The Cubs defeated the Nationals 6-3 at Wrigley Field Tuesday evening and that’s all good, their third win in a row and fourth in their last five, and I’ll get to all the details in a moment, but first I’ve got something I need to say.
Baseball should not be played under the conditions it was played Tuesday night. A steady moderate rain fell for about the first six innings. This type of weather would have, 10 or 20 years ago, caused a postponement and they should have done that on Tuesday, given the weather forecast that proved to be correct. A split doubleheader could have been played today, Wednesday, as happened two weeks ago against the Dodgers. Maybe the Cubs were hesitant to do that because on the night of that postponement it barely rained, but... you know, conditions are different on different days.
I say all this because it’s entirely possible that the damp conditions led to the departure of Anthony Rizzo from the game with back issues.
Rizzo seemed as if he were running awkwardly when he grounded out to end the third inning, and here’s what happened when he came out to play defense in the top of the fourth [VIDEO].
BCB’s own Duane Pesice had it right:
Ima guess that Rizzo's back stiffened up with the cool and the humid.— Duane Pesice (@moderan13) May 19, 2021
... because an hour after that tweet was sent, this was announced:
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo exited tonight’s game with low back tightness as a precautionary move, the team announced.— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) May 19, 2021
Rizzo made an error on a ball hit by Kyle Schwarber leading off the fourth and left the game, with Kris Bryant moving to first from right field and Jason Heyward entering to play right. The bad conditions also caused Nico Hoerner to misplay a ball he would generally get to in the eighth (it was ruled a hit). Seriously, why risk your players’ health by playing in wet conditions like that? Sure, glad the Cubs won, but...
All right, now let’s unpack this game.
Zach Davies threw three good innings, despite putting a couple of runners on in the first. Rizzo helped get the team out of that by snaring a line drive off the bat of Starlin Castro [VIDEO].
That stretch by Rizzo, too, could have contributed to his back tightening up, especially given the weather.
Meanwhile, the Cubs also had baserunners in innings one and two, but Patrick Corbin induced double-play balls both times.
Finally, in the third, the Cubs broke through. David Bote and Hoerner singled and were moved up a base each on a sacrifice bunt by Davies.
Willson was pumped up about his two-run single! He’s done a very good job in the leadoff spot. Contreras is hitting .294/.400/.529 (10-for-34) batting first with two doubles, two home runs and six walks. Small sample size, to be sure, but it appears to be working.
The Nats tied the game in the fifth. Davies hit Yan Gomes, who was moved up on a sacrifice. One out later, Trea Turner drove him in with a single, and two more singles made it 2-2.
The Cubs took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning. Hoerner led off with a single and once again Davies executed a good sac bunt. Contreras singled Nico to third and Bryant drove him in on an infield hit [VIDEO].
You could tell Davies was running out of gas in the fifth, with three straight hard-hit singles off him. In the sixth, Castro led off with a home run to center to tie the game and after that, Josh Harrison singled and that was it for Davies.
Keegan Thompson, who’s been a really pleasant surprise this season, entered and retired the next three hitters, two on strikeouts and one on a nice grab by Javier Baez of a sinking line drive hit by Gomes [VIDEO].
You know, in the minor leagues they often “piggyback” starting pitchers because those guys can’t throw extended numbers of innings or pitches. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Cubs ought to do this with Davies. He seems to reach a wall at about 70-75 pitches — why not use someone like Thompson to bridge a couple of innings before the late-inning relief crew comes in to finish things up? That’s what happened in this game, but why not make it a specific plan?
Food for thought, anyway.
The Cubs extended the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Matt Duffy led off with a walk — I am so impressed with Duffy’s at-bats, he seems to have a plan every time he comes to bat and always puts together a quality at-bat. One out later, Bote made it 5-3 [VIDEO].
Thompson, who had his first major-league hit in the sixth, put a couple of runners on in the seventh and then it was up to Justin Steele to get out of that frame, which he did with a strikeout of Schwarber and a comebacker. Like Thompson, Steele has been a breath of fresh air for this pitching staff and both are homegrown products. They’re getting more action in higher-leverage situations recently and producing, which is great to see.
After Dan Winkler threw a scoreless eighth, the Cubs tacked on one more run to make it 6-3 on a solo homer by Ian Happ [VIDEO].
Craig Kimbrel had to face four batters because he threw a wild pitch on a strikeout, but finished up uneventfully otherwise for his eighth save. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
So the Cubs had another well-played win and went over .500 (at 21-20) for the first time in 10 days. With a loss by the Brewers Tuesday, the Cubs moved into second place in the NL Central, still 2½ games behind the Cardinals, who they’ll see in St. Louis this weekend.
A note about Nico Hoerner: Nico had yet another three-hit game, his second this month. He’s hitting .353/.433/.471 in 60 plate appearances overall and it looks like the second-base job is his for good. That helps solidify the infield defense, something really important with ground-ball pitchers like Davies and Kyle Hendricks in the rotation. More Nico:
Nico Hoerner has played in 15 games for the Cubs this season. He has six multi-hit games. Tonight, he notched his third three-hit game of the year.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 19, 2021
Let’s hope it’s nothing more than “day-to-day.”
The Cubs will go for their fourth straight win Wednesday evening. Jake Arrieta will take the mound for the Cubs and Max Scherzer will go for Washington. You know, five years ago that would have been a matchup that all of baseball would have been tuned to. Now? Hey, those guys are both still very good. Should be fun. Game time is again 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network, and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Nationals market territories.