Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for this team.
Sixteen games into the 2021 season, the Cubs finally won a game without hitting a home run, 3-1 over the Mets. They had previously been 0-4 this year when not homering and were outscored in those four games 22-5.
This game began in brutally cold conditions, 39 degrees, though with not much wind at all, thankfully. Jake Arrieta and Taijuan Walker matched zeroes for two innings and then the Cubs got on the board in the third without a hit. Eric Sogard led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Jake. After Ian Happ struck out, Willson Contreras hit a sharp ground ball to third [VIDEO].
J.D. Davis’ throw bounced in the dirt and Sogard never stopped running, scoring the first run of the game.
Arrieta held the Mets scoreless through four on just one hit, and then the Cubs played some small ball in the bottom of the fourth — after the first two hitters were retired by strikeout.
Jason Heyward singled and stole second, and the steal might have been the key play of the inning. It was reviewed and ruled “call stands” [VIDEO].
Sogard singled Heyward in to make it 2-0 [VIDEO].
Sogard turned out to be pretty useful in this game, going 2-for-3 with a walk and the RBI single, considering that originally David Bote was supposed to start, but was scratched with an upset stomach.
Arrieta then drew a walk — the first by a Cubs pitcher this year. Nicely done? Sure, but Cubs pitchers are still lousy hitters. This year they are hitting .048/.091/.048 (1-for-21) with 16 strikeouts. Yuck.
Anyway, Walker issued another free pass to Ian Happ, loading the bases, and then made it 3-0 by walking Contreras [VIDEO].
That brought Mets manager Luis Rojas out of the dugout to remove Walker, who had walked six in fewer than four innings, and Walker had some choice words for plate umpire John Libka, who ejected him [VIDEO].
Arrieta completed the fifth inning, allowing just one run, a solo homer by Davis. It wasn’t a great outing for Jake as he struggled with command in the cold, issuing three walks. But it was good enough.
Walker wasn’t the only ejection by Libka. Mets manager Luis Rojas was tossed in the sixth [VIDEO].
I couldn’t read Libka’s strike zone all night. It seemed pretty wide, but for both teams. Cubs relievers took advantage, combining for five strikeouts over their four innings of work. Rex Brothers struck out a pair — and when did Brothers start throwing 97 miles per hour? He’s been very good so far this season, a useful lefthander to have for middle relief.
Brandon Workman and Andrew Chafin combined to throw two scoreless frames, the seventh and eighth, allowing one hit each, and then it was Craig Kimbrel’s turn in the ninth, to close with a two-run lead.
Kimbrel got the job done for his fourth save, but it was a high-wire act all the way. Maybe it was the cold weather, but he had trouble commanding any of his pitches, eventually loading the bases on a pair of walks and a single. (Incidentally, during this sequence former Cub Albert Almora Jr. was sent in to pinch-run for James McCann. Almora got a nice ovation from the 2,000 or so who stuck it out to the end.)
So with the bases loaded, Kimbrel faced Francisco Lindor [VIDEO].
The easy grounder to Anthony Rizzo nearly turned into disaster as Kimbrel almost got in Rizzo’s way touching the bag. You can see Rizzo smiling afterwards at the end of the video clip. A couple of notes on Kimbrel’s 26-pitch outing:
For those curious, the record for most no-hit relief outings in a row by a Cubs pitcher is 13, pieced together by Travis Wood between the '15-16 seasons. https://t.co/OGjQ2XMxE5— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 21, 2021
Kimbrel’s walk rate is still too high (5.6 per nine innings this year, 5.9 per nine innings as a Cub), but he’s getting outs and not allowing runs to score.
So this Cubs team took advantage of its opponent’s mistakes to score three runs, and had solid enough pitching to win. Perhaps this will encourage them to approach other games this way.
Another note on Kimbrel: With this appearance, he has wiped out his entire bWAR deficit from the last two seasons, in seven games. His bWAR as a Cub now stands at 0.0. Hopefully, that continues in a positive direction the rest of this season.
The Cubs go for two in a row over the Mets Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field. Zach Davies will start for the Cubs and David Peterson gets the call for the Mets. Game time is again 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.