Just two days ago, the Chicago Cubs’ offense was shut down by a rookie right-handed pitcher and the worst team in baseball. That pitcher, Heath Fillmyer, and the Kansas City Royals held the Cubs to just three hits, two of which came in the seventh inning.
With the combined bad taste of a 9-0 loss to the Royals and 4-3 road trip against terrible teams in their mouths as they strapped things up on Friday, the Cubs’ offense seemed poised for a breakout performance. Jeremy Hellickson, the Washington Nationals’ starting pitcher on Friday afternoon, entered the game after posting a 5.47 ERA during the month of July. Even worse, the right-hander came into Friday sporting an ERA of 7.59 in two career starts against the Cubs.
Despite those two trends seeming to give the Cubs the advantage, Hellickson was spot-on in his outing on Friday at Wrigley Field. The veteran started the game with seven straight balls, walking lead-off Anthony Rizzo and going to a three-ball count on Javier Baez. Baez later struck out swinging on a nasty change-up that Hellickson would feature throughout his start.
Even with Hellickson’s outstanding start, the Cubs were able to generate just enough offense off the Nationals’ bullpen to win 3-2.
The Rizzo lead-off walk ended up being the best chance the Cubs had to score off the Nationals’ starting pitcher until the sixth inning. After the Baez strikeout, Ben Zobrist grounded into a fielder’s choice to the first baseman, moving Rizzo to second for Jason Heyward. Entering play, Heyward was sporting a .310 batting average with runners in scoring position, a number that would trend downward after Heyward lined out to the right fielder, ending the frame for the home team.
As stated above, the Cubs would not get another shot at scoring off Hellickson on Friday until late into his start. Despite that, the Cubs had some hard hit balls off the right-hander, including a deep fly ball off the bat of Kyle Schwarber in the second inning. On a normal day at Wrigley, Schwarber’s drive would have left the ballpark. On Friday with the wind blowing in, however, his blast fell short of clearing the ivy-covered wall.
In addition to Schwarber, Baez had a hard hit ball in the fourth inning off Hellickson. This time, it resulted in a ground out to the pitcher on a ball that would have probably been snagged by the second baseman as the Nationals were shifting slightly against Baez. That 1-3 putout in the fourth was the 10 straight batter retired by Hellickson after walking Rizzo to start the game.
For the Cubs, Kyle Hendricks continued to trend in the right direction. Since posting a 7.03 ERA in the month of June, Hendricks bounced back to the tune of a 3.34 ERA in July. Despite his four earned runs allowed over 5.2 innings six days ago against the San Diego Padres, Hendricks pitched better than his line suggested while not walking a batter for the second straight outing.
On Friday, Hendricks continued his trend of not walking a batter despite continuing his first innings struggles this season. Entering play, Hendricks was sporting a first inning ERA of 8.22, a number that drops to 3.13 in the second and 1.59 in the third inning of play.
The damage off Hendricks this time around came in the form of a single, HBP and RBI single off the bat of Juan Soto that gave the Nationals a quick 1-0 lead. In the very next inning, the Nationals continued to execute and logged their second hit with runners in scoring position. This time, it was Adam Eaton who singled home the run following a Daniel Murphy single and sac-bunt by the pitcher. That RBI base knock pushed Washington’s lead to 2-0 where it would stay for the middle innings and ended the damage against Hendricks.
Even with the bad beginning to his outing, Hendricks was able to settle in, firing six solid innings and keeping the Cubs in contention. The right-hander’s final line looked like this: six innings, eight hits, two earned runs, zero walks and five strikeouts on 85 pitches.
Back to Hellickson. After setting down the final two batters of the fourth inning, the right-hander had retired 12 straight Cub hitters. That streak ran all the way to 17 before Rizzo drew his second walk of the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Rizzo’s walk ended a long at-bat and seemed to unravel Hellickson who walked the next two batters, loading the bases. Hellickson entered the sixth inning with a chance to finish the game and polish off his no-hitter that he was spinning over 5.2 innings. However, with his wildness, the right-hander’s pitch count was pushed all the way up to 89 before he was pulled with his no-no still intact.
The batter with the bases loaded, Heyward, who, as hinted at above, loves to hit with runners on base. Entering play, Heyward was hitting .385 with the bases loaded this season with an OPS over 1.200. On Friday, with the Cubs down two runs and yet to record a hit, Heyward lined a single into right-center field, padding his batting average in that situation and tying the game at two apiece.
After the conclusion of the sixth inning, Hellickson’s line was closed. It looked like this: 5.2 innings, zero hits, two earned runs, four walks and three strikeout on 89 pitches.
The runs scored off Heyward’s single were charged to Hellickson, but the eventual winning run would be charged to the Nationals’ bullpen as Greg Holland failed to keep the Cubs off the board in the following inning.
Still tied into the home half of the seventh inning, the Cubs’ bats finally broke through after staying quite for the better part of their last two games. With just one hit all evening, the Cubs started the seventh with a single off the bat of Schwarber. That was followed by back-to-back singles with one out that loaded the bases for the second straight inning. An inning previous, the Cubs loaded the bases with walks, but this time, it was three singles that did the trick, matching their hit total from Wednesday night’s loss.
Rizzo, who had already drawn two walks on the evening, continued to sit on 999 career hits. With the bases full of Cubs, Rizzo would still not be able to eclipse that career milestone, drawing his third walk of the game, forcing in Schwarber and giving the Cubs a 3-2 lead in the seventh.
With a lead for the first time since Tuesday, the Cubs’ bullpen locked down the win despite back-to-back walks by Brandon Kintzler in the eighth inning. Carl Edwards, who was brought on to end the threat, induced a pop-out and ground out after Soto was picked off first base, ending the Nationals’ only threat to the Cubs’ lead.
Following the win, the Cubs improve to 67-48 while the Nationals fall to 59-57 on the season.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will continue their three-game set with the Nationals on Saturday, August 11 at 3:05 p.m. at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Jon Lester (12-4, 3.44 ERA). After pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA in the first half of the season, Lester has fallen on hard times recently. Over his last two starts, the southpaw has allowed nine earned runs on 15 hits in 10 innings of work. In addition, Lester struck out only four batters in that same time span while at the same time allowing five walks and three home runs.
Opposing Lester on the mound will be Tanner Roark (6-12, 4.21 ERA). Roark, unlike Lester, has been brilliant over his last three outings. Spanning 22 innings, the right-hander has allowed just two earned runs on 14 hits while at the same time striking out 20 batters and walking just one.
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