We've all had plenty of time to digest the weekend sweep of the Cubs by the Brewers, what with a day off and a 7:05 start time this evening. For some of us, perhaps we've needed a couple of Tums along the way.
During the time off, we've seen the same narratives that have plagued this team all season long. "This team can't hit with runners in scoring position. Kris Bryant only hits when the game is out of hand. The bullpen isn't good enough in the late innings."
And all of that may be true. The beauty of baseball, however, is that it just doesn't matter. The Dodgers losing 11-straight games doesn't matter if they make it to the World Series. The Indians winning 20-straight doesn't matter if they lose in the division series. It doesn't matter what the Cubs did in 2016. What matters is what happens between now and the end of the season.
It was appropriate that for a portion of tonight's game, there was an advertisement on the wall behind home plate that stated "Own your tomorrow." It's as simple as this; if the Cubs want a chance to repeat they have 19 games to prove that they deserve to be in. And while the 11 games against the Brewers (4) and Cardinals (7), taking care of business against the Mets this week would go a long way to make those games matter a little less.
Have I driven that into the ground yet?
Tonight's first inning featured a little too much of the un-clutch hitting that we've experienced a little bit too often of late. After a lead-off double by Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant walked to put runners at first and second. The rest of the inning, however, was a combination of bad luck and poor base running. Anthony Rizzo just missed a base hit down the first base line, as it was just foul. After a bit of a delay Rizzo lined out to right field. In his first at bat back from the disabled list, Willson Contreras drew a walk to load the bases. With the bases jacked, Ian Happ hit a weak dribbler toward second baseman Jose Reyes. Contreras, had he been thinking, might have held up and either made Reyes tag him (or toss to second base for the force). Instead, he continued toward the base, dodging out of the reach of the fielder. He was ruled out of the baseline, and Reyes continued to first to complete the double play. One hoped that coming up empty with the bases loaded and only one out wouldn't come back to haunt the Cubs.
Luckily, they got a strong outing by Jose Quintana. Despite allowing base runners in the first three innings, it wasn't until the 4th inning that the Mets were able to put a run on the scoreboard. Juan Lagares doubled to lead off, and moved on to third one out later on an infield single by Amed Rosario. The ball deflected off of Quintana on the mound, and was fielded by Rizzo at first - who attempted to catch Lagares sleeping - by firing a dangerous throw to third. Luckily, Kris Bryant prevented the ball from getting away. Travis Taijeron knocked in the run on the next play, hitting a dribbler to Bryant at third. Not having the best angle on a throw home, Bryant threw to first for the second out. Quintana got out of the inning by striking out the pitcher, Robert Gsellman.
The Cubs wouldn't trail long, however, and took control of the game in the bottom of the 4th. Kyle Schwarber walked to lead off, and went first-to-third on a single by Jason Heyward. After Javier Baez came up short, Quintana helped himself with a beautiful squeeze bunt up the first base line. First baseman Dominic Smith's throw to the plate was late, and the game was tied 1-1. After a Zobrist line out, Kris Bryant did what most of his critics have been harping on this season; he hit a three-run homer with two outs. It was 4-1 Cubs, and they would not trail again in the game.
The Mets added another run in the fifth inning, when catcher Travis d'Arnaud hit a sacrifice fly to right field. The Cubs got it back in the bottom of the inning on a home run (off a lefty breaking ball, to boot). Of course, if you want to be picky, they missed out on a run when Willson Contreras was picked off earlier in the at bat. Quintana had his first, and only, 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, and the Cubs extended the lead to 6-2 on a Javy Baez double/Ben Zobrist single combo. Quintana threw the 7th inning with only a Jose Reyes (erased on pick-off) being the only blemish. It was a little surprising for him to go the whole inning, seeing as he entered it with 97 pitches. On the other hand, we are at the point of the season where we need to expect longer outings from our starters.
At any rate, the Cubs added a 7th run in the bottom of the inning on an Ian Happ solo homer. It was nice to have a little bit of a laugh tonight - the interviews in the dugout have taken on a life of their own - with not only LaStella providing the interview, but tonight the boys added a boom mic and "camera." Playing loose is a major key for any team in a tight race, so these guys having fun is exactly what we need them to be doing.
Edwards pitched a scoreless 8th inning, and the Cubs scored yet again. They loaded the bases again with no outs, and Bryant was able to bring in another run on a deep fly ball to center field. It looked like it would have been a grand slam on a normal day, but the wind pushed it back in ever so slightly. 8-2 Cubs.
The six-run lead allowed Joe Maddon to bring Justin Wilson out, and it was...well, it wasn't great. He (again) gave up a run when he (again) couldn't throw strikes. Rosario led off with a single, then after an actually nice curve ball strike out of Taijeron, the walks came. Matt Reynolds and Reyes each drew walks to load the bases with just one out, and Maddon was forced to go to the bullpen again. Pedro Strop got two ground outs (Norichika Aoki's drove in the 3rd run) to end the game.
So, after a terrible weekend, the Cubs came back and did the right things. They drew walks tonight, and put runners on base. And tonight they actually came through a couple of times to come up with the runs they needed. And just like that, the season is down to 18 games.
Three Stars of the Game
#3 Ben Zobrist wasn't mentioned a ton in the recap, but he had an important night - both as a table-setting leadoff hitter, but also continued a general trend of improvement in the second half. In five at bats tonight, Zobrist had two hits and two walks. While he doesn't have the speed of a typical leadoff hitter, and he has not hit for much power, having a guy in the lineup that keeps the line moving is essential for the playoffs. We all want to see Almora, Happ, and Javy in the lineup, but Zobrist is the proven guy. Another shoutout obviously goes out to Jose Quintana for his seven strong innings, but tonight was mostly about the offense.
#2 Kris Bryant only had one hit, but it was the big one. His three-run bomb in the 4th inning was enough for the Cubs to win on this night.
#1 Kyle Schwarber had a nice, solid game. 3-for-3 with a dinger and a walk. A couple of those hits came off lefties, which is a good sign going forward.
The Brewers and Cardinals both won this evening, so the Cubs 2-game lead over St. Louis and 2.5-game lead over Milwaukee remain. The Cubs will send Jon Lester out against...wait, this must be a mistake - Matt Harvey is healthy? I guess that's happening, then.
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