Five previous times this year at Wrigley Field — and once on the road — the Cubs won the first two games of a series, only to fail to complete the sweep. (They did sweep once, in Oakland, in April.)
Thursday, for the third straight night, the Cubs allowed the Pirates to score first, then came from behind for a blowout win. The 7-2 victory, the Cubs’ fifth in their last six games, again showed that this team can win without hitting home runs, though two triples helped the cause.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of this satisfying win.
Marcus Stroman struggled a bit with command early on, and allowed a pair of runs in the third inning.
The Cubs immediately began coming back in the bottom of that inning. Nico Hoerner walked with one out, and stole second as Seiya Suzuki struck out. That steal turned out to be important, as Nico then scored on Ian Happ’s single [VIDEO].
Nico had also provided some good glove in the previous inning on this nice stop [VIDEO].
After that rough second inning, Stroman settled down, and got some more defensive help from Happ, who made this outstanding diving catch in the fourth [VIDEO].
The Cubs broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth. Hoerner led off with a single. One out later, Happ doubled him in [VIDEO].
That tied the game. Dansby Swanson followed with an infield single with Happ moving to third, and Cody Bellinger’s double gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].
Christopher Morel followed with an RBI single to make it 4-2 [VIDEO].
We don’t see these very often, but Nick Madrigal was the next hitter and he laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to make it 5-2 [VIDEO].
That was just the fourth sac bunt by a Cubs hitter this year.
Tucker Barnhart and Mike Tauchman both drew walks to load the bases. Hoerner was the next hitter, and the inning should have ended on a grounder to short, but... [VIDEO]
The fifth run of the inning scored to make it 6-2.
Stroman completed six innings of work by retiring 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced. It wasn’t as dominant an outing as Stroman has had recently, but it certainly was good enough: four hits, two walks, two runs, five strikeouts. Here’s a visual look at Stroman’s start [VIDEO].
Cubs righty Marcus Stroman has spun a 1.51 ERA over his last six turns, lowering his season showing to a National League-leading 2.45 ERA. He leads MLB witrh 13 quality starts.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 16, 2023
The Cubs added one more in the sixth. Happ led off with a triple. One out later, Bellinger was intentionally passed (after a 2-0 count) and Happ scored on this fly ball by Morel [VIDEO].
Finally, the Cubs are getting some consistent late-inning bullpen work. Anthony Kay threw a scoreless seventh, his second scoreless inning in the series, and Julian Merryweather allowed a hit but struck out three in the eighth.
A bit of drama remained for Cubs fans in the bottom of the eighth. Happ, after grounding out in the first, had singled, doubled and tripled. Thus a home run would have completed the Cubs’ first cycle in more than 30 years (and a natural cycle, at that). Home runs are never easy, and the wind was howling in from center field. Alas, no home run followed; instead, Happ grounded into a double play. Still, Happ had an excellent evening with his three hits.
Michael Rucker threw a 1-2-3 ninth to finish up. Here’s the final out [VIDEO].
Once again, the Cubs got timely hitting and good pitching. I don’t need to tell you that’s the way to win baseball games. The Cubs did leave 10 men on base, but went 4-for-10 with RISP and outscored the Pirates 28-11 in the series. I’m aware that the Pirates have spent a considerable amount of time in first place so far this season, but that did not look like a first-place team playing the Cubs this week, or even a contender. It was the Cubs who looked like the contending team, and I still believe that’s what they are.
Things will not get easier this weekend. The Baltimore Orioles, who bear the second-best record in the American League (and third-best in MLB) come to town for a three-game series. The Cubs are playing well and it couldn’t come at a better time. Kyle Hendricks will open the three-game set Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, coming off one of the best games of his career. Cole Irvin will start for Baltimore. Game time is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network (and MLB Network outside the Cubs and Orioles market territories).