You all know that my real gig is education, which means that I'm enjoying the first few weeks of summer vacation. It's afforded me the opportunity to do a bit of reading (for fun!) before I ultimately begin making lesson plans and preparing for the upcoming school year. Right now, I'm smack in the middle of Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America by David Rapp. It's certainly not the first I've read about that era of the Chicago Cubs (Cait Murphy's Crazy '08 remains a favorite), but this particular book focuses on the building of a team that won more games in five years than any team before or since - not just on the 1908 season. It is a also reminder that we've been lucky to watch something similar over the past 3+ years, where the Cubs have reached three consecutive League Championship Series. One impression that reading about that era of baseball has made on me is the passion of fans, and the intensity in which they cheer for their ball club AND the demonstration of pride for their city. The descriptions of each game in the book feel like every day contained a playoff game.
Ever since the Cubs went on their last road trip, every day has had a bit of a "playoff" feel to it. By that, I mean that for the most part, games have been relatively close, fans have been heavily involved at the games (and online), and games just feel bigger than they should be in mid-June. A lot of that is due to the Cubs having picked up some ground on the first place Brewers over the past two weeks, putting them just 1/2 game behind going into tonight's match-up in Milwaukee. While the 1906-10 Cubs had a rival in the New York Giants, it's not yet certain who the main antagonist will be when future books are written about the 2015-? Cubs. The Brewers seem as good a bet as anyone, and have been more competitive than expected over the past two seasons. They've got a perfect villain in known PED-user Ryan Braun, who seems to relish the boos lavished on him by Cubs fans. Let's also not forget the back-and-forth that we've enjoyed between fans and the social media accounts of these two teams. To their credit, whoever is running the Milwaukee Twitter account continues to go all in, despite domination by the Cubs over the Brewers to this point in the season. Tonight's game was not a disappointment. In many ways, the game was won with the same kind of small ball smarts indicative of the dead ball era, punctuated with some late inning drama.
Both starters in tonight's game pitched well, though neither would figure in the decision. José Quintana came in to the game having thrown 24 consecutive shutout innings against the Brewers. He threw very well again tonight, getting a significant number of ground ball outs, as well as a couple of double plays in the first two innings. His streak came to an end, however, when he allowed a solo home run in the third inning by catcher Erik Kratz. The second run allowed came in the fifth inning when Jonathan Villar went deep with his own solo shot. Quintana ended up with a quality start, throwing six innings and allowing just the two runs on four hits. He only struck out three, but got nine ground ball outs.
And the villain? Ryan Braun didn't necessarily hurt the Cubs with his bat on this evening, but he did make a couple of defensive plays. He made a nice catch in a diving effort to rob Anthony Rizzo of a base hit, but the worst was taking away a potential home run by Willson Contreras in the sixth inning. As the ball approached the fence, Braun leaped and snagged it. Then, like the bastard he is, pretended for a few seconds that he did not have the ball before giving a wink and producing the ball.
Both of the Cubs' early runs were scored using small ball strategy and good base running. The Cubs got on the board in the fifth inning when Javier Báez led off with a single. With one out, he stole second, then advanced to third on a ground out by Quintana. When Albert Almora Jr. singled, Báez scored easily. The second run came off of the excellent reliever, Josh Hader in the eighth inning. Ben Zobrist coaxed a walk to start it off. He proceeded to smartly tag up on a fly out by Almora to get into scoring position. He came around to score when Jason Heyward singled to right. The throw from the outfield was cut off by Ryan Braun, who by this point had moved to first base. That made it a 2-2 ballgame.
And that's where the score would stay. The Cubs got excellent bullpen work from Justin Wilson, who pitched around a lead-off while striking out the side, Pedro Strop, who threw a scoreless eighth inning, and Randy Rosario, who pitched the ninth and tenth innings.
The Cubs would not be denied in the eleventh. Anthony Rizzo, who had just missed a long home run on a foul ball in his previous at bat, led off with a towering home run down the right field line to give the Cubs a 3-2 edge. Brewers pitcher Matt Albers looked like he might get out of the inning with no further damage, with quick outs by Willson Contreras and Tommy LaStella. However, he willed himself into walking Báez somehow. With Addison Russell batting, Javy stole second and advanced to third when the ball went into center field. Albers then pegged Russell in the ribs with a fastball, putting runners at first and third with two outs. With Russell running, Ben Zobrist singled to right field to give the Cubs some insurance. Then again, with runners at first and third, Almora singled to right field to bring in another run. Albers exited in favor of lefty Boone Logan, whose job was to get out Jason Heyward. It didn't work, as Heyward struck an opposite field double to left-center field. Lorenzo Cain ran into the wall awkwardly in an attempt to catch the ball, and Heyward was able to advance to third base when shortstop Orlando Arcia's throw got away from the catcher. Cain was okay to stay in the game, but the real damage had already been done. 7-2 Cubs.
The extended lead allowed Anthony Bass to make his Cubs debut, and he finished off the bottom of the eleventh, including inducing the third double play turned by the Cubs infield on the evening. Not bad, considering those guys don't have a famous poem written about them...yet.
Oh By the Way, I Love this Team
Can we just talk about how the Cubs only had the opportunity to win this one in extras because of smart baserunning? The only things you used to be able to count on were death, taxes, and Cubs TOOTBLANS. And while we saw Kris Bryant doubled off on a line drive by Rizzo, we also saw aggressive play by Báez and Zobrist that put the Cubs in position to score. This game is a 2-0 shutout loss if they didn't do what they did in this game. The stories that will be written about this team in the future will focus on guys like Rizzo, Bryant, and Lester, but it's undeniable that the Cubs brass has assembled guys that really do the little things well.
Randy Rosario, who did not start the season with the team, is now 3-0 with only one run allowed in 12.2 innings. It's still early in his Cubs career, but with Brian Duensing struggling a bit of late, it wouldn't shock me to see him out there a bit more. He's been solid so far, even though he doesn't boast big strike out numbers.
Also, Jason Heyward is hitting .281 after a 3-hit, 3-RBI night. He's not going away.
The Cubs are now 8-1 against Milwaukee this season, and lead the NL Central by 1/2 game. That's a nice place to be on June 11th. It allows me to text smack-talk to a teacher friend who moved back to Wisconsin last summer. Tyler Chatwood is on the mound tomorrow night, though, so don't get too comfortable. He'll face Chase Anderson, who has been a bit of an enigma himself this season. First pitch is at 7:10 pm.
Filed under: Uncategorized