Travis Wood delivers in the clutch as Cubs outlast Brewers in 13 innings

Travis Wood delivers in the clutch as Cubs outlast Brewers in 13 innings

MILWAUKEE – At this time last year, the Cubs bumped Travis Wood out of their rotation, turning a one-time All-Star starter into a lefty reliever and creating what could have been an awkward situation. The Cubs also took away what Wood (nine career homers) probably loved most: Hitting.

But the Cubs became a playoff team last season with across-the-board contributions, racing out to the best start in baseball this year with a similar philosophy and a confidence that borders on arrogance.

The Cubs outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning at Miller Park, earning a 2-1 win and their 12th come-from-behind victory this year. It only took 13 innings and five hours against a sub-.500 team in what’s supposed to be a great stadium for offense.

But what a finish for Wood, inheriting two runners in the 12th inning and escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam. Cubs manager Joe Maddon went with a five-infielder alignment as Wood induced a shallow flyball to center fielder Dexter Fowler and a pop-up to shortstop Addison Russell.

“When he came in the game, I said: ‘Understand one thing: If you get out of this, you get an at-bat,’” Maddon said. “That kind of jacked him up a bit. That’s just how he operates, man.”

After retiring Hernan Perez and Aaron Hill, Wood earned his at-bat by forcing another pop-out, this time from pinch-hitter Martin Maldonado. Wood then bailed out the offense again by drawing a five-pitch walk against Carlos Torres – Milwaukee’s sixth pitcher – with two outs and the bases loaded in the 13th inning.

“You’re always on your toes with Joe,” Wood said. “That way you never relax and you’re always in the ballgame.

“Nobody gave up and nobody gave in.”

“If you’re going to play that long, you might as well win,” said Kris Bryant, who used three different gloves while playing left field and covering at first and third base.

“(Wood’s) always said that he wants to hit a walk-off homer. I guess that was kind of close to it, especially to work an at-bat like that after sitting on the bench for that long. And just coming off an inning like that, you can’t say enough about it. He’s a fun one to watch and he’s a big part of the success of our team.”

After a guy named Chase Anderson no-hit the Cubs for seven innings and almost put together a one-hit complete-game shutout on Tuesday, Jimmy Nelson shut down a lineup that leads the National League in runs scored. Overall, the Cubs went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving 14 on base and not exactly looking like an American League uber-team.

“Whenever you win a game like that on the road, that really says a lot about your group,” Maddon said. “We hit the ball well all night long. To say you hit the ball well in a 2-1 victory in 13 innings is kind of like ‘I’m an idiot.’ But I’m not.

“We had a hard time dismissing people tonight, but our at-bats were good, the swings are good, I thought everybody looked really good. Give them credit – their pitching and their defense.”

Wood increased the level of difficulty by giving up a leadoff double in the 13th inning, but Neil Ramirez and Clayton Richard (Maddon’s sixth and seventh relievers) combined to get the final two outs. The Cubs will need another strong performance from Jason Hammel (5-0, 1.77 ERA) on Thursday afternoon, to win this series and give the bullpen a break after Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Wood threw 91 pitches combined.

“Victory provides its own energy,” Maddon said. “A win like that jacks up the whole group. I wanted Davey (bench coach Dave Martinez) to walk around (and ask): ‘Who needs tomorrow off?’ Nah, everybody’s good now. There’s so much energy in victory it’s incredible.”

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.