The Chicago Cubs upped their record to an MLB-best 15 – 5, on a chilly Tuesday night at the Friendly Confines behind a sharp outing by Kyle Hendricks who pitched five innings while giving up just two hits and one earned run. Hendricks was lifted in the bottom of the fifth but not due to his performance. Manager Joe Maddon simply found an opportunity to manufacture runs on a night that cold temps had made runs hard to come by.
Facing a 1 – 0 deficit with just one out and two men in scoring position; Joe Maddon figured this was the time to strike. With the pitcher’s spot due up; Maddon lifted Hendricks, after just 69 pitches, in favor of Tommy “3am” La Stella. With runs at a premium, Maddon went all in and although La Stella merely walked; he extended the inning and allowed the next man up the opportunity to drive one in, which Dexter Fowler ably did sending a deep sac-fly to center and scoring Soler from third to knot the game up one-all.
This set the stage for Addison Russell’s late-game theatrics in the sixth inning. After Kris Bryant reached on an error and Ben Zobrist walked, Russell smacked a two-out triple to deep right-center scoring both men and breaking the game wide open for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo, thankfully added an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to make it 4 – 1; a margin they would use to hang on as the Brewers Ryan Braun delivered an RBI double off the bench in the eighth to bring Milwaukee within a run.
Hector Rondon came on to close in the ninth and made things interesting. After recording the first two outs on a strikeout and groundout, Rondon gave up a single to CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis eliciting some unease from Cubs fans not accustomed to tight contests this year. Brewers third baseman Aaron Hill stepped to the plate next and almost delivered a Brewers’ walk-off celebration, as he flied out to deep left field with Cubs fans holding their breath. The ball appeared to be held up in the wind, saving the Cubs from a potential collapse.
The Brewers and Cubs seemed to be in agreement on this as Milwaukee center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis intimated:
“He’s been a good guy in these spots lately and almost came up with that one at the end there; I think that ball is gone for sure if the wind is not blowing.”
Hector Rondon gave off a look of relief as catcher David Ross came out to congratulate him; knowing how close the Cubs had coming to being on the other end of the one-run game.
Still, the results persist as the Cubs had to play through the wind and cold as well and came away with a 4 – 3 ‘W’. They were able to hang on for the victory and ascend to pole position in the the MLB standings. Their 15 – 5 record gets them off to their best start in over 100+ years and their ten game margin over .500 is a benchmark in how far this team has come from even a year ago. Last year, it took until the dog days of August to reach the milestone; a full three months later than the club this year. That’s a nice testament to this team getting hot of the gate but doesn’t mean anything in terms of how they will handle the grind of a long season. Nevertheless, it shows how dialed in these guys are; the focus and drive of players not only wanting to be better than last year, but the best version of themselves. The Cubs know the expectations and are embracing them fully.
“We talked about this in the spring,” Anthony Rizzo said. “About turning up the levels to get ready for this.”
It appears that the dial has been turned to ’11’ with little chance of being turned down. A formidable combination of excellent pitching with batting-practice type power at the plate has taken the league by storm.
A storm is where we find ourselves tonight as cold temps and rain have enveloped Wrigley creating a dreary atmosphere for Jake Arrieta’s first start post no-no. He is set to face off against Milwaukee’s Taylor Jungmann with first pitch coming at 7:05Pm CST.
Here’s to hoping the rain clears up so Arrieta and Co. can stay on schedule.
Let’s Go Cubs!