The Cubs have had their fair share of different heroes winning games recently.
Thursday afternoon, it was Ian Happ, who homered twice in a 5-2 Cubs win over the Nationals. The win gave the Cubs the series three games to one, put them over .500 again at 22-21. They’ve won five of seven and since hitting a season-low four games under .500 May 2, nine of 14.
This is all great news, but after I tell you about this win, I’m going to open the complaint department door just a smidge.
Trevor Williams did not start out this day well. He walked Trea Turner leading off the game — Turner just wore out Cubs pitching in this series. Turner was erased on a double play, which was good, because the next two hitters, Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, both homered.
Those homers weren’t really Williams’ fault. Both were wind-aided; on a normal day they’d have been routine fly balls. The boxscore says the wind was 5 miles per hour, but don’t believe that — it was at least twice that blowing out to left and possibly more, with gusts higher on a very warm and humid afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Williams, though, settled down and allowed just three more baserunners, and the Cubs began their comeback. David Bote singled leading off the second and Nico Hoerner singled him to third. Nick Martini, recalled due to an injury to Jason Heyward, lofted a fly ball to medium-deep left center [VIDEO].
The sac fly cut the deficit to 2-1. In the third, the Cubs took the lead. Ex-Cub Starlin Castro booted a ball hit by Javier Baez that should have ended the inning. Javy reached and Happ drove him in [VIDEO].
That ball needed no wind help, it was a laser beam into (and out of) the basket. Check out the low launch angle:
#Nationals 2 @ #Cubs 3 [B3-2o]:— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) May 20, 2021
Ian Happ homers (5): line drive to RF (2-run)
Hit: 365ft, 99.4mph, 25°
Pitch: 89.1mph Changeup (RHP Joe Ross, 9)
The Cubs added a run to their lead in the fourth. With one out, Martini walked. One out later, Williams singled him to second. Joc Pederson made it 4-2 [VIDEO].
Williams held at second, and also held at third when Anthony Rizzo singled. That loaded the bases for Javy, but he hit a comebacker to end the inning.
Williams allowed a leadoff double in the fifth, then retired the next two hitters. He was at 77 pitches when David Ross brought in Justin Steele to pitch to Juan Soto. I mean... I guess the platoon advantage is in play here, but I think that can be overdone. Williams had retired Soto twice before — is that “third time” really going to be the difference?
Steele walked Soto, but struck out Bell to end the fifth.
Williams’ outing wasn’t bad, especially following the home runs, but the Cubs are going to have to get more length out of their starters, Williams included. With three straight bad outings going into this one, another bad one might have removed him from the rotation, but he’s earned another shot. His next start will be in his old home park in Pittsburgh, where he got torched in April. Hopefully this one will be better.
In the bottom of the fifth, Happ extended the Cubs’ lead to 5-2 [VIDEO].
Okay, that one had some help from the wind. Good to finally see some power from Happ, who now has five homers in his last six games. If he can get going the way he did early in 2020, that will be a huge boost to the offense. He had a .340 slugging percentage coming into today; now it’s .402.
Steele threw a scoreless sixth with a pair of strikeouts, and apparently David Ross wanted him to throw the seventh as well, because with P.J. Higgins on first base on an error leading off the last of the sixth, Steele took the at-bat. He tried to sacrifice and hit into a fielder’s choice. Pederson and Rizzo singled, but Steele rounded third and then held up. Well, you know what can happen there, especially with someone who has not had a professional at-bat since 2018 in Double-A.
Steele came out to start the seventh and... uh-oh [VIDEO].
Well, that’s bad. Steele has been a revelation in this year’s bullpen and Ross was using him in more high-leverage situations. Unfortunately:
Justin Steele departed today's game with right hamstring tightness, Cubs say.— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 20, 2021
There’s no postgame report on Steele’s condition yet. Let’s hope it’s nothing major, and yes, I am going to get on my universal DH podium again. There is zero reason for pitchers to bat in the year 2021, and yes I have heard all the arguments for that and I don’t buy any of them. We are probably going to have to wait until 2022 for the universal DH. In the meantime I hope a pitcher’s career doesn’t end on the basepaths this year.
Okay, now the complaint department is closed.
Fortunately, Ryan Tepera, pressed into service, stepped up and struck out the side in the seventh. Andrew Chafin threw a 1-2-3 eighth on just seven pitches, thanks in part to yet another fantastic diving stop by Nico [VIDEO].
Is he good at that or what?
The Cubs also went down in the seventh and eighth, although there was another brief injury scare regarding Joc Pederson. Ross and trainer PJ Mainville came out of the dugout to look:
Ross said it was just a cramp for Pederson https://t.co/O583L07RdP— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 20, 2021
After that it was Craig Kimbrel time. He allowed a one-out single to Castro and then struck out Jordy Mercer to end it [VIDEO].
Kimbrel looked sharp with both his fastball (at 97) and his curveball in posting his ninth save.
So the Cubs take three of four from the Nats, a very good result. Cubs fans enjoyed seeing Kyle Schwarber again and it was clear the feeling was mutual. Schwarber hit a pair of homers in the series, but the Cubs took the series, so there was, as I have previously headlined here this week, “a little something for everyone.”
The Cubs are 16-9 at home this year. That’s a .640 winning percentage which would equate to a 52-win home season. Do that and play .500 on the road and that likely wins the division. It’s that “winning on the road” thing that’s been tough for the Cubs so far this year.
The win puts the Cubs three games behind the Cardinals entering a three-game series in St. Louis over the weekend. Sweeping it is a longshot, of course, but I do think the Cubs are well-positioned for their first meeting with their arch-rivals. Kyle Hendricks gets the ball Friday night at Busch Stadium against Carlos Martinez. Game time is 7:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.