Monday’s extra-inning win over the rival MilwaukeeBrewers propelled the Chicago Cubs into first place as the team begins to fire on all cylinders.
When the Milwaukee Brewers bring Josh Hader into a game, they don’t lose. Well, that was the case prior to Monday’s opener. With the Cubs down 2-1, Milwaukee went to their hard-throwing lefty for his usual two innings of work in the seventh inning.
Milwaukee opponents were 0-21 in games in which Hader pitched. To-date, he’s struck out more than two batters per inning, a rate that would be an MLB record, if sustained over the course of the entire season.
Last night was different though. The Cubs tallied a run off Hader on a Jason Heyward RBI single in the top of the eighth inning, eventually forcing to extra innings. The clutch hitting continued in extras when Anthony Rizzo started a five-run 11th inning with a booming solo home run to right field.
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The win improved the Cubs to 8-1 against the Brewers this year and 8-2 overall in the month of June.
Heyward has arrived
It was only fitting that Heyward was the one to collect the big hit last night. Since returning from the DL, Heyward has been locked in at the plate.
Read that last sentence again if you have to. It’s been over two seasons since Heyward signed his mega contract with the Cubs and over that span, he’s been consistently underwhelming at the plate.
The majority of Cubs fans had written him off as a bust, with good reason. Recently its been a different story. Over the last seven games, Heyward is batting .341 with a homer and seven RBI. No hit being bigger than his walk-off grand slam against the Phillies last Wednesday.
It’s a version of Heyward Cubs fans have yet to see, and with his confidence at the plate continuing to rise, he may just be able to continue putting together quality at bats.
Solid pitching and clutch hitting.
Other than Heyward, there is a lot to be excited about with the way the Cubs have played recently. The starting pitching and bullpen work has been superb. Jose Quintana continued to dominate the Brewers lineup with a quality start last night, Jon Lester has been terrific all year and the back end of the bullpen has been lights out.
At the beginning of the year, the Cubs were criticized for a lack of clutch hitting. That has not been the case as of late.
The Cubs lead the league in leaving runners in scoring position. Thus far, they have left 4.14 runners in scoring position on per game. That mark has dropped precipitously over the last five games.
A lot of that comes from the Cubs putting runners on more than most other teams with their potent lineup.
After last night, Rizzo and Javier Baez are tied for fourth in the National League with 46 RBI apiece. I’m not overly concerned with runs with this team. With a lineup as talented as the Cubs, as long as the pitching remains solid, they will score enough to win a lot of ball games.
Over the past month there has been a different feel to this Cubs team. They’re pitching well, hitting well, and continuing to play elite defense.
There’s a feeling around the team that I haven’t sensed since the 2016 season. After scratching and clawing their way to the playoffs last season, the dominant team we saw win in the World Series a couple of seasons ago could be back.