Willson Contreras walked into a mostly empty clubhouse around 10:20 a.m. on Friday, carrying a portable sound system and blasting his music throughout a quiet room. The rookie had already posted a 17-second video on his Twitter account, showing his car dashboard and the soundtrack (“Con Los Santos No Se Juega”) for his morning commute to Wrigley Field.
The Cubs don’t believe in eyewash, telling their players to be dressed by 12 p.m. for a 1:20 first pitch, the day after a night game and with thunderstorms predicted for that afternoon. That back-off message, less-is-more philosophy hasn’t really sunk in with Contreras, who danced to the music as he got dressed at his locker and walked off to the batting cage with a smile on his face.
The Cubs also don’t believe in the dog days of August, with Contreras becoming yet another energy source for the team with the best record in baseball, an 11-game winning streak and a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
That’s where the rivalry stands after a 13-2 blowout in front of 40,848 on a gray, rainy afternoon in Wrigleyville, the Cubs coming at the Cardinals in waves and showing no signs of slowing down. As reporters waited for Joe Maddon’s postgame press conference to begin, the fog machine in the party room set off fire alarms throughout the underground clubhouse.
“It happens every night,” winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “I’m surprised the alarm doesn’t go off more often.”
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Contreras delivered the knockout punch in the second inning, admiring the flight of a first-pitch Adam Wainwright fastball, watching it disappear into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run homer and a 7-0 lead.
The next inning, Contreras started hopping up and down in left field after almost throwing Wainwright out at second base and nearly erasing a soft double down the line. The next inning, with the bases loaded, Contreras grabbed a two-out Jeremy Hazelbaker line drive that almost flew over his head. The manager raved about the “Respect 90” approach Contreras showed on a groundball in his last at-bat.
“He plays with his hair on fire constantly,” Maddon said. “And I love it. I absolutely love it. He’s contagious. I don’t see him changing. He could be here for the next 10 years and I think – with good health – you’re going to still see him run like that to first base.
“Behind the plate, he’s so active and he’s talking in the dugout all the time. He gets to (coach Mike) Borzello in between innings: ‘Give me more information.’
“He’s done a good job everywhere we’ve put him. But, again, don’t forget, this is his baptism. This guy is going to keep getting better.”
That’s the scary thought for a Cardinals team (60-56) trying to gain traction in the wild-card race. On a day where Maddon rested Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist ($253 million combined in guaranteed money), it only took two innings before the Cubs wore out Wainwright, an Opening Day starter and a World Series champion.
Matt Szczur took over the leadoff spot and hammered two home runs and a double, scoring four times and driving in three runs. Jorge Soler – who crushed St. Louis pitching last October during a rivalry-changing playoff series – went 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk, two RBI and two runs scored. Javier Baez chipped in with another two-run homer.
The only drama became whether or not the Cardinals would retaliate for Matt Holliday’s broken thumb. Wainwright hit Szczur’s left shoulder with a pitch in the second inning, and mop-up reliever Jerome Williams drilled Chris Coghlan’s left knee in the seventh, but there were no real fireworks.
There’s only so much animosity the Cubs can generate when they wake up and the computers on FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus give them a 99.8- or 99.9-percent chance to win the division. The Cubs are 32 games over .500 and 10-0 in August, which is only the second time in franchise history they have done that (after winning 18 straight in August 1885).
“We have a lot of youth that’s continued to learn on a really fast pace,” Arrieta said. “But that’s what we need if we want to continue to play this well.”