It wasn't tidy, but the Cubs have a winning record again.
Thanks to an especially productive 2nd inning, there was enough padding to the lead to withstand a Cincinnati offense that did not go quietly. Ian Happ, who has avoided returning to Iowa even with Ben Zobrist returning to the lineup, led off with a walk and then advanced to third on Zobrist's line drive to right field. This enabled him to score on Addison Russell's grounder that took out Zobrist at second base. This drew to the game to a tie, as, for the second night, Zack Cozart drove in a 1st-inning run. From there, the Cubs piled on. Miguel Montero drew a walk, Kyle Hendricks struck out, and then Jon Jay was hit by a pitch to load the bases. There was some concern that Jay was hurt afterward, but he proved to be okay. Kyle Schwarber's timely single when play resumed drove in two and warmed the hearts of Cubs fans who have seen him flail so helplessly at the plate so much of the time this season. Scott Feldman could not stop the bleeding here, giving up a walk to Kris Bryant, followed by a two-run single to Anthony Rizzo. When the dust settled on the inning, the Cubs were up 5-1.
But of course Cozart---there's always a Cozart---started the top of the 3rd with a solo home run, making him the first since Carlos Beltran in 2004 to homer in 5 straight games at Wrigley. Even more rare, however, was the Joey Votto infield popup that followed. Impressively, Hendricks didn't allow this to distract him, and he proceeded to muscle through two more outs and turn things over to his offense.
Zobrist led off the bottom of the 3rd with a double and made his way to third on Adam Duvall's error in left field that also allowed Miguel Montero to reach. Hendricks chipped in on his own cause by laying down a sacrifice bunt that scored Zobrist. Jay then singled to score Montero and end Feldman's night. 7-2, Cubs.
The next few innings went by mostly uneventfully, until the top of the 7th, when the Reds made it a two-run game. Mike Montgomery replaced Hendricks, and though he has been generally steady otherwise, this outing did not go well. For the want of the third out, Cincinnati just kept getting on base. Montgomery got once-heralded former Cub Arismendy Alcantara to ground out and then did the same to Billy Hamilton. Then the unraveling. Cozart---COZART---singled again, and then Votto walked. Duvall got the chance to make amends for his earlier defensive mistake and singled to score Cozart. Here, Joe Maddon brought in Pedro Strop to try and secure this last out, but he surrendered a two-run double to Eugenio Suarez. The Cubs still lead, but a lot less comfortably.
Thankfully, Wade Davis, who has yet to blow a save this season, took care of the 9th. Some credit is due Anthony Rizzo for his remarkable stretch to nab that last out and keep his foot on the bag. The initial call was that the runner was safe, but upon review, it was pretty evident otherwise.
Cubs win, 7-5.
The Cubs are showing shades of what we expected of them when the season started. There's no sense in rehashing the hypotheses as to why they are fighting to keep their heads above the waterline of .500 baseball, but through the first two games of this series, they are looking familiar again. Ideally, Montgomery and Strop have a better 7th inning, but with that removed, this was a quality night.
Betting on the offense to keep floundering would be foolhardy, but the concerns about the starting pitching felt more legitimate. Hendricks assuaged some of these worries nicely tonight, not only throwing a quality start, but flashing some of the velocity that was missing a month ago.
Pierce gets the call
John wrote about this news earlier today, but Pierce Johnson is finally in the majors after a rather difficult journey through the minor leagues.
I got to interview Johnson just before the start of the season for 2080 Baseball, and we talked about the transition to the bullpen that he made last season. He has some interesting lefty/righty splits and can be used situationally against left-handed hitters, but I imagine we will see him in a more traditional middle relief role most of the time.
Time to capitalize
The Cubs need to string together a lot of wins. It's time to rally, and this homestand is a great time to do it. Games against the Reds, Brewers, and the Giants, who have also scuffled out of the gate, are likely to provide the right opportunity for these wins to happen.
Not to cheapen this song, but I think, I think we are seeing a shift in the right direction.
Three Stars of Game (No, I'm not giving Cozart a star)
Third Star- Anthony Rizzo (1 for 4, 2 RBI)
But also because of the stretch for that last out.
Second Star- Carl Edwards, Jr (1 IP, 0 H, 2 K)
His was a very important inning after the rough 7th.
First Star- Kyle Hendricks (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K)
It wasn't dazzling, but it was quality.