Entering play on Sunday, the Chicago Cubs had turned in two games in which Joe Maddon would likely classify as “vanilla.” Home runs by Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez proved to be the body of the Cubs’ offensive work on Friday while another Baez home run, this time a two-shot, would the only runs scored by the Cubs on Saturday.
Those games, as one would imagine, both resulted in losses as the starting rotation continued to underachieve this season.
Despite that, the Cubs were able to pull-off the victory on Sunday night, defeating the Cardinals 5-2 behind a solid outing from starter Kyle Hendricks.
On Sunday, the Cubs got back to what has made them successful in each of the last three seasons. As things once again did not start out according to plan for Hendricks, the right-hander’s first inning troubles may become something the club has to deal with for the remainder of the season.
Prior to Sunday night, Hendricks had yielded 19 runs in 21 first innings this season. Coupled with that, the right-hander had allowed nine home runs in the opening frame as opposing hitters were slashing .292/.330/.629 off Hendricks. Once again, Hendricks played into both of those trends against a suddenly tough St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup.
Hendricks got Matt Carpenter to pop-out to begin the game ahead of Yadier Molina who continued his hot-hitting ways by shooting a ball into the left-center field gap, resulting in a double. Two batters later, Marcell Ozuna whacked his second home run in as many days, this time a two-run shot on Hendricks’ first pitch of the at-bat. That long-ball put the Cardinals back ahead after Ben Zobrist opened the scoring in the top half of the first with a home run of his own.
Removing the first inning from Hendricks’ statistics page and the young right-hander has been a solid pitcher this season. Across the second through fourth innings, Hendricks owns ERA’s of 3.43, 1.74 and 2.25 respectively. In this most recent start, Hendricks lived up to those sparkling numbers.
A one-out double by Yairo Munoz put a runner in scoring position for the Cardinals for the second straight inning. Hendricks, however, was able to work around that base-runner, inducing a ground ball from the opposing pitcher and getting Carpenter to look at strike three.
Hendricks kicked it up a notch in the third, living up to his sub-2.00 ERA in the frame this season. The Cubs’ right-hander struck out the side, getting Molina and Paul DeJong to wave at strike three while Ozuna watched the third strike bang into the catcher’s mitt.
His fourth inning was once again rather solid, inducing two signature ground outs and yet another strikeout, this time getting Dexter Fowler to chase.
Hendricks’ ability to settle down following another rocky first inning played huge on Sunday night. With the game tied at two after Rizzo blasted his 15th home run to dead center field in the third, the Cubs were able to pull ahead in the visiting half of the fifth frame.
The Cubs’ rally started with one out in the inning as David Bote beat out an infield single where Carpenter appeared to pull his foot off the bag a split-second before the ball hit his mitt. A fielder’s choice and Zobrist double into left field put two runners in scoring position for Jason Heyward.
Entering play, Heyward thrived in run-scoring situations this season. In 74 at-bats prior to Sunday, Heyward was slashing .324/.409/.446, numbers that paid dividends in this situation.
While the result was not exactly what Heyward had in mind, the left-handed slugger got the job done. With a relief pitcher on the mound after Cardinals’ starter John Gant was lifted after 4.1 innings, Heyward rolled a ball to the second baseman Munoz. Munoz then committed the Cardinals’ 85th team error of the 2018 season, a number that leads the majors. The error, which came on the transfer from Munoz’s glove to his hand, caused the Cubs’ third run to score and gave the North Sider’s runners on first and third for Baez.
Baez, who entered play fourth in the majors with 77 RBI, did not disappoint in this scoring opportunity. The 25-year-old shot his 27th double of the season into the left field corner, a hit that plated two more runs, giving the Cubs a 5-2 advantage.
Without Munoz’s error, the Cardinals would have escaped the inning with the game still tied. However, the Cardinals once again shot themselves in the foot, giving the Cubs free chances to score runs. To the Cubs’ credit, they were able to cash in on those opportunities and take control of the game.
Because of that error, those three runs were not earned, helping to preserve the line of Gant who could not finish five innings on Sunday. The right-hander’s final line looked this: 4.1 innings, four hits, two earned runs, two walks and four strikeouts on 62 pitches.
Staked to a three-run lead, Hendricks continued his streak of solid innings, setting down the Cardinals in order in the sixth inning while notching 14 straight retired batters. That streak ran to 17 in the seventh inning as Hendricks continued to mow down the Cardinals’ batters.
After 107 pitches, Hendricks’ night was done after seven frames, a solid bounce-back effort after a rather shaky first inning. The right-hander’s final line looked like this: seven innings, four hits, two earned runs, zero walks and eight strikeouts on 107 pitches.
With the win, the Cubs improve to 61-44 while the Cardinals fall to 53-52 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will kick-off a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, July 31 at 6:05 p.m. at PNC Park. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be left-hander Jon Lester (12-3, 3.06 ERA). Lester has been very impressive this season, after posting an ERA north of four in 2017. On July 20, however, the southpaw reverted to his 2017 ways, allowing eight earned runs on seven hits over three innings of work. Lester’s last start was much better as the southpaw scattered four hits and one earned run over six innings.
Opposing Lester on the mound Tuesday will be Jameson Taillon (7-8, 3.73 ERA). Taillon, who started the 2018 season on the wrong foot, posting a 4.83 ERA in April, has been a much better pitcher lately. Through five July starts, the 26-year-old is sporting a 3.03 ERA and has struck out 31 batters to seven walks in 29.2 innings.
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