The Toronto Blue Jays coming to Wrigley Field is part of the fun of interleague play. The Cubs and Jays rarely matchup despite the increase in interleague play, and I must admit a certain affinity for the only Canadian club based on a few years living in southern Ontario. The Jays have been a good team, but have fallen on hard times in 2017. That said they've been a dangerous August team like the Cubs in recent years, and that is the case as the Jays were on a 10-5 run in the month heading into this one.
Jake Arrieta isn't the Cy Young machine he was a couple years ago. He is also still a very good pitcher. He wobbled a little in the first inning. Jose Bautista fouled out on a full count pitch. Josh Donaldson flew out to Ben Zobrist in left field. Justin Smoak hit a 3-2 slider for a double, and was driven in by a Steven Pearce single. Miguel Montero was greeted roughly by the homefield crowd, but aided their cause with a groundout to end the inning. The Blue Jays would hold that 1-0 lead for another inning as J.A. Happ pitched a clean bottom half of the inning.
Arrieta settled in to retire the side in order in the top of the second. Happ's perfect game bid ended on the fourth batter faced. Zobrist drew a walk which lead to the happiest matchup of the game. J.A. got Ian to swing over a breaking ball in the dirt for the first of many Happ strikeouts. Victor Caratini doubled to put two runners into scoring position. Zobrist was held up due to the strong arm of Bautista, but the throw got away from the cutoff man. It didn't matter as Jason Heyward hit a "single" to the right side. J.A. Happ didn't break to cover first, and it allowed Heyward to reach with Zobrist tying the game. Javier Baez hit a floater into right that scored Caratini. Arrieta hit a deep flyball for the second out, but Albert Almora hit a single into right field. The Almora single scored Heyward, but he drifted too far off of first base as the throw went to second. Baez attempted to score as Almora was caught up in the rundown. The throw beat Baez to the plate, but initially it looked like Montero missed the tag. Baez was ruled out and the play was confirmed after review. The Cubs led 3-1 and wouldn't trail again at that point.
Arrieta faced the minimum in the third thanks to a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play to end the inning. Happ and Arrieta traded zeroes with little drama until the bottom of the fifth inning. Almora singled to start the frame, and Bryant doubled to give the Cubs a golden scoring chance. Anthony Rizzo delivered with a single in the spot a non-shifted shortstop would usually play. That extended the Cubs lead to 5-1. Zobrist flew out for the first out of the inning. The third Ian strikeout of the game happenend to be looking. Caratini was walked intentionally after a Rizzo stolen base. Heyward struck out to ended the inning.
Arrieta put another zero on the board in the sixth inning. Aaron Loup was the first Jays reliever. Arrieta hit a one out single, but that was all for the Cubs in the inning. Jake started the seventh, but ran into trouble starting with a Kevin Pillar double. Ryan Goins grounded out to second advancing Pillar to third. Ezequiel Carrera pinch hit for the former Cub Darwin Barney. Carrera drew the walk to end Arrieta's afternoon. Carl Edwards Jr. came on to face the switch hitting Kendrys Morales. He hit the ball right to Rizzo who decided to throw home. Pillar was tagged out on the rundown, but Carrera was able to advance to third on the play. Edwards battled Bautista in a lengthy 9 pitch duel. The deadlock was finally broken as Bautista swung over the top of a low curve.
Tim Mayza was the Jays relievers to take the seventh inning. Zobrist ripped a one out double, but was thrown out trying to steal third base by Montero. Happ sturck out for the fourth time to end the inning. Pedro Strop was the third Cubs pitcher. Strop got two outs to start the inning from Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak, but ran into some two out BABIP trouble. Steave Pearce hit a floater into right that dropped into right field for a single. Montero hit a fliner single into center, and then Strop hung a two strike slider to Pillar that was ripped for a double into left field. That cut the Cubs lead to 5-2. Ryan Goins hit a single ball just out of the reach of a diving Ian Happ to drive in Montero and Pillar. Carrera drove Almora to the wall for the final out. The out though kept the Cubs ahead 5-4.
Mayza went out for the bottom half of the eighth inning. Caratini slapped a single back up the middle for his third hit of the game. Caratini would wipe out on a very near double play fielder's choice by Heyward. That would be important as Baez blasted an 0-1 fastball from Mayza to give the Cubs a three run lead. Mayza exited after walking Jon Jay in a pinch hit spot, but the Cubs could do no further damage against new Jays reliever Ryan Tepera. Wade Davis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 25 straight save. He got a little help from a spectacular play by Baez on a Bautista smash, and the Cubs are still in first place.
That Familiar Feeling
Jake is probably never going to be Bob Gibson 2.0 again. He was as good as the greatest pitcher of this generation for a season and half stretch. That is an unfair level to expect, but that confidence we used to have when we said it was a Jake Day is creeping back in. This Jake Arrieta is certainly someone you can give the ball to in a postseason series with some confidence. The velocity is starting to tick back up, but more importantly he has found some command. The slider, cutter, slutter thing is still getting hit harder than any other point in his Cubs career, but if he can command the fastball it doesn't matter as much. A healthy Jon Lester, Jose Quintana (despite a couple of subpar outings) and Arrieta is a pretty solid front 3 in the rotation. I don't know who you give the ball to in game 4, but getting there first is the focus.
The BABIP Dragon
The Cubs did not benefit from the luck of the BABIP dragon yesterday. The Cubs outhomered the Reds a million to two, but lost due to the dink and dunk offense of the Reds. Today the Cubs bats got a little bit of that luck back in the second inning with a few well placed hits. The Cubs actually managed to score the winning margin of runs without a single long ball. The Cubs were bit by the dragon a bit in the eighth inning as the Blue Jays dropped a few hits into place. The big hit was a bouncing groundball that was just out of the reach of Happ. I would be remiss not to mention that Happ had a very solid day with the glove while his bat had a hole in it.
Miguel Montero was booed fairly loudly when he came up to his first plate appearance. I am largely a do what you like as long as it isn't hurting someone else guy, but booing Montero irked me. Montero was critical to the Cubs turnaround in 2015. He played a very important role on teams that won over 200 games in two seasons, and of course hit several key home runs on the way to the first World Series title in 108 years during the postseason. He did not leave on good terms with his remarks made out of frustration (that weren't inaccurate mind you either), but it seems largely the fanbase turned on him for suffering the fate of many catchers. That being skills leaving in his thirties with the wear and tear of the most demanding position in the game. He deserved better today as a returning hero. He had a bit of the last laugh with two hits and a thrown out base stealer in the losing effort.
The Cubs bullpen has largely been good this season. It has been prone to random bouts of suckiness from just about everyone in the pen. That includes the Cubs closer, but he has remained perfect in save attempts. There is a certain calmness that comes from having Davis at the backend of the bullpen. Joe Maddon must feel a bit like Data at the end of this scene whenever he inserts Wadebot in for the final three outs of a game.