Entering the first game of this all-important series with the Brewers, the Cubs had won seven of eight games against Milwaukee this season. And yet, all of that was prelude to this series, with the surging Cubs still finding themselves a half-game back in the division standings.
What You Need to Know:
Despite giving up a pair of solo homers, Jose Quintana was effective for the third straight game, pitching six strong innings and, significantly, walking just one; it was the first game he hadn’t issued multiple free passes since April 28th. Entering the seventh inning, the Cubs had managed to scratch out just one run, with Albert Almora knocking in Javier Baez on a hard grounder to left field in the Cubs’ half of the fifth. When the Brewers’ gangly southpaw Josh Hader toed the rubber in the top of the seventh, the Cubs’ fate seemed all but sealed. I mean, the guy had struck out 70 batters in just over 35 innings pitched. His 55.4 percent strikeout rate was the highest of any pitcher with 35 innings pitched in a season…ever. And 16 of his 21 appearances this year had gone beyond one inning.
But then, in the eighth, Ben Zobrist draws a walk. Albert Almora hits a just-deep-enough fly ball to center, and Zobrist, on a heads-up play, advances to second. In steps Jason Heyward and his .158/.220/.237 line against left-handed pitching this year. Entering Monday night’s contest, Josh Hader had allowed two hits to the 35 left-handed batters he had faced all season. Let that sink in.
Heyward coolly drives an inside fastball into right field, Zobrist scores, and the game is tied. (For those keeping track, Hader’s average against lefties now stands at an unsightly .081.). After walking Anthony Rizzo, Hader is pulled. Now, onto the rest of Milwaukee’s elite bullpen.
Cubs’ relievers held their own, and after both bullpens slugged it out for a few innings – the two units combined for 12 strikeouts to just four hits over 10 combined innings – Anthony Rizzo stepped up to the plate in the top of the 11th. With Brewers right-hander Matt Albers on the mound, Rizzo launched a moon shot into the right-field stands, giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead.
Then the floodgates opened. Ben Zobrist tacked on an insurance run, driving in Javier Baez (who reached on a rare unintentional walk, just his fourth of the year). Almora continued to show he’s more than a lefty masher, punching an Albers slider into right, scoring Addison Russell. Jason Heyward crushed a two-run double deep into left center, driving in Almora and Zobrist. By the time it was over, the Cubs had sent all nine batters to the plate and scored five runs.
In the bottom of the 11th, the Cubs opted to go with recent call-up Anthony Bass over Brandon Morrow. It wasn’t pretty, but Bass pitched a scoreless frame.
The Cubs are in first place in the NL Central.
Next Level: A few interesting notes about Monday’s contest…
- Anthony Rizzo has an RBI in eight consecutive games; that’s the longest such streak by a Cub since Rondell White drove in runs in 10 straight back in June of 2001.
- Rizzo’s home run was clocked at 110.7 miles per hour, his second hardest hit ball of the year. Its 410-foot projected distance is the third-longest of the year for Rizzo, as well.
- In the first, Kris Bryant grounded into a double play, a rarity for him. It was the first time he’d been a double play victim all season, and just the 19th time in a career dating back to 2015, seventh-fewest in MLB (min. 1500 PA).
- With three more hits, Jason Heyward is now batting .407 since May 29th; that’s the sixth-best mark in MLB over that stretch. He’s got seven multi-hit games over this 12-game span, the same number of such games he had in his first 37 games of the season.
- With steals in both the fifth and 11th innings, Javier Baez now has 11 stolen bases to go with 14 home runs; the only other players in MLB with 14 homers and 11 steals are Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
- Per MLB’s Stat of the Day Twitter feed, in 21 tries, no team has beaten the Brewers when Josh Hader has pitched…until the Cubs did tonight.
Top WPA Play: Rizzo’s game-winning homer. Duh. (+0.329)
Bottom WPA Play: After Heyward’s game-tying single in the eighth, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras both drew walks, loading the bases with two outs. Kyle Schwarber chopped a grounder to second and was thrown out (but not for lack of effort, with Schwarber diving headfirst to try and beat out the tag). (-.143)
Up Next: The Cubs look to hold onto their NL Central lead, as Tyler Chatwood faces Chase Anderson in Game 2 of the series.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports