The Cubs split a day/night double header with the Pirates in Pittsburgh yesterday dropping the opener 5 -4 before taking the night cap 2 – 1. Both contests featured lots of drama from the two N.L. Wild card front-runners but ultimately the day ended as it began, with the Cubs 4 games out from the top Wild Card spot.
Game 1 saw Cubs starter Jason Hammel struggle early allowing three runs in a disastrous first inning where he gave up a walk, HBP, an RBI-single, another walk, and a 2 run, RBI single all while recording just one out. Thankfully he got out of the inning after that but giving up those early runs, especially after your team strikes first, is no blueprint for success. Hammel would give up an RBI-double in the fourth inning to Neil Walker before being pulled to start the fifth frame. Trevor Cahill came on in relief and pitched a couple of steady innings, allowing just one hit while punching out four. That would be enough to get them to the seventh where the Cubs were finally able to break through and chase Bucs starter Gerrit Cole from the game on Tommy La Stella’s RBI double making it a 4 – 2 game. Joakim Soria came on and got Addison Russell to line out to short before hurling two wild pitches, that each allowed a run to score and knotted the game up four all before getting Kyle Schwarber to strike out and end the inning.
Both sides went 1-2-3 over the next inning before the Cubs were undone by a throwing error from Miguel Montero that allowed pinch runner Pedro Florimon to reach third base with only one out. Starling Marte then hit a sac fly to left which would plate Florimon and provide the winning margin as the Cubs side went down 1-2-3 yet again in the ninth. It was a disappointing finish as the Cubs had their chances to steal this one despite the calamitous first inning, but a couple of mistakes doomed them. Still, the Cubs had a chance to get even in the nightcap with Jon Lester on the bump and boy, did they take advantage.
Lester was outstanding; hurling a five-hit, one-run, nine strike-out, complete game on 111 pitches in Game 2. He was just what the doctor ordered for a pitching staff (outside of Arrieta) and bullpen that had been scuffling of late. He gave manager Joe Maddon no reason to turn to his pen, pitching with confidence and working out of the few jams he got into, the most notable being the seventh inning when after allowing two straight singles to lead off the inning, he got Michael Morse to ground into a double play. Although a run would score on the play, major damage was averted and Lester was able to get through the rest of the game unscathed.
Run support was minimal at two, but that would be all Lester would need as he made his 2-1 advantage hold up over nine frames. Anthony Rizzo provided the game’s initial run on an RBI single in the first. Dexter Fowler contributed the game’s difference maker, an RBI-double in the fifth. This one was more about pitching anyways and tonight was all Jon Lester. He showed why the Cubs signed him this off-season and while no one will confuse him with Jake Arrieta (A sentence that would seem very strange 12 months ago), he is rounding into form as the #2 in the Cubs 1 – 2 punch. Hell, he even picked a man on first as Starling Marte tried to do what so many have done this year; run rampant on the base paths. Lester calmly stepped off the mound and threw to Rizzo who was able to eventually catch Marte in a rundown.
“This is what he does,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He likes pitching in big games in the latter part of the season. It’s not a surprise.”
Not a surprise but just in time as the Cubs enter a critical stretch that features eight more contests vs. the Pirates and Cards combined. They will need every win along the way to catch those teams which makes these head to head match-ups so important as the results are two-fold. Chicago currently sits four back of the Bucs and seven off of the division-leading Cardinals. The Giants are the Cubs last true threat to a playoff spot as they sit 7.5 back with 18 games to play.
We are in for a dramatic finish and what better way to kick off the home stretch of the season than throwing Jake Arrieta on the mound with a chance to make a big dent in the Pirates lead. He will face A.J. Burnett with first pitch at 6:00PM CST in Pittsburgh.
Let’s Go Cubs!