Cubs squeak by in World Series nail-biter, live to fight another day

Cubs squeak by in World Series nail-biter, live to fight another day

Wrigley Field has now seen a Cubs World Series victory in the last seven decades.

On a momentous weekend, the holiday-esque atmosphere around Wrigley Field had the air taken out of it with a pair of losses to the Cleveland Indians on Friday and Saturday nights.

But the Cubs rallied back, keeping the series alive for at least one more game after a 3-2 victory over the Indians in front of 41,711 fans at Wrigley Field Sunday night.

"We're enjoying this win and it's nice to give these fans something to cheer for," David Ross said. "It was nice hearing 'Go Cubs go' after the game.

"We're excited about this win. Hopefully with this momentum, we can take this into Cleveland in two days and kinda go from there."

The formula that led to 111 victories entering this weekend once again showed itself after a two-game absence.

The Cubs played stellar defense, rekindled their offensive approach and executed on the mound, getting another strong start from ace Jon Lester.

"It was a phenomenal game," Ross said. "Well-played, well-pitched by both sides. That's your typical World Series game: 3-2, comes down to every pitch, every play made."

Kris Bryant had been having a rough World Series, but led off the fourth inning with a homer that jumpstarted the Cubs offense.

Anthony Rizzo followed with a double and, after a Ben Zobrist single, scored on Addison Russell's infield chopper. 

Javy Baez laid down a perfect bunt base hit and David Ross - playing in his final home game of his career - worked a professional at-bat to drive home the third run with a sacrifice fly.

That was all the offense the Cubs could muster up, however, as the Indians bullpen once again held them in check. But it was enough.

The Indians scored in the second on a Jose Ramirez homer and two-out single from Francisco Lindor in the sixth.

But that was all Lester allowed, once again showing his postseason grit in six innings.

Carl Edwards Jr. came out for the seventh, but was only able to get one out before Joe Maddon called on closer Aroldis Chapman early.

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Chapman got out of jams in the seventh and eighth and even had an at bat, striking out in the eighth with Jason Heyward on third base.

Chapman - whose season high in pitches was 36 - tossed 42 pitches to keep the Cubs' hopes alive, tossing the longest outing of his career (2.2 innings).

The Cubs now send Jake Arrieta to the mound for Game 6 in Cleveland Tuesday night against Josh Tomlin working on short rest.

Kyle Schwarber will also return to the lineup as the designated hitter.

From an entertainment perspective, if you're a baseball fan or looking to become a baseball fan, it was wonderful tonight, outstanding," Joe Maddon said.

"I like to believe we're going to catch or gain some momentum from this game going back over there."

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.