The Chicago Cubs had a full schedule this week with eight games scheduled in seven days. There was an unusual home-and-home “series” with Atlanta. Monday was the make up game from an earlier rain out in Chicago before the team headed to Atlanta for the final three game set. Atlanta looks more and more like an actual contender. The team is flush with young talent and they have been a pesky foe that would have been nice not to have face again. A rain out Thursday means that the Cubs will have to make one more trip back to Atlanta before the end of the regular season however.
The Cubs traveled to Cincinnati and the combination of the Reds pitching staff and ballpark helped the Cubs offense spring to life. The Cubs managed to take three of four and salvage a winning week after dropping the abbreviated three game set against Atlanta. There were a lot of positives to be gleaned from the week, but the starting staff might be the biggest positive. Jose Quintana struggled in his first start against Atlanta, but was strong against the Reds. Yu Darvish pitched very well in his two starts, and Jon Lester is looking more and more like Jon Lester.
Monday – Atlanta 6 Cubs 5
Jose Quintana struggled once again. He has been fine-to-good more often than not, but the clunkers are not fun. Ozzie Albies hit a lead-off home run. The Cubs took a short-lived lead with a two-run homer from Albert Almora Jr. in the second inning. It was short lived because Tyler Flowers hit his own two-run bomb in the fourth inning. Julio Teheran gave up his second two-run homer to Kris Bryant in the bottom half of the inning.
Quintana was unable to make it through five innings. In the fifth inning, Atlanta started the inning with back-to-back singles. Jose Bautista pulled a homer to deep left field to give Atlanta a 6-4 lead. The Cubs bullpen pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless ball. They did not surrender a single hit but faced some troubles of its own creation with five walks.
A.J. Minter was Atlanta’s closer on Monday. The Cubs loaded the bases with just one out, but pinch-hitter David Bote struck out. Ian Happ drove in a run the hard way with a hit by pitch, and the Cubs were just one run away from tying the game. Bryant lined out to deep left to end the threat and the game.
Game in a GIF:
Tuesday – Cubs 3 Atlanta 2
Yu Darvish made his first start since coming off the disabled list. He looked like the pitcher the Cubs envisioned when signing him this offseason. Ender Inciarte’s two-out home run was the only damage Darvish surrendered in his four innings of work. Darvish was limited due to some leg cramping, but it was a positive showing.
The Cubs bats struggled against Atlanta starter Mike “I only had to check three times how to spell his name” Foltynewicz. The Cubs only run against Foltynewicz came in the fourth inning as well. Willson Contreras led off the inning with a double, but two outs came quickly. Foltynewicz actually got the third out but a dropped third strike to Addison Russell allowed Contreras to score and the inning to continue.
Ronald Acuña Jr. broke the 1-1 tie in the eighth inning. Carl Edwards Jr. retired the first two batters, but Acuña blasted a home run to deep center field. The Cubs struck back in the ninth inning against former Cub Arodys Vizcaino. Back-to-back doubles from Almora and Russell to tie the game. Ben Zobrist delivered the game winning single with two outs. Brandon Morrow pitched a clean ninth inning to prevent the Cubs from entering a losing skid.
Game in a GIF:
Wednesday- Atlanta 4 Cubs 1
Tyler Chatwood started the game and provided a different sort of outing from the usual Chatwood experience. Ozzie Albies doubled in the first because it is against the rules for Albies to get anything less than an extra-base hit. Freddie Freeman singled to drive in the run. Chatwood pitched into the sixth inning and walked the tightrope a few times. However, they mostly weren’t of his own creation with just two walks. Brian Duensing was called on to finish the sixth inning. He kept the game tied with yet another solid outing from the veteran southpaw.
The Cubs tied the game against Brandon McCarthy in the fifth inning. Ian Happ led off the frame with a line drive single. He was moved into scoring position by a Chatwood sacrifice, but it seemed like it would be the second time a Cub would be stranded in scoring position after Albert Almora Jr. struck out. Bryant delivered a key hit to drive Happ in to tie the game.
The Cubs managed to put a man on second with less than two outs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the runners never moved past that. Carl Edwards Jr. had a rare clunker when he entered the game in the eighth inning. Preston Tucker lined out to start the inning, but Edwards began to unravel with an Albies triple. Ronald Acuña Jr. singled to drive in Albies to take the lead. Freeman singled and the Cubs opted to put Nick Markasis on intentionally. Tyler Flowers walked to drive in the second run of the inning and end Edwards’ afternoon. Justin Hancock got two outs, but not before walking in the final run of the game.
Game in a GIF:
Thursday – Unscheduled Off Day
Mother Nature for the Cubs game on Thursday:
Friday – Cubs 8 Reds 1
The Cubs bats woke up against Homer Bailey. The first five batters reached to start the game, and the Cubs had an early three-run lead as they batted around with Jon Lester reaching the plate in the first. The Cubs tried to break the game wide open in the third inning. A pair of singles and walk loaded the bases to start the inning, but Javier Báez hit into a run scoring double play. Jon Lester struck out to end the inning. Lester would drive in the sixth run with a successful squeeze bunt in the fifth inning.
Adam Duvall hit a solo shot off on Lester in the bottom half of the inning for the Reds only run. The Cubs tacked on a couple of insurance runs against the Reds bullpen. Lester pitched six strong innings and the bullpen continued its strong performance to date. Justin Wilson, Justin Hancock and Mike Montgomery combined to throw three scoreless innings to end the game.
Game in a GIF:
Saturday (1) – Reds 5 Cubs 4 (11 innings)
A frustrating start to the weekend as the Cubs offense was largely stymied, but not particularly good Reds pitching. The Cubs had frequent chances. An inning-ending double play wiped out a bases-loaded one-out situation in the first inning. The Cubs managed just one hit with runners in scoring position and stranded 14 base runners on the afternoon.
Kyle Hendricks wasn’t at his absolute best. A walk and steal from Jose Peraza in the first inning gave the Reds their first scoring chance. A two-out single from Scooter Gennett made it a 1-0 score for the Reds. The Cubs tied it in the third inning with Albert Almora Jr. hitting a lead off single. Kris Bryant drove him in with a double to deep right center. The Reds took the lead back in the fourth inning. Joey Votto scored on a sacrifice fly after his lead-off double.
The Cubs tied the game in the sixth inning with Ian Happ hitting a lead-off triple. Kyle Hendricks helped his own cause with a solid double making it a 2-2 ballgame. Kyle Hendricks untied it in the bottom half of the inning. An Addison Russell error allowed Jose Peraza to reach base. Gennett drove in Peraza with a single, and Eugenio Suarez pushed the score to 4-2 with his double. Randy Rosario finished the inning and pitched two scoreless innings in his debut.
The Cubs came back in the eighth inning against Reds closer Raisel Iglesias trying for another two-inning save. Happ blasted a home run to start the frame. Tommy La Stella delivered a pinch hit single, but the Cubs were in danger of wasting another opportunity with two quick outs. Anthony Rizzo tied the game with a double into left center.
Justin Wilson entered in the 11th inning and didn’t receive a lot of help from the umpire. Scott Schebler drew a walk to start the inning with a tight zone. Tucker Barnhart hit a bloop single and then things just unraveled as it has so many times for Wilson in a Cubs uniform. Wilson walked Adam Duvall to load the bases and then Billy Hamilton to give the Reds a walk-off win.
Game in a GIF:
Saturday (2)- Cubs 10 Reds 0
It is hard to sweep a doubleheader, but Jose Quintana managed to restore order to the universe with a strong seven innings of shutout ball. It was not a desperately-needed performance but it certainly made things a lot easier with Quintana pitching as well as he did in Cincinnati. Quintana walked four and that was by and large the only blemish on his outing. Mike Montgomery and Steve Cishek combined to finish out the three-hit shutout.
It seemed like it would be more of the same on offense for the Cubs as the team squandered a two-runners-in-scoring-position-with-no-outs scoring chance. However, Kris Bryant drove the first run in the third inning with a groundball fielder’s choice. Ian Happ doubled the lead with a homer leading off the fourth inning. The Cubs broke the game open in the fifth inning against Reds starter Sal Romano. The big blows in the five-run inning was an Anthony Rizzo double and a Jason Heyward “triple.” The triple was aided by Jesse Winker’s defensive indifference on a ball hit into shallow right field. Gennett made a nice attempt at the ball but it ticked off his glove into the right field corner.
The Cubs added single runs in each of the final three innings to get to double digits for the first time in nine days.
Game in a GIF:
Sunday – Cubs 6 Reds 1
Yu Darvish struggled in his second start of the week. The maligned right hander walked leadoff hitter Alex Blandino to start the inning. Joey Votto singled and Scooter Gennett was hit by a pitch with one out to load the bases. It seemed like Darvish might work his way out of it with a strikeout of Adam Duvall, but Scott Schebler hit a groundball single to put the Reds up 1-0. It seemed like another short outing was in store for the Cubs big ticket splurge from the off-season.
The lead was short lived though as Tyler Mahle walked Ian Happ to start the second inning. Back to back home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Javier Báez gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead that they would never surrender. Ben Zobrist tacked on a solo shot to lead off the fifth against the Reds starter. The Cubs would get the final two runs against Wandy Peralta. Tommy La Stella drew a lead off walk, and a Votto throwing error put two Cubs in scoring position with no outs. An Albert Almora Jr. sacrifice fly and Anthony Rizzo singled moved the score to the final tally of 6-1.
Darvish settled in to pitch five scoreless frames after his 40-pitch first inning. The Reds managed to only put four balls in play in the final three frames against Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brandon Morrow. The trio closed out the game with little drama and a lot of strikeouts.
Game in a GIF:
Top Pitcher of the Week: Jon Lester (6 IP, 1.50 ERA, 8 K, 1 BB, 2 H)
Big Jon was the biggest of Jons this week. Wait…
Top Hitter of the Week: Ian Happ (25 PA, 2 HR, .400/.640/1.067)
Ian Happ’s 2018 season:
The Cubs open the second half with a win
The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of their five-game series on Thursday night, rallying from an early deficit to win 9-6. In the first segment, I looked back on that game for a brief moment and previewed the pitching matchup in Friday’s game. In the second segment, Evan Altman of Cubs Insider joined me to talk more in depth about Thurdsay’s victory, the Cardinals, Jason Heyward, and several other pertinent topics.
In the final segment, we fielded a question from a listener — that we pretty loosely answered — and talked about a new addition to the bullpen. Welcome to Chicago, former Texas Rangers reliever Jesse Chavez!
Will the Cubs run out of gas by the playoffs?
As the Cubs head out of the All-Star break, their fortunes for the 2018 season seem to be in good shape.
A late spurt just before the mid-season classic coupled with a sudden cold spell by their chief rivals have given the Cubs the best record in the National League by 2.5 games in the standings.
The Cubs also have one of the most favorable schedules down the stretch, with only 37 games remaining against opponents that currently have winning records. That’s tied for third-best among all NL teams with a winning record.
But there are concerns, and it starts with the schedule. Out of all the contending teams, the Cubs will have the most blistering pace in the last half of the season, having to play 69 games in only 74 days.
That starts tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a span where they will play 21 games in 20 days.
With only six scheduled days off until the end of the season, the Cubs are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the least amount among the 10 teams with winning records. By comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers will play only 64 games for the remainder of the season and will have 11 scheduled off days.
Of all the teams contending for the playoffs in the NL, the Philadelphia Phillies may have the easiest route with 67 games remaining, 33 against teams with winning records, and eight days off scheduled.
And although the Cardinals are experiencing troubles, they have the second-softest road with 68 games, 36 against winning opponents, and seven off days.
That kind of schedule will push many players on the Cubs roster up to or past their previous limits. Albert Almora, Javier Baéz, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber are all on pace to set career-highs in at-bats, while pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery, and Brandon Morrow will all be close to or surpass career-highs in either appearances or innings pitched.
At this point, no one can be sure just how their production will be affected as the season wears on.
During this string of three straight postseason appearances, the Cubs have used there deep minor league system to either bring relief to the major league roster, create a spark of energy, or provide extra help as part of a trade.
From 2015 through 2017, the Cubs have used on an average of 47 players a season, with an average of 31 making a significant contribution (defined as 25 or more games for a position player, and 15 or more appearances for a pitcher).
Up to this point, the Cubs have used 39 players, 25 with significant contributions.
The Cubs could be hoping that players such as David Bote, Victor Caratini, and James Norwood are ready to step up and provide that spark, but there seems to be no one behind them ready to contribute if those players do not.
There are some that may hold out hope that veteran Chris Coghlan can lend a hand, but a 33-year-old batting only .146 in Triple-A might not be able to flip the switch if given a chance to return to the majors.
Over the past three seasons, the Cubs have used a flurry of trades involving their minor league players to bolster their major league roster. Unfortunately, they received practically no additional developmental talent in return.
That, combined with a loss of draft picks in 2016 and international signing restrictions, has combined to deplete the Cubs’ minor league resources. While they have talented players such as catcher Miguel Amaya and pitchers Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson that may pique some interest, don’t expect teams to line up in order to deal the Cubs a potential difference maker for those players’ distant promise.
So as the trade deadline nears, keen interest should be had as to how the Cubs address this situation. Does the front office have the courage to deal a fairly significant major league player in order to supply reinforcements?
Will they try to scrape together something from their ramshackle minor league system and make the best of it?
Or will they stand pat and hope that injured players like Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish come back rejuvenated while their replacements hopefully continue to contribute at a high level?
If they aren’t careful, the Cubs could come out of the gate in the playoffs gasping rather than swinging.
Wait, could the Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom after all?
The Cubs are back in action today, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals and their new manager, Mike Shildt. Sean Sears and I previewed the game, which Sean will be attending as credentialed media for the first time. The game will feature Kyle Hendricks against Carlos Martinez. In the second segment, we looked at a piece Jesse Rogers wrote for ESPN that tried to pinpoint what a Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom might look like. Is it more favorable than we originally thought?
Given this new information, we came to the conclusion that the Cubs are definitely, 100% trading for deGrom. No question, done deal. In the final segment, we briefly discussed the results of a poll from the @LockedOnCubs Twitter account and I made puns relating to Brad Hand‘s name.