Cubs

Kris Bryant's three-homer, two-double night powers Cubs' win over Reds

Kris Bryant's three-homer, two-double night powers Cubs' win over Reds

CINCINNATI — When Kris Bryant reached the dugout after his record-setting third homer, thousands of Cubs fans in the stands cheered for a curtain call. A few teammates wanted him to take a bow, too.

Nope. That was the only thing Bryant wouldn't do on his historic night.

Bryant became the first major leaguer to hit three homers and two doubles in a game, and Jake Arrieta added a solo shot in the ballpark where he threw a no-hitter in April, setting up an 11-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

The Cubs pulled out of their 1-6 slide behind a tandem that's had some huge moments in Cincinnati.

"The last couple of weeks haven't been what I've wanted, so I figured I'm due," said Bryant, who hit three homers one time during a college game with San Diego.

Arrieta (12-2) threw his second career no-hitter on April 21 during a 16-0 win over the Reds. Bryant led the way with a pair of homers in that game, including a grand slam that gave him a career-high six RBIs.

Arrieta struggled in his return to Cincinnati, giving up a season-high five runs in five innings, but Bryant drove in six runs again to help the right-hander pull through. Bryant's 16 total bases were a Cubs record, and his five hits marked a career high.

"That keeps you back from those 0-for-20 stretches when you have a game like this," Bryant said.

Bryant doubled home a run in the first, hit a solo homer in the third and added a three-run shot deep into the upper deck in left field in the fourth off Dan Straily (4-5). His solo shot in the eighth came off Ross Ohlendorf, who also gave up a homer to Anthony Rizzo.

Most of the 31,762 fans wore Cubs blue and demanded a curtain call after the third homer. Bryant wouldn't oblige, considering it inappropriate on the road.

"He enjoys the moment, but he doesn't go over the top with it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's very old school. He doesn't spike the ball in the end zone. He just lays it down or hands it to the official."

Arrieta hit an opposite-field drive — his fourth career home run — in the fifth inning off Michael Lorenzen for an 8-3 lead.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner became the league's first 12-game winner despite his worst pitching performance of the season. Arrieta walked a season-high five batters in five innings, and four of them scored. The five runs allowed were his most since he gave up six during a 7-2 loss at Great American Ball Park on Aug. 28, 2014.

"I was my own worst enemy tonight," Arrieta said. "I'm not happy about it."

Adam Duvall had a two-run double in the first inning, Jay Bruce singled home a run and Joey Votto hit a two-run homer off Arrieta, who threw 93 pitches in five innings.

"He still had his stuff," Bruce said. "He just wasn't locating it very well. We had some walks and put some hits together. That's baseball."

The Cubs have the best record in the majors at 49-26 despite their slump last week, characterized by a lack of clutch hitting and poor relief pitching. The bullpen gave up three runs and four hits Monday, including Votto's second homer in the ninth inning.

The Cubs improved to 7-1 against the Reds this season and have won 10 of their last 11 vs. their NL Central rivals.

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?

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USA TODAY

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.