and out for an indefinite period. Javier Baez hasn’t played since September 1. Craig Kimbrel is...
Well, you get the idea. The Cubs are beset by more injuries to key players right now than any time I can remember, certainly any time when they’ve been in the heat of a pennant race.
But we are being shown why this team is so good and why Joe Maddon is such a great manager. Joe pushed the right buttons again Monday evening and several other players stepped up with good games and the Cubs crushed the Reds 8-2 for their fifth straight win.
Cole Hamels struggled in the first inning, issuing a pair of walks, but he got out of it with no runs.
And then the Cubs offense ramped up. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant singled, sandwiched around a strikeout.
That was Schwarber’s 37th of the season. Only one lefthanded Cubs hitter — Billy Williams — has had more in a season. He hit 42 in 1970.
Hamels issued another walk in the second, but got out of the inning via a pickoff play. The Cubs went quietly in the second and third, and Hamels again had gotten himself in trouble in the top of the third, with a hit batter, a single and two walks. The last of the walks, with the bases loaded, made the score 3-1.
In the fourth, Jose Peraza led off with a double, and one out later, after a single by Reds relief pitcher Lucas Sims, Hamels was lifted. His command and control were way off; he threw only 36 strikes in 73 pitches and issued five walks, plus the hit batsman. The fourth might have been worse if not for some fine defense by Schwarber [VIDEO].
Steve Cishek entered and had some of the same control issues he showed last week in San Diego. He issued a walk that loaded the bases, and Phillip Ervin hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2. Then Cishek had to face one of the best hitters in the league, and someone who’s just demolished the Cubs this year, Eugenio Suarez.
Give Cishek a lot of credit. Suarez ran the count full on him before Cishek struck him out on a slider. The Cubs pretty much neutralized Suarez all night, with three walks and two strikeouts. That’s how they need to approach him this series, I think — don’t ever give him a good pitch to hit. Give him the treatment they gave to Bryce Harper three years ago, when Harper was hot and they walked him 13 times in a four-game series.
The Cubs got some breathing room in the sixth. Willson Contreras led off with a single and Victor Caratini was hit by a pitch.
Contreras scored to make it 4-2. Since being dropped out of the leadoff spot, Heyward is hitting .351/.478/.703 (13-for-37) with four doubles, three home runs and nine walks. He’s starting to use the whole field again, as he did on that double.
Zobrist was taken out of the game in the next inning. This is a great idea of Joe’s, conserve Zobrist’s energy at his age, and the fact that he missed so much time. Since Zo’s return he is hitting .382/.447/.529 (13-for-34) with two doubles and a home run.
While all this was going on, the Cubs were getting great relief work from Alec Mills (two scoreless innings, one hit, three strikeouts) and Rowan Wick (two scoreless innings, a strikeout). Wick got some defensive assistance from Bryant, who made this slick play [VIDEO] on a sharp grounder by Curt Casali.
There you see one reason why Joe says he won’t have KB playing first base while Rizzo is out. His third-base defense is too valuable.
The Cubs turned this into a blowout in the eighth. Heyward walked with one out. Nico Hoerner singled, and Ian Happ reached on a dribbler. When Reds pitcher R.J. Alaniz threw the ball away, Heyward scored [VIDEO].
The Reds changed pitchers, but it didn’t help them. Jonathan Lucroy walked to load the bases, and Nicholas Castellanos, who had been 0-for-4, did what he does best [VIDEO].
Nicky Two Bags’ 55th double of the season scored two to make it 8-2. It was his 18th double as a Cub. He’s sixth on the team with that total — and the five players ahead of him have all played at least 90 (!) more games with the team this year. Also:
The @Cubs' Nicholas Castellanos is the third right-handed hitter in MLB history to have at least 55 doubles and 25 homers in a season.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) September 17, 2019
He joins Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg (1934) and Joe Medwick (1937).#EverybodyIn
No player has hit 60 doubles in a season since 1936, when another Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer of the Tigers, did it. It would be very odd to have Castellanos do it and not lead either league. The most doubles in a season over the last 82 seasons is 59, by Todd Helton in 2000.
But Castellanos, for his part, couldn’t care less:
Nicholas Castellanos, on reaching 55 doubles and closing on on 60: "Cool."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 17, 2019
He was only interested in talking about the team, because there's a lot more at stake for the Cubs that his personal season-ending doubles total.
It should have been a breeze through the ninth inning with a six-run lead, and Kyle Ryan got the first two outs quickly on ground balls. Two subsequent ground balls got through for hits, and Ryan walked Suarez to load the bases. That brought Joe out to bring in David Phelps, who ended it with some defensive help from Hoerner [VIDEO].
Nice, nice work from Nico.
In case you are wondering why you haven’t seen Brandon Kintzler lately, he has joined the list of the walking wounded:
Maddon said postgame that Brandon Kintzler is dealing with a mild left oblique issue. Has been throwing, but not ready to return to games yet.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 17, 2019
And Rizzo is trying to make the best of a tough time:
During postgame, Rizzo rolled through Cubs clubhouse on his medical scooter, honking a horn and ringing a bell. It is also now equipped with a basket and tassles on the handlebars.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 17, 2019
So the Cubs kept pace with the Brewers and Cardinals, who also won Monday. They remain one game ahead of Milwaukee and two games behind St. Louis. Since the Cardinals defeated the wild-card leading Nationals, the Cubs now trail the top wild-card spot by just half a game.
For those who care about such things, the “win” went to Mills for his two shutout innings. It was his first MLB win. That’s the second straight game a “win” has gone to a pitcher getting his first in MLB (Brad Wieck on Sunday).
The win, the 82nd of 2019, also clinched the Cubs’ fifth straight winning season. It’s the first time they’ve done that since six straight from 1967-72. If they can go 8-4 over the final 12 games, not only will that give them a great chance to win the N.L. Central, it would also give the Cubs franchise five straight 90-win seasons for the first time since they had nine in a row from 1904-12.
Also, the Cubs are now 51-24 at Wrigley Field this year. They are the 19th team in Cubs franchise history (since 1876) to win at least 51 home games and the 14th since the team moved to what is now Wrigley Field in 1916. Only the Dodgers (56-20) have a better record at home this season.
Last note on the team record: The Cubs are now a season-high 14 games over .500... and this streak couldn’t have come at a better time.
Up next: The Cubs go for two in a row over the Reds and six straight wins overall Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. Yu Darvish starts for the Cubs and Sonny Gray will go for the Reds. Game time is again 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage is on WCIU-Ch. 26 for local Chicago-area viewers. There will also be a full national broadcast of this game (no blackouts) on ESPN. ESPN announcers: Karl Ravech, David Ross and Tim Kurkjian.