Since the first homestand in April, the Cubs have shown that they are much more comfortable at Wrigley than they are on the road. On Friday, the trend continued.
Despite coming off of an 8-0 thumping from the Cardinals Thursday night and a 3-6 road trip through San Francisco, Milwaukee and St. Louis, the Cubs beat the Brewers in a relatively drama-free 6-2 win to start the weekend series.
Friday's win came from a familiar recipe. Good pitching plus quality at-bats up and down the lineup equals a happy home field crowd.
Central to that was the mound work of Jose Quintana, who pitched six two-run innings. He struck out five and walked none while giving up seven hits, and he was backed up by an offense that clicked from the very first at-bat. Jason Heyward led off with a home run, Javy Baez went 3-5 with two doubles and a home run and newcomer Nick Castellanos at least put the ball in play each time he went to the plate.
"This guy is really focused," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Castellanos. "Everything he does, man, he's laser-focused."
Castellanos was an at-the-buzzer acquisition Wednesday, but he will likely play an important role down the stretch as the Cubs try to stave off the other two top teams in their division. So his 1-5 with a bloop single might not look like much in the box score, but it is a necessary jolt to the rest of the offense because he put the ball in play all five times.
"He's had some really good at-bats," Maddon said, adding that he thought when Castellanos reached on an error by Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura in the fourth inning that it should have been a hit as well.
On Saturday, the Cubs face Gio Gonzalez, and Maddon said that he looks forward to seeing Castellanos in action against a southpaw for the first time. One of the reasons the Cubs traded for Castellanos was because of how he has hit lefties this year: He's hitting .347 with a 1.026 OPS in 82 plate appearances.
And Castellanos can lengthen a lineup that Maddon said before Friday's game needs to have more "sprayability" and to rely less on home runs to score, especially in road games. Even in the limited sample of two games, he's caught the attention of his new teammates.
"He wants to win, and that stands out to me most. He puts up great at-bats, he's aggressive in the strike zone. Just being on base, he's trying to win, he's looking to do the next thing," Jason Heyward said.
Castellanos ran into an out at third base after reaching on the error in the fourth when he was caught trying to steal after he'd advanced to second on a wild pitch. Even with the out, the energy and extra effort was noted in the home dugout.
"It's just a person that comes in and understands you don't have a chance to win every season," Heyward said. "We have a chance to win a ring, and he wants to make the most of that, so it's appreciated."
The Cubs got hits from every batter in the starting lineup, including Quintana, and on the mound, Q's efforts were followed up by clean innings from Rowan Wick, Brandon Kintzler and Kyle Ryan.
Maddon said afterward that he had hoped for Quintana to be able to pitch the seventh inning, as he was still under 100 pitches at that time. Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas both got hard-hit base hits to lead off the inning, so Wick had to come in and shut down the scoring threat.
"[He] pretty much kept that whole thing in order," Maddon said of Wick. "That was an outstanding performance on his part."
Winning more games at home like this series opener against the Brewers will help to ease the strain of the Cubs' ugly road record, but they might benefit from taking a few away from Wrigley by following Friday's recipe.
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