2021, of course, has become a lost season for the Chicago Cubs after the trade deadline selloff.
But just for one night, we could pretend that the Cubs were the solid team perhaps playoff-worthy and the White Sox were the one going down meekly, instead of the 2021 reality of things being the other way around.
And you know, perhaps the Cubs really do have a couple of really good scrap heap finds in Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega. Wisdom homered twice for the second straight game and Ortega’s grand slam put a cap on a five-run fourth that helped the Cubs to a 7-0 win over the White Sox. It was the team’s first shutout since the combined no-hitter more than two months ago in Los Angeles, and while I sing the praises of Wisdom and Ortega, let’s not forget Alec Mills, whose pitching performance was magnificent.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of this extremely well-played game.
Neither team scored in the first inning and play was swift, so we already knew things would be different from Friday’s contest.
In the top of the second, singles by Matt Duffy and Jason Heyward put runners on first and third with nobody out. One out later, Robinson Chirinos laid down a perfect squeeze bunt [VIDEO].
That’s old-school baseball — you rarely see well-done squeezes anymore.
Mills continued to blaze his way through the White Sox lineup. He allowed just one baserunner through three innings and then the Cubs got to work again in the fourth.
Wisdom led off the inning with home run number 24 [VIDEO].
One out later, Heyward walked. After Michael Hermosillo struck out for the second out of the inning, a single by Chirinos and walk by Sergio Alcántara loaded the bases.
Lance Lynn gave up just the 3rd grand slam of his long career and first since 2018.— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) August 29, 2021
Fun fact No. 2:
Rafael Ortega belted a grand slam off Lynn in the 4th. It's his first slam since 8/18/19 off Dustin May.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 29, 2021
Ortega also hit a walkoff grand slam for the Cubs this past spring. pic.twitter.com/4MB6PH3q0r
In case you don’t remember it (I do!), here’s Ortega’s walkoff slam against the A’s March 9 at Sloan Park [VIDEO].
Anyway, now it’s 6-0 Cubs after four. A six-run lead... what could possibly...
Well, wait. That was Friday. This game was different, and after Mills got out of the fourth with a double play, Wisdom made it 7-0 leading off the fifth [VIDEO].
For Lance Lynn, who has (or maybe had, before this one) a legitimate case for the American League Cy Young Award, that was the most runs he’d allowed to any team in 24 starts this year.
Yes, any team. The cobbled-together Cubs are the one that Lynn will look back on and think, “Those guys did that?” That’s especially true since Lynn had thrown six innings of four-hit, one-run ball against the same team just three weeks earlier at Wrigley Field.
Fun fact about Wisdom’s two-homer game:
History on the South Side tonight: Patrick Wisdom becomes the first rookie in Cubs history to record back-to-back multi-homer games. (h/t Elias Sports Bureau)— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) August 29, 2021
Anyway, after that my interest turned into the question: Could Alec Mills throw a Maddux? If you are not familiar with the term, it was coined back in 2012 by Jason Lukehart, referring to a game that’s a complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches. Greg Maddux threw 14 of them in his Hall of Fame career.
Alec Mills is no Greg Maddux, to be sure, but Saturday night he had a very good White Sox offense completely off balance. Through six, here are Mills’ pitch counts for each inning:
That’s a total of just 61 pitches through six innings, an average of just over 10 per inning, so that definitely gave him a chance. He issued his first walk of the game in the seventh, an inning in which he threw 19 pitches, but at 80 through seven there’s still a reasonable shot for Mills at completing this game with fewer than 100.
He threw another 12 in the eighth, so that brought the count to 92. Difficult but not impossible to get three outs on eight pitches in the ninth, but David Ross sent Mills out to try for it and for a complete-game shutout, even though conditions on the field were very hot and humid.
It took four pitches to retire Tim Anderson, getting the pitch count to 96, and Yoan Moncada singled on the third pitch thrown to him, bringing the count to 99. With two outs to go, the Maddux was now impossible.
And then Mills ran out of gas, unfortunately. He walked Jose Abreu on four pitches and was replaced by Codi Heuer, the Cubs fans remaining in the crowd on the South Side giving Mills an ovation as he departed having thrown 103 pitches (59 strikes).
Heuer retired Eloy Jimenez on a force play for the second out and here’s the final out of the game, another ground ball [VIDEO].
That was just an outstanding performance by Mills, second-best in his career only to his no-hitter in 2020 against the Brewers. Mills is a perfectly capable MLB fifth starter and should be an important part of the 2022 Cubs. They just have to find some starters better than him to fill in the large quality gap between Mills and Kyle Hendricks.
And as for Wisdom and Ortega? On Saturday Wisdom tied Billy Williams for the second-most home runs by a Cubs rookie with his 25th. He needs just two more in the 31 games remaining to break the Cubs rookie record and I’m going to say that not only will he get there, but he’ll probably get to 30 — and then he should get some attention from Rookie of the Year voters, especially since that will be accomplished in fewer than 400 plate appearances. Sara Sanchez laid out Wisdom’s Rookie of the Year case here on Friday and I think he’s got a legitimate chance.
Comps have been made for Wisdom and to me Mark Reynolds and Dave Kingman seem the most accurate comps, guys who hit a lot of home runs and also struck out a lot. I’ve said this before and will say it again: If Wisdom can hit around .260 and hit 30+ home runs a year, he’s a competent major-league player even with all the Ks, especially since he plays good defense at third base.
Also, in the current week Wisdom is hitting .333/.429/1.167 (6-for-18) with five home runs. He’s already won one NL Player of the Week award; if he has another good day Sunday he might be able to snag another one.
Ortega appears to be the real deal, at least against righthanded pitching. I wouldn’t play him at all vs. LHP, where he is 2-for-30 with 15 strikeouts this year. But going forward, he could be a useful part of an outfield platoon, if the Cubs could find a RH-hitting partner for him. (A return of Jake Marisnick, perhaps?)
One last note about Saturday’s game: At 2:45 it was the fourth-fastest Cubs nine-inning game this year, a welcome change from Friday night’s 4:09 slog.
The Cubs have a legitimate chance to win this weekend series against the White Sox, as they will send Kyle Hendricks to the mound Sunday afternoon. Dylan Cease is the scheduled starter for the Sox. Game time is 1:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and also on NBC Sports Chicago with the Sox announcers). Sunday’s game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.