The baseball calendar is beginning to wind down, sooner for some than others. The Chicago Cubs will sadly be one of those teams shutting it down after this week. But this season has been a ‘turning point’ in the rebuilding plans for the franchise. You can even point to this past week’s games to see how things have changed.
This Week: 4-3 Season: 69-87, 18 GB – Fifth in the NL Central
The Good: The Cubs began the week with a sweep over the Cincinnati Reds, a team that has honestly owned the Cubs the last few seasons, especially at Wrigley. But the tables were turned as the pitching staff allowed only one run in the series, and the gap between the two teams tightened up. With six games left, it is possible the Cubs can avoid a last place finish.
The Bad: The pitching staff from the Reds series failed to show up for the Dodgers series. The Cubs allowed eight runs in three of the four games, seven in the lone win. Scoring four or more runs normally gives you the opportunity to win games, in this series that wasn’t the case.
The Ugly: Edwin Jackson returned from the DL, but it appeared he should have stayed there. Jackson allowed five runs while only recording two-outs in the first before being pulled. It’s very possible it could be the last time E-Jax pitches in a Cubs uniform.
The series opener against the Reds gave the Cubs a lot of things to be excited about. Although he wouldn’t get the victory, Travis Wood looked more like the All-Star from last season, throwing six scoreless innings, allowing only three hits. Anthony Rizzo made his return from the DL after dealing with back issues. With the minor league season over, Rizzo couldn’t benefit from a rehab start, and it showed in his early at-bats. He put it all together in his last one though. Rizzo hit a game-winning blast to center field to give the Cubs the 1-0 victory.
With all the attention surrounding the Cubs top hitting prospects, Kyle Hendricks seems to get lost in the shuffle.
Game two saw one of the finest pitching performances of the season by Jake Arrieta, who’s made a habit of fine performances. For the third time this season, he took a no hitter into the seventh inning. He would actually retire the first batter in the eighth before allowing an 0-2 double to Brandon Phillips. Matt Szczur made a heroic attempt at a diving catch, but came up just short.
"“I was planning on running through the wall if I had to,” Szczur said. “I was close.” h/t Jesse Rogers, ESPNChicago.com"
Once the no-hitter was lost, Arrieta was able to settle in and finish the game for his first complete game shutout. The Cubs helped ease the tension by providing him a seven run cushion. In 24 starts this seasons, he’s allowed two runs or less in 18 of them. Arrieta is staking his claim for the ‘staff ace’.
With all the attention surrounding the Cubs top hitting prospects, Kyle Hendricks seems to get lost in the shuffle. But he’s had a fine rookie season, and continued that in the series finale. He picked up his seventh win of the season, although he did allow the first run of the series to the Reds. While that may or may not have bothered Hendricks, he did lower his ERA to 2.28 on the season. It’s highly unlikely he can win NL Rookie of the Year, but his name should surely be in the conversation.
With the Los Angeles coming into town, the Cubs knew they would be facing two of the best pitchers in the National League in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The Cubs managed to get to each of them, but were unable to get victories in either game. They tagged Greinke for four runs, the the bullpen allowed a five-run seventh, leading to the 8-4 loss. The Cubs also got to Kershaw for three runs in the first inning, almost unheard of this year against him. Unfortunately the Dodgers were already up 6-0 before the Cubs came to bat after Jackson’s horrendous return from the DL. The rest of the staff didn’t fare much better, allowing eight more runs in the 14-5 loss.
The highlight game of the series was in game three, when Chris Coghlan helped cap off a spirited comeback victory. Trailing 7-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Cubs picked up an RBI single from Rizzo, and later a three-run home run from rookie Arismendy Alcantara, his 10th of the year to cut it to 7-6. In the bottom of the eighth, Coghlan had an opportunity to hit for the cycle with a triple. He instead opted for his second home run of the day, a two-run shot into the right-field bleaches to put the Cubs up 8-7. Hector Rondon came in and looked sharp, shutting the Dodgers down for his 12th straight save without a blown chance.
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The Cubs continue to battle in these final weeks. As manager Ricky Renteria likes to say. They keep grinding it out. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have set themselves apart as the top two starters. Travis Wood had a great outing in his last start, and if he can just get back to six solid innings each time out, that will pay huge dividends. Alcantara continues to surprise with his power, and Jorge Soler looks like a complete package.Javy Baez is taking his lumps, but he has done this at each level. A bit of a learning curve, but no reason to panic.
The Cubs will take this last week to identify what they have on the current roster. Who stays, who goes. Some of the ‘future’ has made its way up, some of it is yet to come. The Cubs have been playing teams either playoff bound, or in the hunt the last couple of weeks. This last week will be more of the same. I would take great joy in seeing the Cubs win these final two series against the Cardinals and Brewers. I’m actually a little bit excited to start saying ‘wait til next year’. I really am.