That one was better. A LOT better.
The Cubs got timely hitting and, at last, solid bullpen work and defeated the Mets 7-2 in the opener of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
After a scoreless first inning, the Cubs got right to work in the bottom of the second, beginning with this home run from Seiya Suzuki [VIDEO].
Christopher Morel followed with a walk. He advanced to second on a ground out and third on a wild pitch and scored on this single by Yan Gomes [VIDEO].
Matt Mervis hit his first MLB home run in Houston, but until Tuesday had not hit one in Wrigley Field. Now he’s checked that box [VIDEO].
So the Cubs had a 4-0 lead. As it turned out, that was enough runs right there to win the game. Mets first baseman Pete Alonso homered off Drew Smyly in the fourth to make it 4-1, but the Cubs came right back with two in the bottom of the inning.
The Mets are not a very good defensive team. Mike Tauchman led off the fourth with what looked like a routine fly to left. Tommy Pham just dropped it. Two outs later Mervis singled in Tauchman [VIDEO].
Mervis had tried to advance to second on the throw to the plate. He was called out on the field, but review overturned that call, as you can see in the video above. That turned out to be important. It would have ended the inning, but Nico Hoerner followed with a single advancing Mervis to third, where he scored on this single by Dansby Swanson [VIDEO].
A walk to Ian Happ loaded the bases, but Suzuki grounded out to end the inning.
Drew Smyly threw really well through five innings, allowing just two hits, one of them the homer to Alonso. He got into trouble in the sixth and was removed with the bases loaded and nobody out, a tough situation for any reliever. Jeremiah Estrada was up to the task. A fielder’s choice allowed one run to score, but Estrada ended the inning with a fly to center and a ground ball to short. Hopefully this will allow David Ross to trust Estrada in more high-leverage situations.
Julian Merryweather relieved Estrada in the seventh and struck out two, sandwiched around two singles. The Mets sent up Jeff McNeil to pinch hit and that brought Ross out to summon Mark Leiter Jr., who has been great vs. LHB this year. He struck out McNeil on a 3-2 splitter to end the inning. That was the last threat the Mets had.
Christopher Morel put the cherry on top of this win with yet another home run, this towering blast in the seventh [VIDEO].
⚾Christopher Morel! HR (9)— Home Run Report (@homerunreport) May 24, 2023
Go, Cubs, go!
5/23/23 @ CHC, ⬇️ 7th
vs RHP Stephen Nogosek
108.2 MPH / 37° / 383 ft to LF
Off a 93.2 MPH four-seam fb
▶️It's a home run in 19/30 parks.◀️
See this play in Gameday: https://t.co/1vWu1M72c7 pic.twitter.com/NqGF5BABi2
Leiter threw a scoreless eighth and Michael Fulmer, who hadn’t thrown well his last three times out, entered for the ninth. Fortunately, it was uneventful, and here’s the final out [VIDEO].
The Cubs finally got some solid relief work, four innings of shutout ball with two hits allowed, five strikeouts and no walks from Estrada, Merryweather, Leiter and Fulmer. This is something that’s been a problem, as you know, and Jed Hoyer acknowledged that in a pre-game interview, reported by Meghan Montemurro in the Tribune:
“If I’m being candid, I feel like I’ve put Ross in a tough spot to a certain extent,” Hoyer said. “That’s an area we’ve had so much success with. ... We’ve candidly done a really good job of finding relievers that could come in and throw high-leverage innings at a relatively low cost on one-year deals. And we’ve been building bullpens that way for a while, and this year that hasn’t worked yet.
“That’s on me, and that’s put Rossy in a tough spot. It hasn’t lined up the way we expected it to.”
That’s really been the crux of the Cubs’ problems. Hoyer is right, the team has had success the last two years with that type of relief pitcher. So far this year, it hasn’t worked. There is, of course, still time for that to change and hopefully this game was the beginning of that.
A couple more notes: I mentioned the Mets appear to be a bad defensive team. That seems especially true with Gary Sanchez behind the plate. The Mets were charged with two wild pitches and Sanchez with one passed ball; in reality, all three of those could have been passed balls. The Mets are pretty desperate at catcher to have signed Sanchez, who appears to be just about done. Fine with me, of course.
The Cubs drew six walks in this game and could have scored more — they left the bases loaded in the fourth and left nine on base overall. That’s not a complaint, since the complaint department is closed, just an observation. The Cubs’ 179 walks as a team rank fifth in MLB, just two behind the Cardinals and Orioles, who are tied for third. That puts the Cubs on pace for 617 walks, which would rank seventh in franchise history. The team record is 656, set in the World Series year of 2016.
As for Morel, he has now homered in five straight games. That tied the franchise record and is the first time any Cub has done that since Sammy Sosa, June 3-8, 1998. Ryne Sandberg (1989) and Hack Wilson (1930) are the other Cubs to accomplish this. The major league record for such a streak is eight games, set by Dale Long in 1956 and tied by Don Mattingly (1987) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993). Here are all the players who have done what Morel has, or better, in their first 12 games of any season (this says “since 1900” but with the very small number of home runs hit in the 19th Century, “any season” is likely correct):
most HR in player’s 1st 12 games of season, since 1900:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 24, 2023
1976 Mike Schmidt: 11
2023 Christopher Morel: 9
2001 Luis Gonzalez: 9
1997 Larry Walker: 9
This was all lots of fun and a great way to start the homestand. It will continue Wednesday evening with Marcus Stroman on the mound for the Cubs. Kodai Senga will start for the Mets. Game time is again 6:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.