The Rundown: MLB Embraces Little Leaguers, Cubs Playfully Pound Pirates, Quintana Continues Strong String of Starts

Who knew that all the Cubs needed to turn those frowns upside down was a little playtime in Williamsport, PA?

The Cubbies looked like anything but the road-weary ragtag team that struggled so mightily through their 10-game sleepwalk across Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh when they handed the Pirates a 7-1 loss in baseball’s annual Little League Classic.

Anthony Rizzo even bounced a home run off the scoreboard in left-center field, and he did it while being wired for sound the whole game.

And though the Cubs bats were alive and well in central Pennsylvania, it was another solid start by José Quintana that carried the team. Quintana is 7-0 in his last nine starts, with a nifty 57/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has legitimately becomes the rotation’s stopper and he and Yu Darvish have single-handedly kept the Cubs at the top of the Central Division standings. Q was magnificent last night, punching out seven Pirates with no walks.

The neutral-site game may have done more for the Cubs’ collective psyche than anything else. Getting to see the game from a kid’s perspective could be the tonic the team needed to work through the pressing problem of winning road games. Players and fans can sometimes take losses or losing streaks a bit too hard, but games like yesterday remind us why we love baseball to begin with. Anything can happen, there’s always hope that you’ll win the next game or string a few wins together, and what happened in the past can’t be changed.

The Williamsport game was refreshing in so many ways and it may have helped the Cubbies rid that monkey from their backs. Don’t look now, but Chicago is riding a two-game winning streak away from home.

Cubs News & Notes

  • The Cubs hit three home runs in yesterday’s game, with Rizzo’s two-run jack plus solo shots by Nick Castellanos and Jason Heyward. I wonder if MLB talked to Clint Hurdle about pitching up and in with all the kids present, because there was no retaliation from the Pirates pitching staff.
  • Rizzo and Castellanos enjoyed a playful moment when the Cubs first baseman teased his new teammate about the perks of playing on a contending team.
  • The first-pitch relay was my favorite moment of the evening. It gave me goosebumps.
  • Javier Báez was named as the favorite player in a poll of Little League World Series participants.
  • Closer Craig Kimbrel pitched to three batters in the 9th inning after being activated ahead of yesterday’s game, and promptly served up a home run to Starling Marte. Dirty Craig has pitched just three clean innings since signing.
  • The kids who mimicked Kimbrel’s windup behind home plate were the true stars of the evening. What a great moment.
  • Joe Maddon indicated the Cubs can’t slide much further or simply rely on their home success when they return to Wrigley Field for a six-game series starting Tuesday night against the Giants.
  • Maddon’s first pitch didn’t quite go as planned.
  • If you didn’t catch all of the Cubs’ weekend nicknames, I’ve got you covered. I didn’t know why Castellanos is called Artist. Now I do. He enjoys painting and photography in his spare time and often signs his pieces as, simply, “Artist” when he’s finished.
  • Tim Bannon of the Chicago Tribune ranks Chicago’s 10 worst losses of the season. Spoiler alert: The walk-off slam by Bryce Harper makes the list. But you knew that.

How About That!

With Fernando Tatís Jr. out for the rest of the season, it appears Mets first baseman Pete Alonso has the NL Rookie of the Year award practically sewn up. The BBWAA may want to give him MVP consideration, too. Alonso broke the rookie record for home runs last night.

Ronald Acuña Jr. had a really bad game yesterday and was benched midway through for lack of hustle.

Zack Greinke became baseball’s third active 200-game winner, joining CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. Jon Lester, who’s just 13 wins shy of that benchmark, may be joining them next season. .

Rafael Devers became the first player to reach 100 RBI this season. He joins Miguel Cabrera and Ted Williams as the only players to reach 100 runs and RBI before their age-23 seasons.

In what was billed a possible postseason preview, the Yankees and Indians split their four-game series in the Bronx.

Cody Bellinger hit another bomb yesterday and is the youngest player to hit 42 home runs in a season since Harper and Nolan Arenado did that in 2015.

The Nationals placed reliever Sean Doolittle on the 10-day injured list with right knee tendinitis. He’ll miss the series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs that starts Friday. The Nats bullpen has been a mess all year.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Kevin Gausman – The Reds reliever faced six Cardinals batters and struck them all out. Gausman even had an immaculate 9th inning – punching three Redbirds’ tickets on nine pitches.
  2. Rafael Devers – The Red Sox third baseman had a 4-for-5 day that included his 27th home run of the season and four RBI, all while making a little history. He’s good at baseball.
  3. Little Leaguers across the world – You have to give credit to MLB, ESPN, the Cubs, and the Pirates. Yesterday was pure baseball bliss.

Girl Power!

Maddy Freking became the 19th girl to play at the Little League World Series and just the sixth to take the mound on the tournament’s biggest stage. She became the first female pitcher at the LLWS since Mo’ne Davis captivated the country in 2014.

Extra Innings

Take note, front office. If you want the kids to truly play, continually remind them that for the most part, they’re still kids at heart. That was the magic of 2016, and that’s what the team has been missing since.

They Said It

  • “I would imagine every major league team would like to do this. It is exciting. It is pure. It is what [baseball] is supposed to look like.” – Joe Maddon
  • “I’m really a tough routine guy. I always do the same thing before the game. But today was really special. I said hello to the kids. It was different.” – Jose Quintana
  • “It was really special. I came to the Little League World Series when I was young. We didn’t have this experience. We didn’t have major league players around. It was cool for them and for us too. It kind of brought us together. In the dugout, out of the dugout. Being around the kids, it was pretty cool.” – Javier Báez
  • “It’s baseball. It will torture you. That’s the bottom line. If you’re not prepared for weeks like that, you shouldn’t get into the game. They happen more often than you’d like and there’s a particular brand of cruelty mixed in. We were on the other end of that just as often. It doesn’t feel like that this year. It will even out.” – Theo Epstein

Monday Walk Up Song

Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And know they love you. Few people know Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead played steal pedal on this classic. You’re now one of them.

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