MLB

Bullpen Shines, Cubs Keep Coming Back to Fly W

There is nothing like playing from behind, apparently.

The Chicago Cubs have reached a season-high 15 games over .500 by earning a hard-fought 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.

The extra inning win capped off a 5-1 week and 7-1 homestand for the red hot Cubs, who have now won eight of their last nine games overall.

As they have for quite some time, the Milwaukee Brewers have been able to maintain their slim NL Central lead over Chicago. Most recently, Milwaukee took three out of four from the Atlanta Braves at home and stand 1.5 games above the Cubs in the division.

While it seems inevitable that the Cubs will eventually take a grasp on the Central, some may find it surprising that they’ve yet to do so. However, with 75 regular season games remaining, Chicago is still in the stage where it only needs to worry about itself.

But, there hasn’t been much to worry about in Joe Maddon’s clubhouse lately. Especially considering that Chicago has finally found a way to defeat the stingy Reds. Cincinnati opened the most recent three-game set with the Cubs by picking up a 3-2 win on Friday. The win marked the Reds’ fifth consecutive victory over Chicago.

Though by no means did the Cubs coast from then on, Chicago fans can breathe a sigh of relief considering the Cubs defeated the Reds on both Saturday and Sunday to earn a series victory.

Before Cincinnati visited Wrigley Field, Chicago began the week by sweeping a quick series against Detroit. The second consecutive sweep for the Cubs gave them a season-high winning streak of six games.

So how did Chicago put together another acceptable week? By coming from behind, something Cubs fans have been accustomed to seeing lately.

Addison Russell’s first inning two-run double on Sunday marked the first time in nine games that the Cubs have scored first. Eight of which games Chicago has won. In addition, the Cubs’ have trailed in each of their last nine victories overall.

With it being recently announced that both Willson Contreras and Javier Baez will be starting in the 2018 All Star Game, it’s only fitting that both put together very impressive weeks for Chicago.

Baez not striking out for three straight games is impressive on its own. Besides that, Javy continued his tear at the plate last week and is now hitting .295 for the first time since April 28. Baez knocked in four runs while going 8-22 (.364) at the dish last week and continued to positively impact the outcome of games.

On Wednesday, Baez stole home to tie the game at two in the fourth inning. The magical steal was one of three stolen bags from “El Mago” last week. Baez also notched his third four-hit game of the season on Saturday en route to a huge come from behind 8-7 victory.

The Cubs trailed Cincy 5-0 early and 7-2 in the sixth inning before storming back. Leading off the seventh inning, Baez gave Chicago some momentum by launching a 396-ft blast to left center. This cut the Reds’ lead to 7-4. Then, as part of a four-run eighth inning, Javy tied the game at seven with an infield single.

Chicago’s other ASG starter, Willson Contreras, had an impressive week of his own as well. Willy’s most impactful moment of the week came against the Tigers on Wednesday when he crushed a game-winning solo home run to dead center in the sixth inning. Overall, Contreras went 7-14 at the plate and also drew four walks.

The Cubs’ catcher is in the midst of a six-game hit streak and has recorded a hit in 12 of his last 13 games. Contreras, who is now batting .287 with seven home runs and 34 RBI, absolutely earned his spot in the ASG. The catcher has been consistent all season and has failed to hit below .270 in any month.

Though he has flown under the radar, it’s about time rookie David Bote gained some recognition. In a small sample size of 34 at bats, Bote has hit .294. Though that is nothing to drool over, his positive contributions could not have come at a more fitting time.

When Kris Bryant hit the DL, Tommy La Stella, who has a stellar resume off the bench, was expected to earn some more playing time. However, since Bryant played last, La Stella has gone just 2-13 at the plate. La Stella was struggling for a bit before that as well. After hitting .444 in May, the utility man hit just .143 in June.

As a result, Maddon has decided to give Bote more of a shot. That really paid off last week. Bote hit his first career home run on Wednesday and drew a walk-off walk on Sunday to conclude Chicago’s week.

Of course, Bote’s playing time will diminish when Bryant returns from the disabled list. And it’s not as if Maddon has given up on La Stella, who has proven himself as a lethal pinch-hitter. Regardless, it’s great to see Bote contributing. The more depth the merrier.

Pitching wise, Chicago’s bullpen outshone the starting staff by a long shot. In fact, the ninth-inning home run that Brandon Morrow served up to Adam Duvall on Sunday was the only run the Cubs’ pen allowed last week. In total, Chicago’s relievers hurled 18 innings while allowing just one earned run.

Rookies Luke Farrell and Randy Rosario did the bulk of the heavy lifting out of the pen. Farrell tossed a total of 3 ⅓ innings in three outings last week while striking out four batters. Farrell came through in a high pressure situation on Sunday when he only needed eight pitches to get through the tenth inning against the Reds.

Rosario continues to prove he can be used for more than one inning in relief. In his first outing last week, Rosario threw 28 pitches in 1 ⅔ scoreless innings. Similarly, on Saturday, Rosario tossed 23 pitches over 2 ⅓ shutout innings. Rosario also notched his first career hit and RBI on Saturday by placing a single into right center.

To conclude the first half of the season, the 51-36 Cubs hit the west coast for three games in San Francisco and San Diego. Milwaukee also hits the road for three against the struggling Miami Marlins before heading to PNC Park for a lengthy five-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The St. Louis Cardinals, who are struggling to keep pace in the NL Central, conclude the first half by playing a quick two games with the Chicago White Sox and then three with the sneaky Redlegs.

On a final note, Jon Lester has also been invited to the 2018 All Star Game. Statistically speaking, this may have been the best first half of a season in Lester’s 13-year MLB career. Lester’s 2.45 ERA is a career first-half low while the lefty’s 11 wins tie a first-half high set in 2010. Some things just get better with age.

Author Profile

Eddie Herz
Eddie Herz
Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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