Early on it felt like it was going to be a low stress afternoon heading into the break. The greatest leadoff hitter of all time after working a deep count rolled a groundball against the shift for a single. Kris Bryant drew a 10 pitch walk to give the Cubs an early scoring chance. After Jason Heyward's flyout, Javier Báez hit a ball back up the middle to drive in Anthony Rizzo. Addison Russell hit a groundball back up the middle to score Bryant. Báez's aggressive base running drew a throw to third that wasn't in time which allowed Russell to move into second. That loomed large with Ben Zobrist grounding out to drive in Báez. The young Padre lefty Eric Lauer struck out Willson Contreras to prevent any further damage.
Jon Lester was very good early on. Lester pitched around walks in the first two frames, and the Padres only managed one extra base hit. That was a fourth inning solo shot from Christian Villanueva, who had quite the series against his former organization. It didn't seem terribly important at the time because the Cubs chased Lauer from the game after just 2 innings.
The second inning was the real estate inning in that it was all about location, location, location. Lauer hit David Bote with a pitch to start the inning, but he was erased on Jon Lester's sacrifice bunt attempt turning into a fielder's choice. Rizzo dumped a ball into shallow left field for his second hit that gave the Cubs a pair in scoring position. Lauer struck out Bryant swinging, but a Jason Heyward slow roller leaked into the outfield grass to extend the Cubs lead to 5-0.
Matt Strahm took over in the third inning for the Padres. He pitched three innings. The first and third innings the only base runner allowed was a Willson Contreras hit by pitch. In the fourth inning, however, he was victimized by a leadoff walk to Bote. After Lester popped up his bunt attempt, Bote attempted to steal second when Austin Hedges throw ended up in the outfield. Bote scampered to third and scored on a Rizzo sacrifice fly.
The game entered in the sixth inning with the Cubs still well ahead 6-1. Adam Climber was the next Padres hurler on the mound, and the bottom of the order continued to do damage. Contreras singled and Bote doubled to give the Cubs a pair in scoring position with no outs. Lester hit a weak grounder to third which failed to drive in a run with the drawn in infield. Rizzo was intentionally walked and Bryant drove in a run the hard way by getting drilled by the righty sidewinder. Climber struck out Heyward and Báez swinging to leave the bases loaded.
Lester had been cruising heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. His pitch count was in the low 80s and it seemed like a quality start was assured. Lester struck out Hunter Renfroe, but loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a walk. Lester hit Freddy Galvis to drive in the second Padre run. That ended Lester's outing and hard throwing James Norwood took over. Norwood struggled with his command and walked in a run. He was down 3-1 to Manuel Margot, but managed to get a fly ball out to Ben Zobrist in left to end the threat. The Padres though had made it a game at this point with the score standing at 7-3.
The Padres bullpen kept the Cubs off the board the rest of the way to give their bats a chance for their own come from behind win in the series. It looked like it might happen as Pedro Strop took over in the seventh inning. Hunter Renfroe hit a long drive with one out to bring the Padres within three. Eric Hosmer followed up with a single just over a leaping Báez, but an inning ending twin killing marked the last time the Padres truly threatened to tie the game.
Justin Wilson and Brandon Morrow pitched the final two innings. Each allowed a single base runner, but the tying run never came to the plate since the end of the sixth inning. The Cubs head into the break with a solid 2.5 game lead but they are actually up 5 games in the loss column.
Defense is Fun
The 2016 Cubs had a historically great defense. It was a key factor in the Cubs success that year, and this year's team statistical isn't going to match those heights. This group is more fun to watch though in my opinion. Báez showed off his tagging prowess in the second inning. Contreras fired a back pick throw to second base that ended that inning when the Padres threatened with two runners on. Prior to that Rizzo let a shallow pop up drop on the ground after Villanueva led off the inning with a single. Rizzo fired to first for the first out, but they were unable to turn a double play. Afterwards it seemed like everyone realized that the better play would have been to touch first and then try to get Villanueva, but that Rizzo routinely tries to make that play is something that is a characteristic of this team. The level of headiness on defense is just something I don't really recall even from the briefly good Cubs teams of the recent past.
David Bote was called up today to take the place of Albert Almora Jr. on the family medical emergency list. It is likely (even though I have no information one way or the other on it) that Almora will be back when the break is over. That likely means that Bote will be back to Iowa despite impressing once again. Bote reached base twice and scored once, his base running leading directly to that run. He also made a couple of nice plays, but a late diving stab on a ball ticketed for the left field corner stands out. Bote is going to be 2016 Tommy La Stella where he is going to be bounced back and forth despite clearly belonging at this level. Just like Tommy La Stella in 2016 though, I think he makes the postseason roster when Maddon won't need the security blanket of a 13 man bullpen.
It feels like it has been a while since the Cubs went into the break on a high note. The Cubs were scuffling last year at the break and famously the worst stretch of the 103 win team in 2016 occured right here. The team has played exceptionally well after the break every year under Maddon's tenure, but it is amazing how much better it feels to not be thinking about how much this team needs the break right now.