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."

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.