Cubs' red-hot starting rotation is 'the engine that's gonna drive the vehicle'

Cubs' red-hot starting rotation is 'the engine that's gonna drive the vehicle'

Cole Hamels still hasn't even been in a Cubs uniform for a full calendar year, but he continues to add to his already eye-popping resume.

After shutting down the Cardinals for eight innings in the Cubs' 3-1 win Friday, Hamels has now permitted just 1 earned run in 22 frames against the division rivals dating back to last season. Fifteen of those innings have come over the last week, as Hamels faced the Cardinals in back-to-back starts and allowed only a lone unearned run in that span.

It is a continuation of the incredible success the Cubs rotation has had the last nine games, posting a 1.96 ERA and 0.80 WHIP while surrendering 3 or fewer runs each time out:

Cubs starters have been averaging nearly 7 innings an outing in that span, taking a huge burden off the bullpen.

Everybody is understandably buzzing about the eventual addition of Craig Kimbrel to the relief corps, but with starting pitching like this, it sets everybody up for success and could be the real key to the Cubs' season.

"All five of our guys, if you look at them all, legitimately nobody's a No. 5 starter and probably nobody's a 4 starter, either," Joe Maddon said. "I believe the starting pitching is the engine that's gonna drive the vehicle, absolutely."

Friday's outing extended Hamels' career record as a Cub to 9-5 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 154 innings across 25 starts. 

He also continues to perform well at Wrigley Field, dipping his career line on Chicago's North Side to 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 128 innings.

Right now, it feels like almost anybody could be considered the Cubs' ace. 

Both Hamels and Jon Lester have gotten through a tough stretch and look lights out once again. Kyle Hendricks has a 2.09 ERA since the beginning of May. Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish are both throwing the ball about as well as we've seen them in a Cubs uniform.

After the game, Hamels admitted that the Cubs rotation is feeding off each other right now — the same way a red-hot lineup helps make everybody on the offense feel like they're seeing the ball well.

"When one guy does well, the next guy wants to do better," Hamels said. "It's kind of the internal friendly team competition that we have inside us to prove to each other that we can do it, too. I think you can see it when you have all four of us sitting and watching. We're encouraging that.

"We want our teammates to do better, because I think that's what it promotes — just that positivity. And you have guys who are pretty good at what they do. Any extra positive reinforcement is just gonna make us even better. 

"That's what we want — we all want to win every game, we want guys to win 20 games and go 200 innings and strike out everybody. We want that and I think you can feel it."

Cubs injury update: Latest on Kyle Schwarber's knee, José Quintana's thumb

Cubs injury update: Latest on Kyle Schwarber's knee, José Quintana's thumb

Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is available in emergency for Wednesday’s game against Cleveland but manager David Ross will try to avoid using him.

Schwarber sustained a right knee contusion after getting hit by a pitch in the sixth inning on Tuesday. He initially stayed in the game before Albert Almora Jr. pinch hit for him in the seventh.

“I don’t want to push that. You start messing with a bruised knee and where that got him, a pretty good spot, that ball that hit him,” Ross said Wednesday. 

Schwarber was originally listed in Wednesday’s starting lineup, batting cleanup and playing left field, before getting scratched. Ross discussed the potential problems Schwarber could encounter by trying to play through the ailment.

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“You just don’t want to create a lot of bad habits with swinging and getting into your legs and being tender or gentle within your legs and hitting,” Ross said. “It can create a lot of bad habits really fast and he’s been having some of our best at-bats.”

Schwarber is fifth on the team in on-base percentage (.357) and tied with Ian Happ for the most walks (8).

Quintana update

Ross said there’s still no timeline for José Quintana’s return to the team but added the lefty’s three-inning sim game in South Bend on Tuesday “went well.” 

In fact, Quintana — who hasn’t pitched this season after slicing a nerve in his left thumb prior to Summer Camp — isn't think about his hand because “it’s not an issue,” Ross said.

“Talking to him, no real issues. I think he’s just gotta continue to build [stamina],” Ross said of Quintana. “Feedback was good from the coaching staff down there yesterday. All the feedback was good.”


Cubs' Javier Báez: Indians' Francisco Lindor is 'the best, but I'm El Mago'

Cubs' Javier Báez: Indians' Francisco Lindor is 'the best, but I'm El Mago'

Ask Javier Báez to rank the shortstops of his generation, and he’ll put Francisco Lindor at the top.

“He’s the best,” Báez said, “but I’m El Mago.”

He pointed at the camera with both hands and flashed a smile. The only thing missing was sparks shooting out of his magician’s fingers.

A two-game series between the Cubs and the Indians this week also meant the matchup of two of the best shortstops in the game: Báez and Lindor. It was also the reunion of two friends.

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Báez and Lindor’s routes to becoming elite MLB shortstops were shockingly similar. Both were born in Puerto Rico, and even played against each other growing up. They both moved to Florida when they were young. Their high schools met in a game that was estimated to have drawn over 100 scouts. They were drafted No. 8 and 9 in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Báez said he and Lindor talk often. Their families famously spent Thanksgiving together several years ago.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m here or not,” Báez said.

On Tuesday, Báez and Lindor arrived at Progressive Field around the same time. They caught up, and Lindor congratulated Báez on his second child – Báez announced earlier this week that he and his wife were expecting. Báez said he asked Lindor to sign a bat for him.

“And I already got it in my locker,” Báez said.

As of this season, Báez and Lindor added another commonality. Both have shared the middle infield with Jason Kipnis.

“They're both better at baseball than me,” Kipnis said. “And I don't know what's in the water over there, or something, but these guys just their natural ability to play this game is astonishing.

“The athletic ability and the way they are very smooth and coordinated -- these two are some of the most coordinated guys in the entire league to be able to do what they do. And to look that smooth doing it so it's not easy. I know both of them work hard to stay that kind of limber and flexible to play the defense that they do.”

Between that highly-attended high school game, multiple All-Star games, international competition with Puerto Rico and the 2016 World Series, Báez and Lindor have shared the field in plenty of big moments.

But his favorite was the double play they turned in the semifinals of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, to help send Puerto Rico to the championship.

To end the 11th inning against the Netherlands, Báez fielded a dribbler at second base and flipped the ball back-handed to Lindor. The shortstop moved through the bag and fired to first.

That’s what happens with you mix “the best” with El Mago.