It was a bitter pill to swallow for Cubs fans the last time the Fightin’ Phils visited the North Side of Chicago. Back in 2015, Philadelphia swept the Cubs. Their ace Cole Hamels finished his Phillies career by making history and throwing a no hitter against the Cubs, the first time that Chicago had been no hit since 1965. Following the sweep, it seemed as if the 2015 Cubs were not going to do anything remarkable. But in reality, the sudden dominance of last year’s club can be traced back to the sweep as it seemed to all turn around in the right direction for the North Side and wake them up.
In 2016, the Cubs returned the favor and swept the Phillies. Great performances were had all around, though Ben Zobrist and Kyle Hendricks take home the honors of MVP in the series as the Cubs continue to hold the best record in baseball. They stand at 34-14 just before May ends.
Game One: Jon Lester vs. Adam Morgan
This game can be summed up by two different things: Chicago weather and home runs.
Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and David Ross all homered for the North Side in this match. It also featured two rain delays, though neither was very extensive. It went from calm and dry to an absolute monsoon in no time at Wrigley. But that is Chicago weather for you and it did not stop the Cubs from getting the win.
Before we dive into the homers, let us also take a look at the solid performance that Jon Lester turned in. He threw 105 pitches over six and one third innings, allowing one earned run. While he probably would have preferred to go longer into the game, his command and placement was much better than what was seen of him in his start against the Giants. Of the 105 pitches thrown, 69 of them were for strikes. It was not the greatest performance of his career, but he was able to slow down a Phillies lineup that has seen some success thus far in the season. For that, Lester’s performance and ability to battle the elements of Wrigley (both the random spouts of rain and wind) earns him a tip of the cap for game one.
Everyone expects Kris Bryant to hit home runs. But they probably do not expect to see him over at first base playing defense. Joe Maddon gave All Star Anthony Rizzo the day off and gave Bryant the chance to show his skills at first. He did so without errors and generally looked pretty comfortable out there. It seems that Bryant is becoming the Cubs utility man more so than Ben Zobrist. But the additional experience at first for Bryant is only going to make the Cubs a better team as the season goes on. They have capable backups in Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez at third take over should Bryant need to spend the day in the outfield. In a long season you can never have too much depth making Bryant’s place on the roster all the more valuable than it already is.
Jorge Soler also continued to silence his critics with his performance in game one. He dismantled the ball into the left field bleachers for a 460-feet homer, the longest by a Cub so far this season. His approach to the plate has seemed to contain more focus than earlier on. It is easy to see that he is reading the ball better and has a greater ability to take bad pitches rather than swinging wildly at them. Though he has yet to completely gain control of his swing, it is clear that hitting coach Chris Bosio is beginning to work wonders with the very young Soler who has an incredible amount of potential if he keeps improving like he has in the short sample size of this season.
And then on the complete opposite side of the age spectrum of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, there is David Ross. At 39 years old, Ross is set to retire after this season. He is beloved in the clubhouse and by fans so the hashtag #YearlongRetirementParty has been used with much affection for the veteran catcher. When Ross crushed a three run homer in the fourth inning, the hundredth of his career, the Cubs knew they had to win the game so they could celebrate their beloved teammate’s accomplishment.
After the game, Ross was happy to have finally reached the mark and to see his teammates be as equally happy for him as he was to hit it. “The guys were excited. I was excited.” Ross said, according to ESPN. “I think my favorite part was rounding second base and looking in the dugout.”
Cubs win, 6-2.
Game Two: Kyle Hendricks vs. Jerad Eickhoff
Kyle Hendricks has become a guy you expect a solid six or seven innings out of, but for him to go the distance is not necessarily something you see all that often. Yet, that is exactly what the right-hander did in game two of this series. He threw 104 pitches over nine innings with 76 strikes, allowing five hits and just one run in the ninth that got on base because of a miscommunication in the outfield.
To say that Hendricks was great would be an understatement. His command of his changeup was perhaps the best it has been since he started his career in the big leagues. He was able to get the Phillies batters to swing and miss, leading him to strike out seven over his complete game. Hendricks had thrown a complete game once before in 2015 and his ability to turn out a performance like this overall shows the depth of the Cubs rotation.
As of right now, there is not really any starter that one could argue is going through any struggles. This is what has helped them to have the best record in baseball and would will ultimately carry them through the rest of the season and into October.
The Cubs’ bats remained hot as both Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward went 2-for-4 each driving in one run. Zobrist is in the midst of a hitting streak and is showing no signs of stopping. Heyward, who had two doubles, is finally going to show why he was brought in with such a lofty contract. His defense has been spectacular despite the late game miscue between him and Zobrist and it is just a matter of time before he shows his offensive prowess as well.
On the other side of things, despite two consecutive days off, Anthony Rizzo went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in game two. Manager Joe Maddon had given the first baseman game one off to let him have a great and clear his mind. Perhaps this will prove to be the turning point, but so far this season Rizzo has been rather ordinary. His average after game two sat at .229 and while he has 11 home runs and 35 RBIs, his consistent inconsistency is becoming a tad more alarming with each and every game.
Cubs win, 4-1.
Game Three: John Lackey vs. Vince Velasquez
It is getting hard to find different good things to say about this Cubs team. Once again the bats and the starting pitching were there and did enough to will the team to its fifth straight win. There seems to be no stopping second baseman Ben Zobrist. He said hello to the right field bleachers for a three run homer in the third inning to take the 5-0 lead. While Zobrist’s bat is still sure to cool down at some point in the future, his approach to the plate and the game in general is something that the entire rest of the team can look at for inspiration as so many of them are so young. At 35, Zobrist is one of the most clutch players in all of baseball. Known more for is contact than his power, Zobrist is showing the Cubs each and every day what it takes to last in the big leagues like he has. Nevertheless, even Zobrist himself admits he has never had a month like what he has done in May thus far. After all, as of May 29, he is hitting .351 with 35 RBIs. In his last fifteen games, he is hitting .431 and in his last five he is hitting .464.
“Sometimes hitting feels like you’re holding down napkins in the wind: ‘I’ve got to do this and this and this.’ Then you’ve got the ball coming at you. Lately, I haven’t had to do that. That’s the crazy thing about it,” Zobrist said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Starting pitcher John Lackey turned in another solid performance for the North Side as he cruised through seven innings allowing just four hits and one run. He struck out six batters on the day as well.
Cubs win, 7-2.
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