Big Jon Energy--Cubs 1 Pirates 0

So I described Cole Hamels last start as a pitchers' duel. The final score ended up 4-3 in that one as the bullpen gave up 7 runs late, and so it didn't feel quite the same as today's game did. The final total was 13 singles and a single walk between the two teams. The 12 of the 13 hits were singles. The difference in the game was a fourth inning solo home run from Ian Happ.

Wins are important. The Cubs now hold a 3.5 game lead in the division. The Cardinals fell further behind with a loss to the Nationals. The Cubs now hold a 5 game edge over the longtime nemesis. However, Jon Lester looked like second half Jon Lester again. Lester would only throw 6 innings, but they were even more impressive than the scoreless frames indicate. Lester punched out a tied for season high 8 batters. The Pirates also beat the ball into the ground frequently when they did make contact. The Buccos could only string together 5 singles against the southpaw.

The defense also was a positive factor once again. One of those five hits was erased on an almost always smooth double play. Willson Contreras and Javier Báez combined on an old-school pitch out for another out. Starling Marte tried to steal with two outs in the sixth inning. Báez managed to top himself with a simple but laser quick tag to get the unchallenged call for the final out.

The Cubs bats weren't highly productive today against Ivan Nova. The only Cubs that managed to reach base twice were Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras. There were a lot of 1 for 4s up and down the lineup, but the important one was Ian Happ's coming with 1 HR and 1 RBI tacked onto the statline.

Steve Cishek was the first Cubs reliever called upon. Lester was pulled with his spot taken down for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Maddon might not have let Lester go another inning even if his spot wasn't due up, but that was all the incentive the Cubs skipper needed. Josh Bell managed to sneak a groundball single through the right side. Josh Harrison lined out to Báez to end the inning.

Carl Edwards Jr. pitched a ho-hum boring clean eighth inning. That is perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to a reliever. Pedro Strop proved to be the Cubs finisher once again. He struck out the first two Pirates batters with ease. However, David Freese got in the way of a Pedro Strop pitch. That prompted a meeting on the mound ahead of the Pirates final hope Elías Díaz to the plate. Díaz hit a groundball right to Rizzo to end the game with the slimmest of margins.

WPA CHART

Source: FanGraphs

Random Reference
The Cubs have won a couple of games in a row. That means that new Cubs ace or lightning in a bottle Cole Hamels has a chance to start a Cubs winning streak.

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  • I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of the Queen of Soul. While not my preferred genre, I have the utmost R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for anyone with her level of talent, stature, and influence. RIP Aretha Franklin.

    20 games over .500 with our biggest lead of the year. 1-0 W with dominant pitching and sterling defense, my kind of game. The DirtyBirds lost and we even had a comedic stare-down with the game on the line. Oh what a night.

    Did I mention Lester? What a bounce-back performance from the grizzled veteran. I can't guarantee a complete turnaround based on one game, so I''ll just ask Jon a simple question:

    Thank you. May I have another?

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Yes You May!!

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Careful about mixing your metaphors. "Oh What a Night" wasn't Aretha but The Four Seasons and was about "late December back in '63." LOL

    It was a solid game by Lester.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I noticed that after I typed it, and I wondered if anyone else would. Good catch!

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    We won a game but lost a legend in Aretha. The sheer number of hits she had is astounding and my semi-personal connection is that one of my dear friend's dad played bass on more than his share of those hits. She was a force of nature and will be missed. Meanwhile we won a 1-0 baseball game that despite the paltry lead never really felt in doubt, and I'm not even sure why. If we're going to go deep in the playoffs this is the Jon Lester we need. Welcome back, big man. I knew you had it in you.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    In basic training 1967 R E S P E C T was played on a loop on every statiion. We soldiers would haul our asses out of the rack and dance no matter how dog tired. A song, by the way, that was written an recorded originally by Otis Redding. Great music and good listening to this day.

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    What we want in this blog is what Aretha sang about--RESPECT. What a great singer and person. One of my favorites, I don't think I've heard a song of hers I didn't like.
    And of course The Cubs won, dirty birds lost, Milw fell another 1/2 behind, our pitchers were almost perfect and now the Strop-Rizzo glare down. A wonderful evening.

  • There are few other milestones with this win bubbling the team record up to 20 games over .500 benchmark, (which did not take place until September 25th last year at 88-68, when they finished the season with a 15-3 run). Cubs now have a 18-17 one-run game record, 7-5 against the Pirates and 28-25 vs the division, where they are 15-12 out of the ASB. I kind get that feeling that a win streak is about emerge again.

    42 games to play to reach 100 wins they must play .714, 97 wins .643 ball, 94 wins .571. I think they are due to win between 94 and 97 wins especially if Darvish returns healthy and performing by the last week of August or first week of September,

    The radio broadcast intimated it was the inside pitches that Bryant was swinging that gave him pain and suffering, especially the last starter from AZ, Corbin who bore in on Kris. Espect opponents to keep the ball on the inside until he punishes them.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Beginning of the year I thought 94....then I waffled around the ASB and thought more than 95, now, no.......94.
    Also still believe they win the division by 6+

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    I've gone the other way. I've thought 95 all year now I think they'll win 96. 26-16 the rest of the way. Milwaukee wins 90 and St. Louis wins 86.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I’m breaking it apart in 3 fourteen game increments figuring they go 8-6 in each group.

  • Big Jon-Big Bad Jon-BIG JON!!

  • Whether we won 20-0 or lost 2-1 I think from a big picture perspective Jon Lester's start is a relief I had it up to here with all the twitter folks that actually believed he was finished. He may not be the pitcher he was at 28 but I've never believed that Jon Lester needs to throw 94 to be successful and despite his peripherals I think he's gonna be just fine I'm not saying he's in 2012 form but I still trust him in a playoff game as much as anyone on this roster. 0:8 BB:K ratio is fantastic to see it tells me that he threw the ball every bit as well as his line indicates and it's good to see that type of outing is still there when the team needs it. Good to see Ian Happ go deep after a homerless drought and I'd like to see him get to 20 home runs.

    How about that caught stealing on Marte in the 6th inning that's Contreras and Javy at their finest. They must be as good of a combo throwing out runners as any pairing that I've seen boy I'd hate to be on the receiving ends of one of Javy's swipe tags he's got some incredibly quick hands.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    Lester seems to be a textbook example of a mental slump. While one stellar performance can't be taken as a complete turnaround, his explanation of what was wrong and what needed to be done was spot on. He felt physically fine (the velocity numbers backed that up) but had fallen into self-inflicted bad habits with pitch usage and sequencing. Hendricks mentioned something similar with a mechanical fix several weeks ago and that also seems to bear out. Of course we heard the same thing, multiple times, from Chatwood earlier in the season, but I have much more faith in the track records of Big Jon and the Professor.

    The starting rotation has been much-maligned and rightfully so. Yet there is a real possibility that we enter the postseason in very good shape. There's a long way to go, but there is a time-tested blueprint to winning Championships: grind away through a marathon of a season, position yourself to play your best ball when it counts, and may the best team win. That, and a little luck and red-hot stretches from a few players, of course. That's why you play the games, and we have the team to go all the way if it all comes together.

    Joe takes a lot of heat but I'm glad he's on our side. The MOY award will likely go to Atlanta or Philly by it's nature, but I think this has been some of his finest work. I saw a sarcastic comment on another site mocking Joe haters, that he has single-handedly caused 50 losses and totally lucked into 70 victories with a battered roster in spite of his utter ineptitude. You may not agree with every individual decision but the results speak for themselves.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Agreed with this post Barley I've criticized Maddon's game day decision making before but at the same time go to any team blog and you're going to have fans complaining about pitching changes it's just a by-product of the job and the game of baseball. The reality is though we've been the most successful franchise in baseball over the past 4 seasons and the reality is Joe has done nothing but win consistently going back to his TB days. We're in 1st place this year in a year many fans are frustrated with the team and in a year where we have 3 all star caliber players that have been out for an extended period of time especially when you consider that Bryant was ineffective even when he tried to play through his injury. Maddon won't win Manager of the year but that doesn't diminish the job he's doing and frankly Lebron James doesn't win many MVP's when he deserves them but that doesn't mean he's not the MVP if that makes sense.

    I've expressed concern about the rotation and I wouldn't bash anyone's opinion if they're concerned about our rotation as we would all like to see better results. But I have a feeling and this is just my hunch that our starting pitching will be fine come playoff time. Despite the up and down results we have 5 legit starting pitchers with TOR to borderline TOR track records I don't care what the numbers say the talent and the names are there they just have to perform. All of these starters have playoff experience and if Darvish can successfully return and get in form then we practically have an over-abundance of options and can leave out whichever starter maybe still struggling and maybe that guy is Darvish but I'd definitely rather have him out there as an option at least in case certain starters don't return to form. In some ways I think health is gonna be the X-factor like I said we have 3 impact type of pieces coming back. Bryant would in theory go a long way in reinforcing our struggling offense, Darvish is a nice option in case Quintana or someone else doesn't turn things around, and Morrow is just the cherry on top for a bullpen that's been in good form all season although I think we all have seen the value of ace relievers come playoff time from the cubs past appearances.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    It amazes me how many people claim they could have made better decisions with less than 50% of the information Joe has available, including an up-to-the-minute status of each player's health & attitude on top of a boatload of individual statistics. I wouldn't say Joe is always right, but folks who are still complaining that the 'pen was mismanaged in the game seven, World Series championship win are in need of a refocus.

  • Darvish,Hamels,Hendricks,Lester is my hypothetical playoff rotation

    Hendricks has 51 strikeouts and 6 walks in his last 8 starts. Still has an inning where he gets knocked around or struggles a bit a start but he's looked much better lately overall.

  • In reply to bolla:

    That’s the same playoff rotation I’m hoping for. Plus, with Montgomery in relief, making our bullpen even stronger. Hopefully Morrow is back to full health by then too.

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