As promised, I am following up yesterday’s five worst Cubs games of 2023 article with this one on the five best.
It’s a sign of how the Cubs are improving that I actually had quite a few more than five to choose from, and I’ll put in a couple of “honorable mention” games after. You might have some others you’d like to note.
These are, as were the five yesterday, listed in chronological order.
This was the Cubs’ only complete game of the year, and the first complete-game shutout since Alec Mills’ no-hitter during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Marcus Stroman was brilliant in this game, taking a no-hitter into the seventh, when Rays shortstop Wander Franco got the only hit off Stroman, a leadoff single. Stroman allowed just two other baserunners (a walk and hit batsman) and faced just two over the minimum 27 batters.
The Cubs scored their only run on a line-drive sacrifice fly by Mike Tauchman in the sixth, and Stroman made it hold up.
If only Stroman could have pitched that well the rest of the year.
This game had everything. The Cubs led 4-1 after five and 6-2 going to the bottom of the eighth, but Mark Leiter Jr. and Adbert Alzolay both got hit hard by the Brewers (and they HIT Brewers too, one by each in the eighth and ninth helped Milwaukee rallies). The game went to extras — and that’s when the Cubs fun really began.
The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, Daniel Palencia entered to pitch — his MLB debut! The Cubs bullpen had been overtaxed and Palencia was the only guy truly available.
He retired the first hitter he faced. Then this happened [VIDEO].
Ian Happ made a perfect throw to the plate for the first out, then Miguel Amaya made a heads-up play throwing out Owen Miller trying to take second. The Brewers challenged both outs, both were ruled “call confirmed.” And if you were upset at the time, of challenges at plays that seemed obvious, remember that guy is now Cubs manager and he’ll back up his players when needed.
The Cubs pushed across a run in the top of the 11th thanks in part to a wild pitch that sent Patrick Wisdom to third, where he scored on an infield single by Cody Bellinger.
So it was up to Palencia again. A ground out put the Manfred Man on third base with one out.
Ian Happ won a well-deserved second straight Gold Glove this year. Those two throws were two of 12 outfield assists Happ recorded this year. He’s really good out there.
The Cubs had never won a game in Yankee Stadium, old or new, entering this three-game series. If you’re counting: Two losses in the 1932 World Series, two losses in the 1938 World Series, a three-game sweep in 2005, a two-game sweep in 2014, a three-game sweep in 2022, a total of 0-8 in the regular season, 0-12 overall.
Former Yankee Jameson Taillon put a stop to that, and it was wholly unexpected. Taillon had just been pounded over his first 14 starts as a Cub entering that night: 6.93 ERA, 13 home runs in 63⅔ innings, and a 7.63 ERA in his last three starts before facing his old team.
Taillon was utterly dominant. Gleyber Torres, the second hitter of the game, singled, and it was “Oh, brother, here we go again.”
But it didn’t “go again.” Instead, Taillon retired the next 13 Yankees he faced, then walked Billy McKinney, then retired five more Yankees before Giancarlo Stanton walked in the seventh. He was immediately erased on a double play.
Taillon threw 102 pitches (64 strikes) and I assume David Ross would have let him throw the ninth if he had a no-hitter going, but instead Adbert Alzolay wrapped things up for the Cubs’ first-ever win over the Yankees in New York.
Here are two of Taillon’s four strikeouts:
Jameson Taillon's 2Ks in the 5th. pic.twitter.com/zSLLcgArAU— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 8, 2023
Including that game, Taillon posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.103 WHIP over his last 16 appearances (15 starts), which would seem to be a really good sign for him going into 2024.
Approaching the trade deadline, the Cubs had won six straight entering this Friday night contest in St. Louis and had reached the .500 mark (51-51) for the first time since May 12 (19-19).
The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead early with single runs off Hayden Wesneski (second inning) and Drew Smyly (fourth), but Smyly’s outing after two innings from Wesneski (4⅓ innings, one run, six strikeouts) kept the Cubs in the game. Patrick Wisdom’s solo homer had made it 2-1 in the fifth.
The Cubs took the lead in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Dansby Swanson and single by Trey Mancini (who would play just two more games for the Cubs before being released August 2).
Julian Merryweather threw a scoreless eighth and the Cubs failed to score in the ninth. Adbert Alzolay entered for the ninth and immediately gave up singles to Willson Contreras and Tyler O’Neill.
That put Contreras on third with two out and brought up Alec Burleson.
I don’t think I’m hyping that too much if I say that’s one of the best defensive plays in Cubs history. It literally won the game — if Mike Tauchman doesn’t catch that ball it’s a walkoff homer for the Cardinals. Jed Hoyer was quoted as saying that game was one of the reasons he decided not to sell, but instead to buy and go for it, at the trade deadline.
No matter what Tauchman does from here on out, he’ll always have that, and I can only imagine how doing that for the team he grew up rooting for made him feel. What an amazing moment.
The Cubs, who had embarrassed the White Sox twice in their own park in July, faced them at Wrigley after the Sox had sold off a whole bunch of their pitching staff. But that staff had defeated them the previous night, and Mike Clevinger and Aaron Bummer had held the Cubs to one run and four hits over eight innings.
It would not have been good to be swept in this two-game set.
Gregory Santos entered to close the game for the Sox. He did not do that. Cody Bellinger led off with a double and Dansby Swanson walked.
Wrigley Field has been louder than that, to be sure, but... it was awfully, wonderfully, excitedly loud that night.
Two other games get an honorable mention from me:
- June 10, Cubs 4, Giants 0: Kyle Hendricks takes a no-hitter into the eighth inning and the Cubs win for the second day in a row over the Giants. Tauchman also made a great catch in this one [VIDEO].
You can see me just below the Fox logo in the upper right at the beginning of that clip.
- June 24: Cubs 9, Cardinals 1: The first game in London was a Cubs feast of runs and homers. Ian Happ hit a pair of long balls and Dansby Swanson went deep. The Cubs’ 14-hit attack had this one over early and Justin Steele threw six strong innings, striking out eight.
What was the best Cubs game of 2023?
This poll is closed
1-0 win over the Rays on May 29
7-6 win over the Brewers on July 4
3-0 win over the Yankees on July 7
3-2 win over the Cardinals on July 28
4-3 win over the White Sox on August 16
A different game (leave in comments)