Perspective is a funny thing. On Thursday morning, a four-game series against the Mets seemed like the kind of occasion that demanded that the Cubs take at least three of four for anyone to walk away happy. After all, the Mets have been Metsy all season and weren’t exactly coming in hot, having deemed it necessary to fire both their pitching and bullpen coaches right before the start of this series.
So with all that in mind, a split would seem to be a pretty disappointing outcome. And in some ways, it is! But when your team is on the verge of losing three of four without epic late-inning heroics, your perspective can be changed in a hurry when those heroics actually happen.
That’s exactly what happened though, as Javy Báez did what stars do by putting the team on his back and loudly and dramatically announcing that the Cubs aren’t giving up first place that easily. Adbert Alzolay‘s outstanding major league debut served as the front cover of a strange series that was bookended by satisfying comebacks of varying dramatics.
Of the two losses sandwiched by those heroics, it’s probably a bit easier to swallow Saturday’s. There are games that you just throw in the trash and forget about and, boy, an eight-run loss to the Mets is certainly one of them. Friday’s one-run loss, on the other hand, feels like the kind of missed opportunity that has defined the Cubs’ recent struggles and that could ultimately be the difference between walking away with a split and a series win.
But as you know, reader, it could’ve been worse!
- Cubs 7, Mets 4 (box score)
- Mets 5, Cubs 4 (box score)
- Mets 10, Cubs 2 (box score)
- Cubs 5, Mets 3 (box score)
Thursday’s win was the Alzolay show. Speaking of which, let’s get this out of the way right from the start.
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) June 21, 2019
Got it? Good. Now that we’re on the same page about how to pronounce his name, let’s get on the same page about how he pitched Thursday night: He was magnificent. Alzolay pitched four shutout frames before giving a solo home run to Todd Frazier in the 9th inning and leaving the game. He was thoroughly impressive, working fast and pairing a fastball that can touch 97 mph with a changeup that he says has never been better.
Alzolay struck out five in his debut. It was all great, but I’d like to direct your attention to his beautiful changeup that struck out the aforementioned Frazier looking at about the 17-second mark of this video.
The Cubs couldn’t keep the good vibes going on Friday, though. The team took two separate one-run leads but Yu Darvish wasn’t able to protect either beyond the following inning and Brad Brach and Mike Montgomery combined to give the Mets the lead in the 7th inning.
Darvish wasn’t good, but he wasn’t a disaster either. Still, surrendering leads immediately after getting them is one of the most hair-pullingly frustrating things to watch as a fan and we got treated to it twice on Friday.
We’ll skip right on past Saturday’s clunker and into Sunday’s thrilling win. Cole Hamels was quite good again, surrendering three runs over seven strong innings. Hamels was at 84 pitches and certainly could’ve pitched into the 8th inning but he left in favor of pinch hitter Daniel Descalso in an attempt to capitalize on a 7th inning scoring opportunity.
Things went as they’ve gone for Descalso lately, which is to say not so great, as he turned a 3-0 count into a strikeout. The heroics would come an inning later. Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber reached base to set the table for Javy with one out. He obliged and absolutely walloped an epic, go ahead, three-run home run.
The emotion in this one is palpable, from the yell around the bases to the jacked-up curtain call. The team needed a lift and he sure gave them one.
- In so much as a guy with only one major league appearance to his name can be hot, Alzolay is scorching. His fantastic debut is described in detail above, but it’s worth reiterating just how great he looked. He worked at a Mark Buehrle-like pace and mixed his great fastball with an effective changeup and curveball. While he entered as a reliever on Thursday, he’ll be making his first major league start in the upcoming series against Atlanta.
- Hamels is just vintage lately. In surrendering three runs over seven innings, he actually had his worst outing in a long while. He hadn’t given up more than a single earned run in a start since May 27, so if an outing like Sunday represents a pitcher’s floor, that pitcher is going pretty great.
- It almost feels like bullying to list Descalso here, but it is what it is at this point. He got a rare start on Thursday and recorded a single hit in four at-bats. He didn’t have much else going the rest of the series and his 7th inning strikeout on Thursday was just brutal. Whether you lean toward Baseball Reference or FanGraphs for your WAR needs, Descalso is approaching a full negative win below replacement. Anytime you’re doing poorly enough to mess up a statistic’s acronym (wins above replacement), something is wrong.
- Things aren’t going so well for Carlos González, either. CarGo is slashing .188/.316/.250 over his last seven games, dashing hopes that he might have a 2008 Jim Edmonds-like resurgence. On the bright side, González has been just about a league average hitter against right-handed pitching, so at least there’s a pretty clearly defined role for him on this team.
While the Cubs’ inability to separate themselves from the teams chasing them in the ultra-competitive NL Central remains more than a bit maddening, things feel quite a bit rosier than you might expect given Sunday’s spectacular win. It won’t get easier as they begin a series against a considerably more challenging opponent in the Atlanta Braves, who swept the Cubs in their season-opening road trip.
Still, Sunday’s win feels like the kind that could fuel the team going forward. Someone needed to step up and someone did. I have no doubt that we’re all a heck of a lot happier for it.
What do Javy and the Cubs say to second place?