Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
1. Game Notes (Cubs win, 5-0)
This marks 6 wins in a row, and quite a turnaround after the rough stretch that included a sweep at home against the Phillies. Jake Arrieta, who has a win in 6 of his last 7 starts, pitched excellently once again, going 7 full innings with 5 strikeouts and only giving up 2 hits. His opposite on the mound, newly acquired Pirates pitcher J.A. Happ, was not so fortunate, not making it out of the 4th inning before giving up 4 runs. He did get 6 Cubs to strike out, to his credit. Tommy Hunter pitched another scoreless inning in the 8th, and then Justin Grimm came in for the 9th and pitched a scoreless inning as well in a non save situation. In all, there can be no complaints about the performance of our pitchers.
At the plate, every starter got a hit except lead off man Dexter Fowler, who went 0 for 5 with 2 strikeouts. Chris Denorfia and Anthony Rizzo both particularly had great nights at the plate, going 3 for 6 and 4 for 5, respectively. The biggest surprise at the plate might have been Starlin Castro, however. He was 2 for 5 last night with 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and a run scored. I hate to get my hopes up this late in the season, but if he can even start to hit slightly better than what he has been, this is a huge gain on offense.
Tonight we will see the debut of Dan Haren as a Cub as he takes on lefty Jeff Locke.
2. What if Castro is heating up?
This is probably the Castro apologist in me getting way, way ahead of myself, but he has been having such an uncharacteristically bad season that I have often wondered if he wasn’t due for a rebound. I don’t expect him to bring his numbers back to what he usually does, but he has pretty much been in a steady drop since the middle of May. What’s interesting is if you look at his numbers for the months of April and at least the beginning of May, he was hitting like he usually does, but somewhere around the second week of May everything started to drop, and it has not really stopped since then, leading to what could end up being a career worst season, far worse than 2013 was (.245/.284/.347). I’m not sure what led to this drop, but given Castro’s level of major league experience, it is possible that before this season ends, he might figure it out. Perhaps it’s been the pressure of having Addison Russell there and some Baez guy in the minors threatening his standing as the team’s shortstop, maybe it was the fears of being traded, maybe it was the impending birth of his second child. The point is, these guys are human, and things get in the way of them doing as well as they should. I’ve been ready to say that maybe Castro should be benched, but if he starts trending in the other direction, I like what this means for our offense. Most of all, let’s not draw conclusions based on last night’s game, but he looked better enough at the plate to at least garner some more attention.
3. A check on the standings
I found it refreshing to be watching on WGN last night and seeing scores of the Giants and Cardinals games. It’s been too long since we’ve been in a hunt like this. The 6 game winning streak has taken us from being 2.5 games behind in the race for the second wild card spot (on July 28), to a half game ahead of the Giants for that spot. The brutal reality for the 2015 Cubs is that we are in easily the toughest division in baseball right now. Both the Cardinals and Pirates would be leading nearly every other division in baseball pretty easily, and the Cubs would be leading the NL East. Going into tonight’s action, the Cubs are 3 games behind the Pirates, and my hope is that we can chop another win off of that total before returning to Chicago to play the Giants. Enjoy this ride, because these wild card spots will not likely be settled until very near the end of the season.
4. Rotation shift/Montero rehab
After the rain postponed Monday’s game, Jon Lester will now pitch on Friday against the Giants instead, and the rest of the rotation shifts a bit to accommodate this. Kyle Hendricks will have his start pushed back by a day and start on Saturday, and then Arrieta will go on normal rest on Sunday.
Miguel Montero, who has struggled some during his minor league rehab work, is still expected to make his return this weekend at some point. Montero has just 1 hit in 7 at bats while with AA Tennessee. He struck out 3 times on Monday night, and the Smokies did not have him in their lineup last night.
5. Down on the farm
At this point, I feel like I would be remiss not to mention Javier Baez in some way. Many of us are preoccupied with wondering when he will return to the Cubs since starting the season out of spring straining with AAA Iowa, and the picture is not really any more clear at this point. Meanwhile, he just keeps hitting. Last night, he hit homerun number 11 of the season, and did not strike out in 5 at bats. Keep a close eye here, because the offense he can potentially offer the Cubs will be too hard to keep in the minors as the last weeks of the season approach. He’ll be up with the 40 man roster expansion regardless, I would have to think, but I fully expect that he’ll be back before then.
Another rehabber, Tommy La Stella (who will only complicate the middle infield logjam further) looks close to being ready to return to the majors after recovering from an injury that has kept him out since early April. In his 6 rehab games with AA Tennessee, he is hitting .333 and without a single strikeout in 22 plate appearances. La Stella may be back pretty soon, but the trick will be finding chances for him in the lineup. If Castro stays cold, the easy solution would be to give La Stella starts at 2B and shift Russell to SS, but that’s assuming Baez stays in Iowa for a while longer.
THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY
1975: At Veterans Stadium, Cubs starter Bill Bonham gives up a major league record of 7 hits to the first seven Phillies he faces. Without retiring a batter, the former UCLA hurler is replaced by Ken Crosby, who promptly gives up a single to Johnny Oates.
1985: Darryl Strawberry belts three home runs, helping the Mets beat the Cubs, 7-2. The victory propels New York into first place in the National League East.
2000: Sammy Sosa becomes the first Cubs’ player to reach 100 RBIs six consecutive times. Hack Wilson did it for five straight seasons from 1926-30.
2007: At Wrigley Field, Tom Glavine, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, becomes the 23rd player in major league history to win his 300th victory. The crafty southpaw, the fifth lefty to reach the milestone, limits the Cubs to six hits and a walk in 6.1 innings as the Mets bang out 16 hits and beat Chicago in a nationally televised ESPN Sunday night game, 8-3.
2012: Darwin Barney becomes the Cubs’ all-time leader for second basemen when he plays in his 91st consecutive game in a single season without committing an error. The 26 year-old Chicago infielder, en route to setting the National League mark with a 127 straight errorless-game streak, surpasses Ryne Sandberg‘s team record that the Hall of Famer established in 1989.
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