Cubs hold on to beat Cardinals, continue assault on division


Cubs hold on to beat Cardinals, continue assault on division

Statement made.


The Cubs (87-61) jumped on the Cardinals (92-56) early and held on amidst a pressure-packed ninth inning en route to a 5-4 win over the Redbirds in front of 40,994 at Wrigley Field.

Cubs closer Hector Rondon came out to pitch the ninth but was immediately ejected after hitting leadoff batter Greg Garcia with a pitch.

Both benches had been warned the previous inning after Fernando Rodney hit Kolten Wong with a pitch following Friday's beanball incident. Joe Maddon was also ejected in the ninth.

Zac Rosscup came in and promptly allowed a two-run homer to Matt Carpenter and then back-to-back singles to Tommy Pham and Jason Heyward.

[RELATED - Maddon blows up at Cardinals: 'We're not going to put up with that']

Pedro Strop came on and struck out Jhonny Peralta, induced Yadier Molina to fly out to right field (bringing in the Cardinals' fourth run) and then Addison Russell made a ridiculous diving stop to end the game.

"We didn't hold on to it earlier in the year," Maddon said. "That's the difference between then and now. Earlier in the year, we were not able to hold on against these guys late. Right now, we're holding on and that's a good thing.

"I said at the beginning of the year, they were out-experiencing us and right now, we're catching up in that regard. So give them a lot of credit because they always fight 'til the last drop and I do respect that."

After starting out 4-9 against the Cardinals this season, the Cubs have now won four of their last five games against the division leaders.

[RELATED: Rizzo wanted to 'kill someone' after getting hit by Cards]

A big part of the Cubs' success recently is scoring in the first inning, which they've done in each of those five contests, totaling 10 runs in the opening frame.

Kris Bryant's double and Starlin Castro's two-out single helped plate two early runs for the Cubs off Michael Wacha Saturday.

"Our guys came out ready to play today," Maddon said. "It was pretty impressive the way we started that game against a pretty good pitcher."

The Cubs tacked on with back-to-back homers from Jorge Soler and Bryant in the fifth and a pinch-hit RBI single from Tommy La Stella in the sixth.

Bryant's homer was his 25th of the season, tying Billy Williams for club record for a rookie.

Maddon went with a "bullpen day" Saturday, as Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill combined to allow just one run in the first six innings.

Clayton Richard, Justin Grimm and Fernando Rodney shut the Cardinals down to bridge the gap before the ninth-inning drama.

The Cubs reveled in the playoff atmosphere at Wrigley, with almost 41,000 fans screaming and hanging on every pitch right up until Russell's diving stop.

"That [atmosphere] was the best I've ever seen in a baseball game, personally," Bryant said. "It was a lot of fun. Both sides were really competing.

"Addison - I think that's probably the best play I've seen given the circumstances and where we're at in the season. I mean, to sit on the bench for eight innings and then come in and make a play like that, you just can't make these things up."

The Cubs are now only five games back in the National League Central and have won seven of their last nine against the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

"We want to win the division," Bryant said. "We're showing emotion and we're ready to fight for it.

"We don't want to settle for the wild-card spot. We want it all."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?


2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.