The Chicago Cubs’ biggest weaknesses in their first five games quickly turned into their top strengths in a series-opening win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Heads-up base running and using the entire field, the Chicago Cubs jumped out to an early lead in Thursday’s series opener – and never looked back, picking up a 6-0 win.
Jon Lester (1-0, 2.89) looked like a completely different pitcher, twirling seven shutout frames. Jesus Aguilar recorded two base hits – and the rest of the Brewers offense recorded a lone hit against the Cubs left-hander. He struck out six and walked one before giving way to the pen in the seventh.
Chicago (3-3) got back to .500. They looked like what we all expected this winter, putting together impressive at-bats up and down the lineup. And, if you can imagine, El Mago struck again.
Javier Baez opened the scoring with an RBI single in the top of the second – but was just getting started. The next batter, Lester, hit a ball back up the middle. It ricocheted off Brewers starter Brent Suter and rolled under the glove of second baseman Hernan Perez.
As the ball slowly rolled into center field, Baez trucked from first to third. After checking over his shoulder, he made the call to head for home, sliding in ahead of the throw from Lorenzo Cain to make it a 3-0 game.
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The young Chicago infielder had himself a day, going 1-for-1 with that run-scoring single, three walks and a hit-by-pitch – reaching five times to pace the offense.
In the third, the Cubs scored two more times, courtesy of a run-scoring triple from Albert Almora and an Addison Russell RBI double. The final blows of the game? A moonshot off the bat of Jason Heyward in the top of the ninth – marking the anniversary of his Major League debut.
Bullpen still dominant
After Lester turned in a lights-out performance, Carl Edwards pitched the seventh, striking out the side. Steve Cishek made quick work of the Brewers in the eighth and Eddie Butler got some work in during a lopsided ninth.
What does this mean? Chicago’s league-leading bullpen ERA fell even lower, nearing the 0.50 mark one week into the season. Sure, it’s unsustainable. But, man. It’s fun while it lasts.
Major injury strikes the Brewers
In the top of the ninth, Brewers closer Corey Knebel threw a pitch to Tommy La Stella. He immediately grabbed his hamstring and was carried off the field. He appeared to be completely unable of putting weight on that leg.
Milwaukee is already thin on pitching. Wade Miley and Jimmy Nelson left vacancies in the rotation and one of the team’s biggest bullpen weapons, Boone Logan, is expected to miss the first six weeks of the season. Losing Knebel could be a devastating blow for a team with postseason aspirations.
What to Look For
If the Cubs keep this type of performance up, it’ll be a long weekend for the Brewers. Chicago hands the ball to Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana in the final three games – and all will hope to follow Lester’s lead in their respective starts.
Offensively, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Wilson Contreras all recorded a multi-hit game. Anthony Rizzo is ‘just’ missing pitches – and could be the last piece to really get this train rolling.