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Cubs split doubleheader with Cardinals

But they might have found two solid starting pitchers in Matt Swarmer and Caleb Kilian.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

If you thought you were seeing the first wave of the “Next Great Cubs Team” Saturday at Wrigley Field, you were right. The Cubs started two pitchers, Matt Swarmer and Caleb Kilian, with a combined six innings of MLB experience (all by Swarmer last Monday). The last time that happened for the Cubs: October 6, 1909, also against the Cardinals, the last day of that season. The Cubs swept that doubleheader behind King Cole (who helped them win the 1910 pennant) and Rudy Schwenk, who never pitched in another MLB game. That Cubs team won 104 games. Until last year, that was the most games ever won by a second-place team.

This team won’t do that, obviously, but they have looked better of late, and the doubleheader split, though ultimately unsatisfying, had its moments. Let’s look at each game.

Cubs 6, Cardinals 1: Matt Swarmer does it again

Matt Swarmer had a solid outing Monday against the Brewers and in Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Cardinals he was even better, allowing just two hits (one a homer by Tommy Edman), helping lead the Cubs to a 6-1 victory.

It wasn’t all Swarmer; the Cubs put together a varied 13-hit offense. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

In the second, Nico Hoerner was hit by a pitch, Rafael Ortega walked and Clint Frazier singled to load the bases. One out later, this happened [VIDEO].

A run scored to make it 1-0.

Swarmer retired the first 13 Cardinals before Juan Yepez doubled in the fourth, one of the two aforementioned hits.

The Cubs made it 3-0 in the fifth. With one out, Frank Schwindel sent one deep into the bleachers [VIDEO].

Ball: Crushed!

Schwindel also flashed some glove in this game [VIDEO].

One out later, Hoerner singled and stole second. Ortega drove him in [VIDEO].

The Cubs put two more across in the sixth. Nick Madrigal led off with a walk and advanced to third on a double by Christopher Morel, who thus extended his on-base streak to start his career to 18 games. After Willson Contreras hit into a play in which Madrigal was tagged out at the plate and Morel took third, Ian Happ drove in run number four with this sac fly [VIDEO].

Schwindel followed with this RBI single, his third hit of the afternoon [VIDEO].

Swarmer was removed after six innings, having thrown 86 pitches (54 strikes). He’s certainly warranted a longer look, having had two good outings against the top two teams in the NL Central.

Brandon Hughes, Scott Effross and Rowan Wick finished up with three shutout innings in which they allowed three hits, two walks and struck out five.

The Cubs added one last run in the eighth. Madrigal singled and Morel singled him to third. Happ singled in run number six [VIDEO].

Here’s the final out of the game [VIDEO].

This was a solidly-played game in every facet by the Chicago Cubs: Offense, defense and pitching. The complaint department is closed and locked shut, for this game, anyway. As for Swarmer, he’s just happy to be in the big leagues:

Hope he has many more such moments. Keep in mind that Swarmer was the Cubs’ 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He had a rough year in 2019 at Iowa, missed the 2020 season along with every other minor leaguer, then had another rough year in 2021. Glad to see him back on track.

One last note on this one: Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was tossed (the first ejection of his career) arguing a strike call on Edman that ended the seventh inning.

He was right. This was a terrible call:

Sorry, Erich Bacchus, but pitch 6 was not a strike. The Cubs will take it, but man... these umpires have to do better. The ejection was, at least, entertaining [VIDEO].

Cardinals 7, Cubs 4: Caleb Kilian’s debut a success, but that 10th inning...

The nightcap of the doubleheader was the highly-anticipated MLB debut of Caleb Kilian, who was acquired in the Kris Bryant deal last July and who just this past week made it into Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list.

Kilian did not disappoint. He struck out the first two MLB hitters he faced, Edman and Nolan Gorman, and retired the first nine hitters he faced. Here’s that first MLB K [VIDEO].

Meanwhile, the Cubs fashioned a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Morel led off with a single, extending that on-base streak to 19 games. Willson Contreras ripped a double to left and drove him in [VIDEO].

Contreras continues to hit better as a DH. Catching Game 1, he was 0-for-4 with a walk. In the nightcap: 2-for-4 (though with three strikeouts).

Kilian got into trouble in the fourth, with a pair of walks and a single loading the bases with one out. He wild-pitched one run in and a double by Brendan Donovan scored two more to make it 3-1 Cardinals. If you’re wondering — no, if the wild pitch hadn’t happened it wouldn’t have mattered. The double by Donovan would have cleared the bases anyway.

Kilian recovered to throw a scoreless fifth and that was it for his night — five innings, three hits, two walks, six strikeouts, a successful MLB debut. I hope he sticks around, he’s certainly earned another look. Here’s more:

The Cubs tied the game in the sixth. Ortega singled with one out, and P.J. Higgins singled him to third. Jason Heyward singled to make it 3-2 [VIDEO].

One out later, Morel tied the game with this double [VIDEO].

Mychal Givens and David Robertson managed to shut down the Cardinals through the ninth. Givens walked the bases loaded in the seventh but Robertson was called on to get the final out of the inning. I found this really interesting. Most managers won’t use their closer (though David Ross has never officially anointed Robertson as “closer”) in situations before the ninth. This was a very high-leverage situation and Robertson came through.

Robertson did get in trouble in the ninth after two were out. He allowed a pair of singles to Edmundo Sosa and Edman, and then Gorman singled and it appeared the Cardinals would take the lead. But Sosa missed third base and had to come back, and was held there. Robertson got a force play to end the inning.

The Cubs had their chances in the eighth and ninth. In the eighth, Ortega led off with a double, but was stranded there. In the ninth, Happ doubled with two out and Schwindel, after running a 2-0 count, was intentionally passed. Patrick Wisdom ran the count full, but struck out to send the game to extras.

Here’s where the Cubs’ use of relievers in the doubleheader came back to hurt them. Wick wasn’t available after throwing 38 pitches in Game 1. Givens threw 45 pitches and Robertson 39 and thus it was Michael Rucker and, oh, man, was he bad in this game. Four straight hits brought three runs in. Daniel Norris was summoned and though he did get Lars Nootbaar to hit into a double play, a fourth run scored.

Me? I’d have used Effross, who threw 17 pitches in Game 1 but seems like he could handle a workload like this.

The Cubs did score a run in the bottom of the 10th, so here, have a look at it [VIDEO].

So, a 7-4 loss in Game 2 results in the first four games of this five-game series being split, which isn’t a terrible result against a very good team. The key, of course, was Kilian’s debut. Here are David Ross’ postgame comments [VIDEO].

Here’s Kilian on his day [VIDEO].

I’ve been a big fan of Kilian since I saw him pitch in the Arizona Fall League. I hope we see much more of him. (And less of Rucker, please.)

Complaint department: The Cubs were 3-for-18 with RISP in Game 2. They could have scored a lot more runs. Over the eight games in this homestand so far they are 19-for-98 (.194) with RISP and that’s... terrible. For the season the Cubs are batting .239 (114-for-478) with RISP, which ranks tied for 19th in MLB. They have to do better in these situations. Seven of the eight games on this homestand (all but the 14-5 loss Friday) were winnable with better RISP batting.

Attendance note: 32,792 paid to see the day game and 31,673 the night game and... well, for a pair of Cubs/Cardinals games on a Saturday in June, that’s way, way below anything we’ve seen at Wrigley in many years. Yes, the weather wasn’t great (a few light rainshowers fell during both games, not enough to interrupt play), but that’s more than 9,000 short of a sellout. The Cubs ought to be concerned.

The Cubs and Cardinals will wrap this five-game series Sunday night at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs still having a chance to win the series and have a winning homestand (they are 4-4 so far). The last winning Cubs homestand of more than three games was last September, when they went 6-4 against the Pirates, Giants and Reds. Justin Steele will start for the Cubs and Adam Wainwright will go for St. Louis. Game time is 6:08 p.m. CT and this game is ESPN’s featured game on Sunday Night Baseball.