MLB

Cubs Get Off to Solid Start in Second Half with Series Victory Over Cards’

The Chicago Cubs jumped off to a solid start in the second half after an exciting all-star week in Washington D.C.

Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras each made their presence known during the all-star festivities. Schwarber’s 55 home runs during the 2018 Home Run Derby were the most from any participant. “Schwarbs” also came up just short of defeating Bryce Harper in the championship round of the derby.

Baez was defeated by Max Muncy in the first round of the Home Run Derby. But, Baez’ 496-ft blast was the longest home run in the contest. Then, in the All-Star Game, “Javy” laced a single to center field off of Chris Sale on the first pitch in the bottom of the first.

Similarly, Contreras did damage on the first pitch he saw in his first career All-Star Game. Contreras lined a solo home run to left field with his family in attendance. This should leave Cubs fans feeling some Deja Vu. Contreras also clubbed a home run on the first ever pitch he saw in the MLB. 

Each player also picked up where they left off in D.C. during Chicago’s five-game series with the Cardinals last weekend.

Schwarber led the Cubs to a series victory in the rubber game on Sunday. The left fielder lifted a game-winning solo home run to right center in the sixth inning.

Baez hit a go-ahead single in the fifth inning during game one of a doubleheader on Saturday. He then padded Chicago’s lead in seventh with a bloop double to left, making the score 4-2. The Cubs went on to win the game 7-2.

Though Contreras sat for Victor Caratini twice during the St. Louis series, he made the most of his plate appearances. Contreras went 4-11 at the plate with one home run and three RBI during the series. On Sunday, Chicago’s catcher knocked in Ian Happ from third with a clutch fourth-inning single to tie the game at two. Later on, Contreras put the game out of reach with another run-scoring single, extending the Cubs’ lead to 5-2.

While these players previously mentioned continued to perform, the real story offensively for Chicago last week was Anthony Rizzo, who is heating up at the perfect time.

Frankly, besides an uncharacteristic month of April in which Rizzo hit .158, the Cubs’ franchise first baseman has performed how we’ve expected him to this season.

Rizzo hit .303 in May, reflecting that April was only a fluke. After a solid month of June in which Rizzo hit .270 and knocked in 18 runs, the slugger is as hot as ever.

It may seem a little off that Rizzo has yet to hit a home run in July. But, Rizzo is hitting .322 and has a ridiculous .446 on-base percentage while slugging .458. Rizzo went 9-15 in the Cardinals series and walked six times. It’s evident that Anthony is seeing the ball extremely well. It’s only a matter of time until he starts clubbing the ball into the bleachers consistently again. Rizzo has also recorded at least two hits in five of Chicago’s last eight games overall. 

Since Kris Bryant still seems to be searching for his rhythm, it bodes well for the Cubs that Rizzo is heating up. “Rizz” also seems much more enthusiastic than when he had back problems during a cold April. He was even seen in the dugout chanting “let’s go Cubs” on Thursday.  

It’s gotten to the point that Chicago’s first baseman is a legitimate threat as a leadoff hitter. This just adds another element to Rizzo’s game. At first, Rizzo was only batting leadoff to switch things up for the Cubs. But, now it is evident that Maddon puts him there because he often provides a spark at the top of the order. Rizzo is 16-31 (.516) with eight walks and seven extra base hits when batting leadoff. Those numbers are honestly absurd.

Also, though this has been a little under the radar, Ian Happ has been playing extremely good baseball lately.

Besides homering on Friday, Happ didn’t do much in the St. Louis series. However, the young outfielder has been playing significantly better baseball over the last two months or so. That’s why Joe Maddon has been putting him in the lineup so frequently.

Happ has raised his average 19 points since May 31st and is now hitting .256 overall. Happ is hitting .295 and has knocked in 11 runs this month, the most in any month this season for the young outfielder.

An even better snippet to look at is how Happ has performed over his last 87 plate appearances. During that span, Happ is hitting .348 with a 20.7 percent walk rate and a 26.5 percent strikeout rate.

Bottom line, Happ is putting together really efficient plate appearances right now. This is extremely encouraging considering that Happ’s main issue when he was struggling was that he was chasing a lot of poor pitches and frequently getting down early in counts.

Pitching wise, Chicago didn’t put together a very sharp week. The Cardinals scored 18 runs on Friday, the most the Cubs have allowed in a game since allowing 18 runs to the Brewers in 2010. St. Louis also scored at least six in two of the other four games in the series.

Working deep into games continues to be an issue for Chicago’s starters. While relying on the bullpen hasn’t been a problem this season, that didn’t work out particularly well last week.

It definitely was a little strange seeing Jon Lester get shelled the way he did on Friday. The nine outs recorded by Lester were the least by the veteran in a start this season. The eight earned runs were also the most he’s allowed in an outing this season by a long shot.

While there were a lot of red flags raised from the pitching staff last week, there also were a few very positive takeaways. First of all, Jose Quintana looked dominant on Saturday and it appears he is really putting things together.

Quintana struck out six over seven frames and only allowed two earned runs against the Cardinals. That outing marks the third consecutive quality start for Quintana. The lefty has thrown 19 innings in that span while only allowed four earned runs. The last time Q has earned three straight quality starts was toward the end of last season.

Quintana performing like this represents the depth that Chicago’s starting rotation has. Even though Quintana was the ace of his staff on the Southside, one has to remember that he is the fourth man in the Cubs’ rotation.

Speaking of depth and switching gears to the bullpen, Jesse Chavez looked great last week after being acquired from the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

The 34-year old righty threw two perfect innings in his Cubs debut on Saturday. Chavez followed that up by firing another 1-2-3 inning on Sunday. So, Chavez retired all nine batters he’s faced as a Cub so far.

Though Chicago’s pen was already deep, it can always get deeper. Considering Cubs starters often have trouble making it at least six innings, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will take all the depth it can get in the bullpen.

Chavez was a quality pick up for the Cubs that can really help them down the stretch. Chavez has a 3.34 ERA over 59 ⅓ innings this season. The veteran can always be counted on to throw strikes as well. Chavez has walked only 12 this season while striking out 53.

Chavez is a journeyman who has pitched for nine teams over his 10 MLB seasons. Though shaky at times over his lengthy career, Chavez’ experience has seasoned him to handle high-pressure situations.

The Chicago Cubs currently hold a 3.5-game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central. This is something they have to be happy about considering how long they battled to gain a somewhat comfortable division lead.

However, comfortable is the last thing the Cubs should be right now. The Brewers have proved that they are here to stay and will battle until game 162. Things will not get any easier for Chicago either. 

42 of the Cubs’ remaining 64 games are against teams who are .500 or better. Eight of which are against Milwaukee. 

Chicago welcomes the 54-46 Arizona Diamondbacks to Wrigley Field for a four-game set this week before hitting the road for three more games against the Cardinals.

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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