It has been a while since the Cubs had an exciting starting pitching prospect. It might have been longer since the last time they were those alternate blues at home. However, it was hard to shake feelings of the starts made by Kerry Wood in 1998. The stuff might not quite as electric as Kid K, but it is eerie watching the whole atmosphere of these outings. Adbert Alzolay creates a palpable excitement that seems to physically come through Willson Contreras. Willy pounced on a ball that was going to roll foul but instead was fired, and it was fired the way only Willy does ,to get a one pitch out to give Alzolay a few more bullets.
Willson also came through to put the Cubs on the board, and this is where those 1998 feelings really come in. It seemed like Sammy Sosa always came through in games started by Kerry Wood. I know that probably doesn't stand up to any scrutiny, but it feels like Willy is doing the same trying to carry the young flame thrower on his back to another victory.
Unfortunately the speedy righty ran out of juice in the fifth inning. Alzolay walked the bases loaded and had to leave before the requisite five completed innings for a win. Then Ozzie Albies continued his Cub killer ways against the bullpen and like that the win streak was snapped.
Ronald Acuña Jr. did not get the memo. The powerful, leadoff hitter pounced on the first pitch from Adbert Alzolay launching a laser beam into left center. The homer was the only base hit allowed by Alzolay who again worked fast and flashed a better than advertised changeup. Alzolay retired the next six batters after Acuña Jr.'s blast.
Max Fried decided to pitch every-other inning or at least his performance on the mound made it seem that way. Fried pitched 1-2-3 innings in the first, third, fifth, and sixth inning to screw up the symmetry. Fried looked as strong as he did in his first outing against the Cubs in 2019. Fried struck out three in those innings and when the Cubs weren't flailing over the top of his curve they were pounding into the ground.
However, in the even frames Fried's command mysteriously left him. In the second inning, Fried walked the bases loaded with one one out. Adbert Alzolay attempted to lay down a safety squeeze bunt, but missed the high fastball. Javier Báez was caught in no man's land down the third base line and was tagged out in the rundown. Willson Contreras was also thrown out trying to advance to third to end the inning with Alzolay still standing at the --plate.
In the fourth inning, Fried walked Kris Bryant to start the inning, but Kris had to change places with Anthony Rizzo on the fielder's choice. Báez hit a groundball through the right side for the Cubs first hit. Willson then pulled a curveball down into the left field corner to flip the score. Fried struck out David Bote and Alzolay to keep Atlanta in the game down 2-1.
Alzolay lost his command in the fifth inning. He walked Austin Riley to start the inning and advanced him to second base on an errant check throw back to first. Brian McCann and Ozzie Albies flew out, but Alzolay walked his counterpart to keep the inning going. Joe Maddon gave him a chance to earn a win, but he walked Acuña Jr. to load the bases. Mike Montgomery was inserted to face Dansby Swanson and he promptly fell behind 3-0 to the young shortstop. Monty came back and induced a weak groundball to third to end the inning.
Monty retired the next five batters in a row counting Swanson. McCann's one out single against Monty was the first hit since the first pitch of the game, but Albies belted a high changeup to flip the score back in favor of Atlanta. Sean Newcomb and Brad Brach each pitched a clean inning to keep the status quo. Each represented a comeback of sorts. Newcomb was freshly activated off the IL after clearing concussion protocols and Brach against being DFA'd. Brach looked very sharp in giving the Cubs a chance to comeback in the bottom half of the eighth.
Albert Almora Jr. started the tease rally with a solid single in the Cubs half. Kyle Schwarber then ripped a single into shallow right center to move runners station to station. That ended Newcomb's outing and brought Anthony Swarzak in to put out the fire. Kris Bryant topped the first pitch right to Josh Donaldson and was doubled up to kill the rally. Swarzak froze Rizzo on a fastball to officially end it a few pitches later.
Brad Brach pitched a scoreless ninth inning as well to provide a small silver lining on the evening. Brach walked Brian McCann after losing a ten plus pitch battle with two outs. It didn't result in any damage as Albies provided some relief when he hit a can of corn on the infield. Luke Jackson came in and mowed down the Cubs batters in the ninth inning. And we had title of the recap as Jackson ended the game at the 3-2 score by blowing a 3-2 fastball right by David Bote.
The Cubs are playing better than the lowest points of the season, but the three game win streak alludes them for another few days. That means it is time for the Lou Brown speech.