The Cubs faced their Central Division rivals for the second time this season and won the series yet again. Their bats were widely awake in the first two games of the series, but seemed to be largely asleep for its finale. Nevertheless, the Cubs season record against the Pirates stands at 5-1 and they hold an eight game lead over them as well. Here’s how the games broke down.
Game One: Jason Hammel vs. Francisco Liriano
After two losses to end the Padres series, the Cubs needed to get off to a hot against the divisional rival Pittsburgh Pirates. With Jason Hammel on the mound continuing his excellence and the team’s deep lineup hitting three home runs, this was yet another easy win for team.
First, let’s dive into Jason Hammel’s performance. Despite a rocky second half of the season last year that was seemingly brought on by injury, the right hander has done more than well so far this season. In this start specifically, he went 6.2 innings, allowing only one earned run. While he allowed eight hits, there was still not much damage done. He threw 103 pitches and 65 strikes. In terms of opposing bats, the Cubs roughest competition of the day came from Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs thanks to a ninth inning homer to cut the Cubs lead to 9-4. Nevertheless, the Cubs pitching throughout the season series against the Pirates thus far has really shown no signs of struggle against their rivals. Hammel was classic Jason Hammel. He’s not the type to go in be a dominant force, but he does give you a reasonable expectation to win the ball game. Fans remember him from his 2014 days as Cubs before being traded in what will ultimately become one of the most significant trades that Theo Epstein and Co. have ever made: Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzjia for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily.
While Dan Straily is no longer with the Cubs organization and McKinney has yet to make his major league debut despite finding tremendous success in the minors, there is no doubt that the Cubs won that trade because of stellar shortstop Addison Russell. In fact, the utter genius of that move became even more readily apparent when emerging superstar Russell disheveled a ball into the left field bleachers to give the Cubs the lead. There is no stopping the depth of this lineup and truly no limit to the greatness that Russell himself can achieve. He seems to be roaring towards an impressive sophomore campaign instead of reeling in a slump that seems to plague so many so often. As his bat gets stronger, so does his defense. He is an invaluable asset to this Cubs team and shows ability far beyond his 22 years of age.
Keeping in tradition with a lack of a sophomore slumps from a young roster, 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant also homered in the game. The 24 year old is hitting .283 on the season driving in 25 RBIs. His strikeout rate has been cut down tremendously and it is only logical that it will continue to get better as the season and his career go on.
Despite success from their stars, the real highlight of the day came from catcher David Ross hit the third home run of the day for the North Side. In his final year as a MLB player, the Cubs players seem to really be uniting around the very likable veteran. Following his home run, teammates were reportedly chatting with him about not retiring, likening the catchers batting skills to that of San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey. Ross sits just one away from reaching the 100 homer mark in his career. And there’s no doubt how badly the rest of the team cannot wait to see him get there.
Cubs win, 9-4.
Game Two: Jake Arrieta vs. Jeff Locke
After a somewhat uncharacteristically average start for the Cubs’ ace against the Padres that saw him pulled before he could be in line to pick up a win, Jake Arrieta bounced back against the Pirates. He went eight innings allowing only three hits while striking out eleven. His dominance was apparent throughout and he exudes on the mound a confidence that should strike up a woeful fear in his opposing batter. Another component that may have enabled Arrieta to have this great start is the return of catcher Miguel Montero to the lineup. He has been sidelined for a while with back injuries, but his return is much of a relief to the team. The man who replaced him, Tim Federowicz, however, truly did a great job filling the spot left vacant. David Ross was brought to the team as a backup catcher designated specifically to catch all of Jon Lester’s starts, so Montero is and always has been the starting catcher for the team. When Kyle Schwarber’s season ended and Montero began dealing with issues of his own, the Cubs depth at the position of catcher was in jeopardy. Montero showed just how valuable he is for the team during the Arrieta start through his seemingly effortless pitch framing.
The bats came out strongly in this one yet again. After relinquishing two runs in the fourth, Anthony Rizzo hit a go-ahead three run homer at the bottom of the inning. From there, the Cubs never looked back. Addison Russell continued to prove his bat is severely underrated with a two run homer in the sixth and the Cubs would later tack on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth.
After struggling to succeed throughout the season thus far, Jason Heyward really showed what he is expected to provide for the Cubs. He went 3 for 4 on the day and drew one walk. While he has yet to hit a home run in a Cubs uniform, it is pretty apparent that he is due to break out soon. He’s been putting more balls in play, but he has been hitting them right at opposing fielders. Given his track record, he is bound to get back on track and start contributing significantly to the lineup.
It’s hard to find something different to say about how great the lineup is because they keep proving themselves, through power, contact, and consistency in each and every game they play. Even their bench players have added significant pieces to the lineup leading the Cubs to have a stronghold on the best record in baseball.
Cubs win, 8-2.
Game Three: Jon Lester vs. Gerrit Cole
Well, the Cubs can’t win every game. Even though their starter Jon Lester threw six no-hit innings, the Cubs lineup was bested by one of Pirates best pitchers in Gerrit Cole who bounced back from a few tough outings against them. He gave up just three hits over eight innings.
Lester was the lone highlight of the day for the North Side, he flirted with a no-no but lost it in the seventh and subsequently gave up a run to give the Pirates the lead.
“You’ve got giant numbers out there telling you what your pitch count is at and you have a giant scoreboard telling you you haven’t given up any hits,” Lester said after the loss, according to ESPN. “But it really doesn’t matter now.”
Other than Lester’s impressive outing, the bats were more asleep than they were awake making for quite a lackluster afternoon at the ball park.
The only notable part of the day for the Cubs came in the bottom of the ninth when an Anthony Rizzo sac fly scored a run, though there would end up being no comeback.
Cubs lose, 2-1. Win series 2-1.
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