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Cubs 3, Orioles 2: Just enough pitching, just enough hitting, just enough defense

The Cubs won their fifth straight.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After winning four games on the homestand in blowout fashion, the Cubs played a much tighter game against the Orioles Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

A two-run double by Nico Hoerner and sacrifice fly by Mike Tauchman plated all the runs for the Cubs, and four Cubs pitchers, helped by some great defense, held a good Orioles offense to just two runs. That was enough for a 3-2 Cubs victory, their fifth in a row, before the largest Wrigley crowd of the season, 40,605.

The Cubs broke a scoreless tie in the third. Yan Gomes struck out with one out, but the ball got away from James McCann and Gomes reached base. This turned out to be a very, very important play. Miles Mastrobuoni was the next hitter and he hit into a force play for the second out. But Tauchman walked and Hoerner doubled in both runners [VIDEO].

Justin Steele threw ... well enough, I suppose, in his first start back from a stay on the injured list. He allowed several baserunners, but worked out of jams in the second and fourth innings. In the fifth, you could tell he was tiring, but he got the first two hitters out. Then Austin Hays singled and Adley Rutschman deposited a baseball into the bleachers in left-center to tie the game.

The Cubs wasted no time getting the lead back. Gomes doubled leading off the fifth and Mastrobuoni sacrificed him to third. Again, that was an important play. This is the third straight game the Cubs have executed a successful sacrifice, and it led to the eventual game-winning run when Tauchman lofted this fly to left [VIDEO].

Steele departed after 74 pitches and so it was up to Cubs relievers, who have done a good job recently, to hold the lead. Julian Merryweather threw a scoreless sixth and then it was Mark Leiter Jr.’s turn. Leiter allowed a one-out walk and single, then struck out Anthony Santander.

Nico saved a run here [VIDEO].

That ended the seventh and Leiter threw a scoreless eighth, again helped by his defense. Tauchman’s leaping grab ended the inning [VIDEO].

The Cubs offense didn’t do much after Tauchman’s sac fly. There were just two Cubs baserunners after the fifth, but the ninth was reached with the Cubs still leading 3-2, and it was Adbert Alzolay time. I think we can now say that Alzolay is the closer, and he’s done good work in that role. He struck out the first two Orioles in the inning and then we were subjected to some unintentional humor when plate umpire CB Bucknor lost track of the count on Hays [VIDEO].

You can see the count at 3-2 on the scorebug when Alzolay misses outside. It was clearly ball four, but the umpires had to consult the replay review crew to make sure. Nice work, CB.

In any case, that put the tying run on base and brought Rutschman to the plate, the last Oriole you really wanted to see in that situation.

But Alzolay calmly got him to ground to second to end the game [VIDEO].

I’ve been saying for a very long time that the Cubs should try Alzolay at closer, and it looks like he’s taken to the role. Alzolay, in this role, has ramped up his velocity a bit, throwing 96 several times in this outing.

In addition, the Cubs have been getting solid bullpen work from guys who had struggled earlier in the year — particularly Merryweather, who’s been really good in middle relief and setup outings. Credit where it’s due, the guy throws hard and has done a better job recently of keeping it in the strike zone. He threw at least one pitch at 100 according to the Wrigley pitch speed meter.

Once again, the complaint department is closed. Doesn’t that feel good? This team is playing up to its talent level, as it did in April. I think it can continue and they will potentially be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

Lastly, the weather was just perfect Saturday, low 70s, low humidity, unlimited sunshine, the kind of day you want to bottle up and let out in the Chicago winter, when it’s really needed.

Another beautiful day is forecast for Sunday, when the Cubs will go for another three-game sweep, and in fact, a sweep of the entire homestand. Jameson Taillon will start for the Cubs and Dean Kremer will go for Baltimore. Game time Sunday — please note! — is 12:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via the streaming service Peacock (how to watch). Sunday’s game preview will post here at 10 a.m. CT.