When you play the Kansas City Royals, there can be only one of two results.
1. What you’re supposed to do.
2. Make Cubs twitter blow up like Tom Ricketts just announced he’s retiring number 21, but only to honor Junior Lake.
What You Need to Know: Happily, the Cubs chose Option 1.
They did it in part with scintillating defense and some good fundamental hitting with runners in scoring position. In other words, they beat the Royals with a traditional Royals game. So tomorrow night, expect Anthony Rizzo to show up with 20 inches of pine tar on his bat and to go 28 Days Later on Joe West.
Jason Heyward made a spectacular sliding catch after a lengthy sprint into right field foul territory. Rizzo’s reaction time was stellar in snaring an Alex Gordon scorcher to end a Royals rally (aka “a two-out single”) in the fifth. And Javy Báez continued to commemorate his visit to the home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with a nightly Willie Wells impression, as he made not one but two over the shoulder post pattern style catches on balls that appeared headed into right field no man’s land.
Javy looked so wide receiver-ish, he’s already planning to ditch his own Hall of Fame induction.
The Cubs also beat the Royals thanks to the six shutout innings from Mike Montgomery. Because when the World Series Hero faced a lineup consisting of nine Michael Martinezes, he knew exactly what to do.
Here’s a weird thing about the 2018 Royals. Tonight, they trotted out a lineup whose four through seven hitters were Dozier, Herrera, Bonifacio, and Mondesi. And if I asked you to tell me each of their first names, you’d guess literally every one of them wrong. It’s like the Royals hitters are the free baseball cards you’d get from a knock-off Malt-O-Meal cereal with a name like Wheat-Es.
On a night when Jason Heyward batted clean-up for the Cubs, 2016 Jason Heyward could have batted clean-up for Kansas City.
And Montgomery handled them with precision, throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced and essentially saying “I bet you don’t know what to do with this.” They didn’t. He allowed only five singles in those six innings and struck out four by repeatedly flashing a nasty changeup.
Next Level: This is the part that’s going to make Joe Maddon happy. After a night where he bemoaned that “We’ve gone back to not using the other side…I just think we gotta get back to that middle-field approach. We’ve gotten away from that, I think,” the top of the fifth was exactly what he was hoping for.
With the Cubs ahead 2-0, Victor Caratini led off the inning by slapping a sharp ground ball the other way inside the third base line. Rizzo followed his lead by also going that way as his grounder eluded a diving Alcides Escobar into left field. Báez tried to get in on the oppo trend but his ground ball to first was turned into a fielder’s choice.
After three straight instances of the Cubs going the other way, Ben Zobrist surprised absolutely no one with a fundamentally sound at-bat, working the count to 3-1 before lifting a sacrifice fly to center to make it 3-0. Unfortunately, Zobrist had to leave the game after that with left hip tightness. Presumably, that’s what happens when they don’t lie for 37 consecutive years.
Heyward then singled on a hit and run play, sending Báez to third. And lo and behold, David Bote came through in the clutch, again going the other way with an RBI single to right to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead.
This would have been a good time for MLB to test its new Kansas City-specific rule: the four-run slaughter rule.
Top Play (WPA): In the first inning, the Cubs had runners on second and third with one out. Zobrist had lined a double to the right field wall but Báez appeared to inexplicably stop and head back momentarily at second as Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies speculated that he was deked by Adalberto Mondesi.
Specifically, Mondesi had said “Fifty bucks if you can tell me my first name.”
After a Heyward grounder caught Báez in a rundown, the Cubs looked to be in danger of wasting a scoring chance against Brad Keller. Up stepped Bote, who continued to answer the question “What if Augie Ojeda were actually good at baseball?” by barreling the first pitch deep into right center over a leaping Jorge Bonifacio for a two-run triple to give the Cubs a lead they would not relinquish (+.178).
Len immediately dubbed Bote “Mr. Exit Velocity.” Which means Joe Maddon will ignore him for the rest of the year.
Bottom Play (WPA): Alcides Escobar walked to put two runners on in the seventh (-.059). My computer’s autocorrect has tried eight times to replace “Alcides Escobar walked” with “Dogs and cats living together.”
Up Next: The Cubs look to choose Option 1 once more for the sweep as Jose Quintana takes on…hold on…*Extremely Bob Uecker voice* Christ, I can’t find it…the hell with it…
Lead photo courtesy Denny Medley—USA Today Sports