The Rundown: Cubs Light Up Pirates, Maddon Wants Piece of Hurdle, Stunning Debut by Robel Garcia, Dodgers and Nationals Streaking

The NL Central is quite the pressure cooker these days. The Cubs beat the Pirates 11-3 yesterday while the Brewers lost 1-0 to the Reds in Cincinnati, and the Cardinals, who I am now predicting will finish in last place this season, beat the lowly Mariners 5-4. When your head hit your pillow last night, just 3 1/2 games separated the first and last place teams in baseball’s tightest division. That first-to-last gap is smaller than the first-to-second difference in every other division.

As evidenced by yesterday’s game, a tight divisional race means everybody’s got a target on their backs, none bigger than the one the Cubs are sporting. Chicago endured a number of control-tower fly-bys from Pirates pitchers all series, and after Javy Báez got buzzed on consecutive pitches from Jordan Lyles, Cubs manager Joe Maddon had had enough.

As funny as it was to see Papa Joe try to deke past home plate umpire Joe West to get a piece of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, the sudden show of fire from the embattled manager was a welcome sight considering his team has been sleepwalking for the past 45 days or so. After Maddon’s ejection, a tight game became a rout for the boys in blue. If the Cubs go on a tear here, we can thank the Pirates for pulling the tranquilizer darts out of their asses.

The 11 runs Chicago scored yesterday were the most since the Cubs destroyed the Nationals 14-6 back on May 17. I made Kris Bryant the player of the day after that game and then the team went into their tailspin. The Cubs third baseman had a four-hit day yesterday that included a towering home run and two doubles. Being the superstitious fellow that I am, I will refrain from mentioning Bryant in the top stars section of this column, though he certainly deserves to be there.

Theatrics, drama, and ill will between the two teams aside, I was glad that Maddon finally changed his lineup. The Cubs responded with four home runs and also had four doubles and two triples.

Though I lean analytically as a fan, I don’t agree with the argument that Bryant should bat leadoff and I can’t stand that he is constantly batting second. I don’t think Bryant is happy hitting there, either. For my money, he’s a guy you want batting third and he excelled there yesterday. When Jason Heyward returns to the lineup, I wouldn’t mind seeing the right fielder in the two-spot with Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Báez, and Willson Contreras following.

The Cubs will get a very rare Friday PTO day before finishing up the first half of baseball with a two-game set against the White Sox. The second leg of this year’s Crosstown Classic kicks off with Jon Lester facing Lucas Giolito tomorrow evening at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Robel Garcia got his first MLB start yesterday and had a huge day. The 26-year-old switch-hitting rookie had spent the last several years playing in Europe before getting a chance with the Cubs. He leads the organization with 22 home runs after his first MLB blast in the 6th inning yesterday.
  • Maddon said that Hurdle’s tendency to have Pirates pitchers go up and in has gotten out of hand.
  • Victor Caratini entered play yesterday with an impressive .298 batting average, four homers, a .377 wOBA, and 133 wRC+ that would rank third on the team if he had more plate appearances.
  • Addison Russell was not in yesterday’s lineup and was deserving of at least a day off after a mental lapse cost the Cubs on Wednesday. I wrote that very politely, though a different version has been stewing in my head for two days.
  • According to Steve Stone, Cubs and White Sox fans are on a collision course of proportions we’ve not yet seen. Stone is among those who see the developing ChiSox joining the Cubs among the sport’s elite within a few years.
  • Bryant has a boom stick.

How About That!

The Home Run Derby field is set. Christian Yelich enters as the number one seed in a pretty loaded bracket that features a lot of younger players, including Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It’s too bad Cody Bellinger isn’t participating.

The Padres traded right-hander Matt Wisler to the Mariners in exchange for cash considerations. Wisler, 26, was recently shifted from starting pitcher to full-time reliever.

Gleyber Torres is on fire right now and yesterday he was named as an All-Star Game reserve, replacing the injured Brandon Lowe. Torres is just the third Yankee to make his second appearance in the midsummer classic before turning 25. The others? Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. That’s elite company.

The Dodgers became the first team in baseball to notch 60 wins. They lead the NL West by 14.5 games.

Believe it or not, the surging Nationals are hotter than the Dodgers right now. Washington has 26 wins in their last 36 games, a 117-win pace. That includes a 21-8 mark since the first of June.

Hunter Pence is all class. The outfielder was voted in as a first-time starter for this year’s All-Star Game but can’t play. That didn’t stop him from expressing his gratitude for the honor.

Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnutt devoured 71 Nathan’s hot dogs in 10 minutes to earn his 12th championship in the “sport.” Yuck. Jaws is ranked No. 1 in the world by Major League Eating and he’s by far the most accomplished destroyer of dogs in the history of the 92-year-old contest thanks to an eight-title streak and several world records.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig delivered his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium. If you want a good baseball book to read this summer, you can’t go wrong with The Last Ride of the Iron Horse: How Lou Gehrig Fought ALS to Play One Final Championship Season.

Thursday’s Three Stars

  1. Matthew Boyd – The Tigers starter had 13 strikeouts with no walks when he was removed after 5.1 innings. That’s never been done in the history of the game. The Cubs recently scouted a Boyd start in Detroit.
  2. Marcus Semien – The A’s shortstop blasted two home runs and plated five runs in yesterday’s 7-2 win over the Twins.
  3. Robel Garcia – The rookie second baseman looked a little shaky at the start of the game but quickly bounced back to finish 3-for-5 with his first major league home run. That tater left the bat at 104.3 mph and wound up going 416 feet. Welcome to the show, kid.

Apropos of Nothing

Seinfeld turned 30 this year. It seems almost unfathomable to me that the series is that old yet still seems fresh. I remember I watched it for the first time the summer the Bulls and Lakers played in the 1991 NBA Finals. The series was televised on NBC and the network used that stage to heavily promote it.

Also, I always believed this but didn’t think it was actually true: If you answer a robocall, you’ll be put onto a VIP list of people that the scammers know are more likely to pick up. Tying things up here, nobody handled a telemarketing call quite the way that Jerry Seinfeld did.

On Deck

Maddon’s seat has been plenty hot lately, and Hurdle made things a helluva lot hotter yesterday. I was mildly surprised that no Cubs pitchers retaliated after David Bote was hit in the head by a Clay Holmes fastball, but the Pirates and Cubs will exchange pleasantries when baseball resumes after it’s nearly week-long break. Pittsburgh is obviously head-hunting and I’m pretty sure the Cubs are tired of being targets.

Extra Innings

You wanted Robel. You got him.

They Said It

  • “When you can’t command the ball in, which was evidenced by David [Bote] getting hit in the head [it’s out of hand]. I’m just saying, they continue along that tack, they got a nice bunch of players right there. They’re not going to like it.”Joe Maddon
  • “Nobody likes the ball up and in, so I can understand there is some angst involved. There’s always going to be angst involved in the game of baseball, a manager is always going to try to protect his team and share his feelings.”Clint Hurdle
  • “It’s kind of like, all right, if you want to pitch up, just pitch up. Don’t go in. We shouldn’t be getting hit on the head. I don’t think it was on purpose or anything like that, but it’s just frustrating when balls keep coming right in front of your face.”Kris Bryant
  • “I got hurt on a big league field playing as hard as I can, and that happens. I’m going to do everything I can to enjoy getting healthy, getting strong and charging into the second half and a playoff run that nobody ever expected. How can I be happier than that? It’s not possible.”Hunter Pence

Friday Walk Up Song

R.O.C.K. in the USA by John Mellencamp. Not sure why, but I always get in a Mellen-Cougar kinda mood on the 4th of July.

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