The Rundown: Cubs Continue Wrigley Domination, Castellanos and Kemp Loving Wrigley, Starters Continue Walkless Streak

I don’t have an answer as to why the Cubs play so much better at home than they do on the road, but I’m doing backflips because they continue to make attending games at Wrigley Field an enjoyable experience for their fans. In sweeping the Brewers, Chicago played like they were closing out a playoff series as they were nearly perfect in every facet of the game in beating Milwaukee 7-2.

Yesterday’s pitchers, a combination of hurlers who have had their share of troubles this year and last, were positively dominant. That included starter Yu Darvish, who earned just his second victory at Wrigley Field, and Tyler Chatwood, who picked up the three-inning save. The island of misfit toys is back with a vengeance!

And let’s talk about that pitching for a second. Darvish was the big gun yet again, working five strong innings while suffering through flu-like symptoms; Chatwood was under the weather too, but still managed five strikeouts; and Giants castaway Derek Holland pitched in a solid inning of work, getting two strikeouts while allowing just one hit. None issued a single walk. Strangely, Brewers manager Craig Counsell sent four straight lefties to the plate against Holland in the 6th inning while the outcome of the game was still close, though he had Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, and Keston Hiura available on the bench.

Darvish is on the best roll of his career since joining the Cubs last season, and has a 44/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last six starts. Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber (who was also feeling ill) had monster games at the plate and Joe Maddon managed his bullpen perfectly, resisting any temptation he may have had to micromanage his relievers. Give an assist there to Counsell. As I said, the game had all the feel of a playoff clincher.

I’m tempted to say the Cubs are about to go on one of those impressive rolls that announces loudly to the rest of the division that they will be a force to be reckoned with come October. I also want to believe that Chicago can play this well on the road, and they will get the chance to prove me right once they finish their three-game set with the A’s that starts tonight at Wrigley Field.

The North Siders will then head to Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh starting Friday, with a chance to put a dent into that 21-33 road record. It’s almost unfathomable that a team that is a Dodgers-like 39-18 at home plays so much more like the hapless Marlins (42-67 overall) when they are on the road.

Cubs News & Notes 

  • Darvish has allowed only seven runs on 21 hits in his last 29 innings with 38 strikeouts and just two walks. That’s a 2.17 ERA and 0.79 WHIP with a ridiculous 19 strikeouts for every walk. Just a month ago one wondered if he might be relegated to bullpen work when the playoffs start. Not anymore.
  • Heyward has been extremely effective batting leadoff lately. The outfielder jacked a home run in his first plate appearance for the second time in three games and added a triple in his second at-bat.
  • Heyward has been a steadying force and a veteran leader of this team.
  • Kris Bryant, who has been bothered on and off by a sore knee since the All-Star break, took a seat on the bench yesterday.
  • No one is more excited to be in the thick of a pennant race than recently-acquired outfielder Nick Castellanos. He definitely looks the part of a prime time player so far.
  • The Cubs placed Willson Contreras on the 10-day IL yesterday and recalled Taylor Davis. The team will have a better understanding of their starting catcher’s prognosis after his MRI today.
  • The front office may kick the tires on recently DFA’d catcher Jonathan Lucroy if it looks like Contreras will be out for an extended period of time.
  • One thing the Cubs have been missing for a long time is a swagger of sorts in the clubhouse and on the field. It looks like new infielder Tony Kemp is leading the charge to change that.
  • The team continues to assess Ben Zobrist in his rehab attempt at South Bend. The fan favorite is 2-for-9 with a walk, two strikeouts, and an RBI in three games for the Class-A Cubs.
  • The Cubs are moving forward in discussions to retire Hall of Fame closer Lee Smith’s number 46.
  • The Athletics swept their two-game series against the Cardinals over the weekend, allowing the Cubs to enter tonight’s game with a 1.5 game led over St. Louis.

How About That!

The Yankees swept the Red Sox in their four-game weekend series and Boston fans are really on the team’s front office for their failure to acquire any impact players at the deadline. After yesterday’s loss, David Price now has a 9.61 ERA in Yankee Stadium as a member of the Red Sox. The Red Sox have lost eight straight.

The Rays entered Sunday having not lost in a full week, a train they kept rolling by completing a two-game sweep of the Marlins. Tampa Bay has a 6.5 game lead on the Red Sox for second place in the AL East and the Rays lead the A’s by a half-game for the second AL wild card spot.

Cleveland starter Shane Bieber entered Sunday’s game having thrown 140 innings on the season with a 140 ERA+ and 5.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s good at baseball.

The Astros held the Mariners to seven hits while hitting seven home runs in a three-game sweep. They are now 12-1 against the Mariners this season.

The Dodgers did very little to improve a worrisome bullpen in front of the trade deadline last week and it continues to be an issue.

The Mets are on a roll, beating the Pirates 13-2 to take two of three in the series while climbing to within one game of .500. They were 11 games under on July 12 and are now just three games out of contention for a wild card berth.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Shane Bieber – The Indians’ starter limited the Angels to five hits and two runs with no walks in improving to 11-4 on the season. Bieber had eight punchouts, inducing 14 swinging strikes on 107 pitches.
  2. Devin Smeltzer – You’d think I simply made that name up, but the Twins rookie starter threw seven innings of two-hit ball yesterday to lead Minnesota to a 3-0 win over the Royals. Smeltzer, who is just 22 and looks an awful lot like Tyler Clippard, had four strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 2.28.
  3. Kyle Schwarber – War Bear was 2-for-2 and went yard for the 25th time this season. Schwarber is 6-for-7 with three home runs, four walks, and eight RBI in his last 12 plate appearances against the Brewers.

I Missed This One Badly

Because of the late start, I failed to mention Walker Buehler in this section yesterday. He had one of the most dominating pitching performances of the season Saturday night, a complete game shutout with 15 strikeouts. Buehler allowed just six hits and did not issue a walk in becoming just the third pitcher in major-league history to have multiple starts in the same season with 15 or more strikeouts and no walks.

Extra Innings

Why do Cubs players think they have any business singing publicly?

They Said It

  • “[Playing here] is definitely like an extra boost of energy, that’s for sure. We weren’t exactly having the best year [in Detroit]. Just as a competitor, you take pride on winning. I don’t think I love winning; I hate losing. So when our record was whatever it was, it can become a drag. And you’ve really got to fake it. Every day [in Chicago] is Opening Day. That’s the way I go about it. Just be the best version of yourself every day even on days when that’s hard.” – Nick Castellanos
  • “[Castellanos] is reminding us what hunger looks like. This guy is happy to be here, to play in this ballpark. He wants to get to the postseason badly, and I love what he’s doing. Everything about him, his work, indicates, ‘Let’s go. I want to play in October.’ And I love it.” – Joe Maddon
  • “[Darvish] is nasty, period; I’ve always felt that way about Yu. Right now, I feel like he’s settled in, relaxed and he’s not trying to do too much.” – Jason Heyward
  • “It’s simple, we got beat. We just didn’t score enough in the end. Tough to win scoring one or two runs per game.” – Craig Counsell

Monday Walk Up Song

Green Door by Jim Lowe. Perhaps lack of sleep is the root of the Cubs poor performances away from home. Whatever the reason, home games are a far more pleasing experience for us fans.

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