It didn’t take very long — just five pitches into Thursday’s game in New York — for the Cubs to take a 2-0 lead.
Joc Pederson grounded out (two pitches). Kris Bryant singled (first pitch). And then Javier Báez sent Marcus Stroman’s second offering to him out of Citi Field.
Turned out, with another outstanding outing from Kyle Hendricks and lockdown bullpen work, that was all the Cubs would need for a 2-0 win over the Mets, ending a three-game losing streak and salvaging the final game of the four-game set. This win could have more significance later on. In the event these teams meet in a postseason series and wind up with the same regular-season record, the Cubs would win the tiebreaker for home field, having won the season series four games to three.
That baseball? That’s right: Crushed!
Then Kyle Hendricks took over. This outing was vintage Kyle. He allowed just two hits, both doubles, and two walks. He struck out seven. It was his first scoreless outing since April 7 and the first in which he didn’t allow a home run since May 21. Last nine starts: 2.79 ERA, 1.155 WHIP, just nine walks in 58 innings. While he’s still leading MLB in home runs allowed (19), his season ERA and WHIP numbers are getting back to “reasonable” range: 4.13 and 1.302. Also, the Cubs have won Kyle’s last seven starts dating to May 16. That includes a similar strong outing two weeks ago in San Francisco when they needed one badly to also win the final game of a four-game set after dropping the first three.
The Cubs couldn’t do much with Stroman after the first inning. They had just two other hits off him, a double by Pederson in the third and single by Jason Heyward in the fourth. After Heyward’s hit — he wound up on third but was stranded — no Cubs hitter reached base until Ian Happ, pinch-hitting, reached on an error in the ninth. He, too, was stranded.
The Cubs bullpen, as they have so often this year, rose to the occasion of protecting this narrow lead. Andrew Chafin (celebrating his 31st birthday), Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel (19th save, now tied for the NL lead with Mark Melancon) retired all nine hitters they faced, four by strikeout.
I’m highlighting that one-out play in the ninth because Báez made it look so easy that I think some might not understand how difficult a play that was.
First, most shortstops don’t even get to that ball and it goes into left field for a hit. Báez’ range made it look effortless. Then, off-balance and running toward third, he made a strong, accurate throw. Lastly — that’s Francisco Lindor running! Lindor has above-average speed, and yet, the play wasn’t particularly close.
That’s how good a shortstop Javy Báez is — making a play of moderate difficulty look routine.
So that was the second out of the ninth. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
Nice high fastball from Kimbrel to strike out Pete Alonso. Kimbrel seemed a bit off early in this appearance, perhaps from not having thrown since Sunday, but once he got to Alonso, he appeared locked-in. Kimbrel has faced 105 batters this year and struck out 47 of them.
Also, Chafin threw only 10 pitches (nine strikes) and Tepera 11 (eight strikes) so both should be available Friday.
And so, as the headline states: The complaint department is definitely closed and locked up tight this morning.
The even better news is that the Cubs gained a game on all three teams pursuing them in the NL Central. The Brewers, Cardinals and Reds all lost Thursday, so the Cubs are now alone in first place, a game ahead of Milwaukee, three ahead of Cincinnati and four ahead of St. Louis.
As you likely know, the Cubs received permission from the Chicago City Council to play a rare Friday night game at Wrigley Field this evening against the Marlins. Given the night game in New York and some airport delays, the Cubs’ plane didn’t land at O’Hare until after 2 a.m. today. That would have made for a real tough turnaround for an afternoon game Friday, so the extra rest has to certainly be appreciated by the team. (Hint! The City Council should do this again next month, when the Cubs have a night game in St. Louis Thursday, July 22, then a scheduled 1:20 p.m. game Friday, July 23 at Wrigley vs. the Diamondbacks.)
Friday’s scheduled starter for the Cubs is Zach Davies. There’s not yet been a starter officially announced by the Marlins, but Thursday our friends at the SB Nation Marlins site Fish Stripes told me this:
Expected to be Zach Thompson on Friday (even though the team hasn't confirmed yet)— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 17, 2021
Game time Friday is 7:05 p.m. CT. TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network, and the game will also be carried on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Marlins market territories.