The day after splitting a double header over 19 innings with the Dodgers, the Cubs turned to their ace, John Lester, to win the three-game series against Los Angeles. What we saw unfold was possibly one of those "signature" games that a winning team has en route to a playoff season. It saw Lester not only toss a gem, but was described by Pat Hughes as the best overall defensive game he'd ever seen played by the Cubs. While hyperbole is certainly part of a sportscaster's toolbox, the sentiment is probably genuine. Let's get to the highlights.
The first inning started out with some frustration on Big Jon Stud's part. We've seen inconsistency from home plate umpires all season, and Chad Whitson was no different today. Credit Willson Contreras for visiting with Lester after a 2-0 count to the third batter of the inning, after having had a borderline call be called "ball four" to the previous batter. Lester settled down to get fly outs from Justin Turner and Matt Kemp to end the inning. In the second, Lester pitched around a one-out double to Max Muncy to shut the Dodgers down.
The third inning is where the defensive effort started getting fun. Their defense reminded me of the type of inning that the struggling Cubs offense tends to have. With one out, Chris Taylor reached on a ground-rule double. Enrique Hernandez then singled to left field. However, the word finally seems to be getting out that you do not run on Kyle Schwarber. Schwarbs threw home, preventing Taylor from scoring on the play. The next batter, Justin Turner, flew out to right field where there just so happened to be a five-time Gold Glove winning outfielder. Jason Heyward made the catch and threw a bullet home. Contreras made a Javy-esque catch and tag at the plate to easily retire Taylor for an inning-ending double play.
Lester didn't have his greatest stuff - he only struck out one on the day - but he battled through seven innings of five-hit ball, while walking three. He also threw 119 pitches, giving the Cubs bullpen some much needed relief after having thrown eight innings between the two games yesterday. He was aided by some solid play at third base by Heyward, but also at third base by Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. who played his usual splendid D in center field, and by Javier Báez, who started at shortstop. It was Javy who provided what was perhaps the finest play of the day in the eighth inning. After Addison Russell replaced Tommy La Stella defensively, Báez went to his regular second base. It was there that he snagged a line drive, then lunged toward second base to double off Enrique Hernandez. Lester and the Cubs defense continually wasted opportunities for the Dodgers by making all of the plays on defense.
Three is Enough
The offense, as it has been of late, was a mixed bag.
The Cubs scored all the runs they needed in the first inning. Kris Bryant led off with a single. Jason Heyward was robbed on a nice play by Justin Turner (who was on the right side of the infield for the shift), and Bryant was out on a force play. Ben Zobrist then singled on a hit and run, and the Cubs were in business. Anthony Rizzo grounded into a force out, which allowed Heyward to score. 1-0 Cubs.
The Cubs probably got robbed of a run in the bottom of the second inning. Javy Báez got a two-out double, then with Lester batting, stole third. With Lester batting and a 2-2 count, Dodger pitcher Ross Stripling uncorked a pitch that was mishandled by Yasmani Grandal behind the plate. The ball squirted away, and Javy ran home with what appeared to be a second Cubs run. However, Lester was judged to have unsuccessfully checked his swing for strike three. Grandal tracked down the ball and threw it to first for the force out, and the score remained 1-0.
Kyle Schwarber extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. After Anthony Rizzo had singled (and was caught trying to steal), and Almora had popped out, Schwarber hit a ball against the slight breeze into the bleachers just to the left of the batter's eye. It was the 14th homer of the season for Schwarbs, and gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
Báez's footprint was all over this game. He was in the center of another Cubs run in the fifth inning when he led off with a double. Lester advanced him to third base on a sacrifice bunt, and Bryant scored him with a single to left. Jason Heyward stayed hot, and doubled to left field. Bryant was held at third with Zobrist and Rizzo due up. Unfortunately the rally ended there, as Zobrist grounded a ball to second baseman Logan Forsythe. With the infield in, he went home and got Bryant at the plate. Rizzo flew out to center field to end the inning. Still, the lead had been extended to 3-0.
Seeing as Javy would bat again in the seventh inning, that was when the Cubs scored their last run of the game. He lined the ball down the left field line, and when Matt Kemp got to the ball slowly, Javy extended the base-hit into a triple. Tommy La Stella pinch hit for Jon Lester, and promptly looped a line drive into right field to easily score Báez. 4-0 Cubs. That's it, that's the score. Cubs win!
Well, there were still a couple of innings to go (Anthony "Don't Call Me Kevin" Bass pitched the final two innings), and the Cubs did flirt with more runs in the bottom of the eighth (spoiler alert: there was a failed squeeze bunt involved), but the score remained the same.
Winning, of course, is the most important thing about professional sports. You want your team to win, and you want to have bragging rights over your loser friends that cheer for teams like the Brewers or Dodgers, or even the Cardinals (yes, I admit that I have a few friends who are Cardinals fans - I'm deeply sorry). An extra benefit is having players that you can feel good about cheering for. That makes Rizzo a go-to guy. That being said, I have to admit that I'd not seen until today that Javier Báez has his late sister's name on his glove - he's done it for at least three years now. I have a good friend whose youngest son was born, and lives with, spina bifida. It's nice to know that Javy still pays tribute to his sister who also suffered from that condition, and that she still shares in successes like today's.
So, the Cubs won the series after having blown the first game of yesterday's double header. I'll take winning a series from a good team any day. The Cubs head to Cincinnati to play the lowly Reds, and will hopefully not play down to their competition. Kyle Hendricks will take the bump for the Chicago Nine, while we get our first look at Matt Harvey in a Reds uniform. He hasn't exactly been setting the world afire in Cincinnati. First pitch is tomorrow night is 6:10.
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