The Cubs had won seven of the eight games played before the off day on Monday. They had a clunker on Tuesday, and another clunker bookmarked the end of the week on Sunday. The Cubs ended up winning four of six games against the two teams from Penn’s Woods.
Kyle Hendricks ended up taking the losses in both games. The Phillies offense exploded for five runs in five innings against the young right-hander. He pitched better against the Pirates, but a mistake in the first plate appearance ended up hanging the second loss on Hendricks.
The rest of the Cubs starters managed to keep the opponents to a combined nine runs in the four game winning streak from Wednesday to Saturday. The highlight was Jon Lester‘s seven innings of one hit shutout ball on Saturday. Over half the runs were scored in Tyler Chatwood‘s start on Wednesday, but a dramatic ending signaed perhaps the return of Jason Heyward major league hitter.
The Cubs lineup struggled to score more than two runs in just half the games, but the Cubs managed to go 1-2 in those games. Kris Bryant played a couple games at leadoff and Javier Báez got a chance as well. Bryant and Heyward each hit .333 during the week. Bryant was walked three times, and that boosted his OBP .417. Heyward hit a home run and three doubles to slug .476 during that stretch. The Cubs picked up 1.5 games against the Brewers, and enter today’s matchup against Milwaukee down half a game.
Monday – Off Day
Day in a GIF:
Tuesday – Phillies 6 Cubs 1
Hendricks struggled in innings second and third. Aaron Altherr walked with one out and Nick Williams launched a ball into deep right field stands. The third run scored with a bases loaded walk in the third inning, and later an Altherr sacrifice fly and a Williams ground out gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead.
Zach Eflin pitched into the eighth inning. Bryant singled with two outs, and he scored on an Anthony Rizzo double. The Cubs wouldn’t get any closer as Randy Rosario gave up a rare run. A two out double from Carlos Santana and Altherr single extended the Phillies lead back to 6-1. The Cubs managed 10 base runners throughout the game, but couldn’t muster a big hit to get them back into the game.
Game in a GIF:
Wednesday- Cubs 7 Phillies 5
Jose Quintana pitched a solid five scoreless innings, while the Cubs scored three runs against Aaron Nola. Rizzo hit a solo home run in the second inning. Nola walked Bryant and Rizzo to start the fourth inning, and Willson Contreras singled to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. A Báez sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 3-0.
Quintana pitched well into the sixth inning. A leadoff walk to César Hernández was just the fourth base runner allowed by Quintana, but a Santana single ended Quintana’s evening despite just throwing 91 pitches. Steve Cishek entered yet another game, but an Altherr game-tying home run was a different from usual outcome.
The game remained tied at 3-3 heading into the top of the ninth. Brandon Morrow had an unusual start to the inning. Altherr hit a groundball single, and Dylan Cozens launched a deep home run to the left field stands. Morrow put another pair of runners on with one outs, and that was it for the Cubs usually dominant closer. Cory Mazzoni got two quick outs to give the Cubs one final chance down two runs.
An Albert Almora single was sandwiched around walks to Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. Ben Zobrist hit a come-backer against reliever Adam Morgan that resulted in a force out at home for the second out. Heyward had to face the tough southpaw reliever as the Cubs final chance. But he worked the count to 3-2 and blasted a fastball out over the plate. The grand slam was the Cubs’ first walk off win of 2018.
Game in a GIF:
Thursday – Cubs 4 Phillies 3
It was another typical Chatwood outing, as the hard-throwing righty piled up another seven walks in just 4.2 innings pitched. But the Phillies only managed to score one run against the wild right hander. The Cubs broke the scoreless deadlock in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Rizzo launched a solo shot with one out.
The Cubs broke through against Nick Pivetta. Happ struck out in the first at bat, but Chris Gimenez singled back to the pitcher who threw the ball away. Brian Duensing drew a walk, and Almora singled to load the bases. Tommy La Stella and Bryant singled to drive in a pair of those runs, and a Rizzo lineout drove in the final Cubs run.
Jesmuel Valentín singled to start the sixth inning, and César Hernández reached on an error by La Stella meant two runners on with no outs against Duensing. Scott Kingery doubled to drive in the pair to cut the Cubs lead down to 4-3. Cishek, Justin Wilson, Pedro Strop and Morrow combined to throw 3.1 innings of shutout ball to close out the second win of the week.
Game in a GIF:
Friday – Cubs 3 Pirates 1
Mike Montgomery gave up a bloop hit to Josh Harrison and a strong groundball put runners on the corners with no outs to lead off the game. Montgomery was able to retire the next three Pirates hitters, but a Starling Marte fly ball made it a 1-0 lead for Pittsburgh. The lead wouldn’t last three batters as a Heyward double was sandwiched between Bryant and Zobrist singles. Rizzo hit a sacrifice fly to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Montgomery got a lot of weak contact as he threw five scoreless innings after the first inning.
Monty also scored the final run of the game, drawing a walk after Happ lined out to start the inning. Bryant and Heyward singled to load the bases, and Zobrist beat out the relay throw to let Monty’s run to count. Mazzoni, Rosario, and Strop pitched three scoreless innings to close out the third win.
Game in a GIF:
Saturday – Cubs 2 Pirates 0
Bryant was hit by a pitch was the first Cubs plate appearance, leading off the game. Heyward ripped a double to left-center, thanks to Marte falling down in the outfield. Zobrist drove in a run with his very productive out, and Rizzo hit a deep enough drive to score Heyward. But that would be it for the scoring in this game.
It is hard to write enough about the job Lester has done this season. He has bounced back from a sub-par season last year and has led the starting staff the way he has joined the Cubs in 2015. Lester pitched another scoreless seven innings in this game. This time, he only allowed a two-out triple in the third inning to Austin Meadows. Wilson and Cishek pitched clean innings to complete the one-hit shutout.
Game in a GIF:
Sunday – Pirates 7 Cubs 1
Hendricks had a Ground Hog’s Day experience to end the week. Harrison hit a home run to lead off the game, making it 1-0 immediately. But Hendricks pitched five scoreless innings after that first mistake. He was removed in the fifth inning for a pinch-hitter, and the Cubs bullpen blew up in the sixth inning. Five runs put the game out of reach.
Heyward scored the Cubs only run in the sixth inning, and the team couldn’t even muster a “fake rally.” The Pirates pushed it to 7-1 runs in the eighth inning. But did I mention that the Cubs picked up 1.5 games over the week?
Game in a GIF:
Top Pitcher of the Week: Jon Lester (7 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 K, 2 BB, 1 H)
Top Hitter of the Week: Jason Heyward (21 PA, 1 HR, .333/.333/.524)
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.