Cubs win marathon game as Chatwood continues to thrive


Cubs win marathon game as Chatwood continues to thrive

In their 2-1 walk-off win against the Brewers on Saturday, the Cubs combined with Milwaukee for ten double plays and the longest Cubs-Brewers game ever played at Wrigley Field. And Willson Contreras' game-winning home run that landed on Waveland Avenue was the third walk-off homer the Cubs have hit just this week.

There are layers to winning any baseball game, and even more so in one that lasts for 15 innings. Among those layers are the obvious, things like Cole Hamels throwing 7 one-run innings and David Bote scoring on an El Mago-esque slide at home, but there's also the pitching performance of Tyler Chatwood, who threw the final four innings of Saturday's game.

"You’re not put into very good positions when you’re coming in late to a game. You cannot afford to give up runs, and he’s answering the call," Hamels said of Chatwood after the game.

When Chatwood was called upon in the 12th inning, the Brewers already had Christian Yelich on first base with no one out and the game tied 1-1. Chatwood responded by getting Jesus Aguilar to ground into a double play and then striking out pinch hitter Ryan Braun. There was no margin for error for Chatwood, and he walked that tightrope for four innings. Along the way, Chatwood struck out seven batters, walked three, and didn't give up a hit.

Even in the spots when the shaky command that cost him his rotation spot in 2018 looked like it might come creeping back, Chatwood adjusted and got out of the inning.

"That command is getting better and better and better. You’ll still see out of the zone once in a while, but he’s able to get it back," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "And man, it’s electric stuff."

In the 13th inning, Chatwood walked both Travis Shaw and Orlando Arcia, but he mixed in two strikeouts that inning as well, including leaving Eric Thames to look at his 96 mile-per-hour fastball for a third strike to end the frame.

"Chatwood, unbelievable. I mean, that dude has been unbelievable the last two, three weeks. He goes out there, just throws strikes hard," Bote said. "He’s throwing 95, 98 with that curveball and that slider, with starter stuff. To be able to do that is impressive."

Even as the pitches piled up in the cold drizzle that covered Wrigley for the entirety of the afternoon and into the early evening, Chatwood said that he made up his mind to stay on the mound as long as it took. He wasn't sure how much he had left near the end, Chatwood said, but he was determined for Maddon not to have to call upon anyone else to pitch. "I’m going to go out there as long as I can," Chatwood told him.

It's too early in the season to call this Chatwood's redemption story, but he has to be getting close. Last year was disastrous, but Chatwood put in the work to put that behind him.

"I knew something was off and I was fighting myself," Chatwood said of his 2018 season.

Though he felt fine physically and mentally year, Chatwood said, things just weren't right.

"Last year I knew I didn’t lose my stuff. I didn’t have a good year, but my stuff was still there. I think I had some of my best stuff, I just wasn’t able to throw it over the plate," Chatwood said. "So I went back, I refocused and worked on some stuff. Obviously right now I’m seeing the benefits of it."

Hamels, who was ostensibly acquired to take Chatwood's spot in the rotation late last season, was not short with praise not only for what Chatwood did Saturday, but also for what it's taken to get him to this point.

"You have to give him the credit because what happened last year and where he was coming into this season," Hamels said. "He’s got tremendous stuff. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. He’s got lightning stuff that you have to give him the type of credit because he is, he’s attacking, and you see it, you see what he’s able to do."

Maddon said after Saturday's game that Chatwood's pitching improved as he went on. Thanks to some fatigue, Chatwood was not trying to do too much, Maddon said. Extra-inning games can turn otherwise disciplined hitters into big swingers, so winning can come down to pitchers continuing to execute. In Saturday's win, Chatwood was able to do that and give Contreras a chance to jump on a mistake pitch from Brewers reliever Burch Smith in the 15th inning.

Chatwood's performance in the win was another step toward being the kind of pticher Cubs fans hoped for when he signed prior to the 2018 season. And he's feeling it.

"I told you guys in spring I was feeling good. I put in a lot of hard work," Chatwood said. "So this year I’m out there having fun and enjoying it right now."

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Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

For the second time this season, Pedro Strop has added another chapter to the legend of El Mago.

And for at least the second documented time over the last few years, Strop also helped give Javy Baez the motivation needed to lift the Cubs to victory.

On an 0-2 pitch from Mets reliever Seth Lugo in the eighth inning, Baez smacked a 3-run homer into the right-field bleachers, notching the Cubs shortstop another curtain call and sending the 39,077 fans at Wrigley Field into euphoric bliss.

"That was big. He was so frustrated," said Strop, who picked up his 9th save in the 5-3 victory. "When I was walking to the 'pen, he was so frustrated after that first strikeout [against Jacob deGrom]. He was like, 'He's not throwing fastballs, just sliders!' I was like, 'Bro, it's good that you know that. So go up with another plan. Do your thing. You're gonna win this ballgame.'"

Baez's 100th career homer accomplished exactly that and in doing so, changed the entire tone and tenor of the first weekend of summer on Chicago's North Side.

There's no way the Cubs wanted to go into a four-game set with the contending Atlanta Braves after having just dropped three of four to a hapless Mets team that is melting down inside the clubhouse. It also would've been the Cubs' ninth loss in their 13 games, but Baez's clutch blast helped them salvage a series split and maintain sole possession of first place entering a new week of baseball.

"That's the last thing you want to do is lose another one," said Cole Hamels, who gave the Cubs 7 strong innings, but did not factor in the decision. "... That's the momentum we need to take forth, especially with the series that's coming up."

It also continued one of the strangest/coolest statistical oddities of the 2019 MLB season, given that it came on an 0-2 count.

Baez now has more homers after falling behind in the count 0-2 this year than NINE other MLB teams and nearly half of his homers (9 of 19) have come after getting into the extreme pitcher's count:

What makes Baez so tough on 0-2 counts?

For starters, he's never afraid of striking out, possessing a fearless nature Joe Maddon and other Cubs players have admired for some time.

But Hamels also provided some great perspective on why Baez might be so good in a count when pitchers typically dominate:

"I think that's kinda the difficult part with him — sometimes it can always be 0-2 with him," Hamels said. "Even if you haven't thrown a pitch yet, you treat it like 0-2. If that's just the nature of what pitchers do to him — if it's considered almost always an 0-2 count — he's gonna get really good at it because that's just the way he survives and the way he lives and plays the game. 

"With him though, being a teammate, you just know that he's never out of it. He's trying to hit a homer every at-bat, every pitch. That obviously can make a pitcher think a little bit longer and maybe try to be too perfect and therefore that's why they make mistakes."

The win puts a nice bow on what was otherwise a sloppy weekend for the Cubs, who often looked flat at the plate and made uncharacteristic mistakes on the basepaths and in the field. 

Prior to that homer from Baez, the Cubs had only managed to push across 1 earned run in 13 innings against a Mets bullpen that entered the weekend with a 5.39 ERA and more blown saves than any other team in baseball.

It's the second time in just over a week where the Cubs managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but the last time (Anthony Rizzo's homer off Kenley Jansen last Saturday in L.A.) apparently wasn't enough to spark the team to get back to their winning ways. 

Was this Baez blast enough to wake the team from their midseason slumber and be this year's seminal moment that we all look back on in September? 

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

Craig Kimbrel could still make his debut before the current homestand is over, but in the meantime, the Cubs added another intriguing veteran to the bullpen.

Tony Barnette was activated off the 60-day injured list Sunday and Rowan Wick was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa. 

The 35-year-old right-hander has had an interesting career ever since was drafted in the 10th round in 2006 by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Arizona State University. He spent a couple years in the D-Backs organization but then went to Japan in 2010 to pitch for the Yakult Swallows for six seasons.

Barnette returned to the U.S. in 2016, signing a deal with the Rangers and putting up a 3.50 ERA in 125 appearances for Texas over three seasons. The Cubs signed him over the winter to add another arm to the bullpen mix, but he's been hampered by shoulder issues since spring training.

Barnette actually began a rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa in April initially, but made only four appearances before heading back to Arizona to hit the reset button on his recovery. He restarted a rehab assignment with Iowa on June 1 and has been lights out since — he's allowed only a pair of baserunners (1 hit, 1 walk) in 8.1 shutout innings while striking out 9. 

"Patience is a virtue," he said Sunday morning inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. "It's hard to be patient in this game especially when you're expected to be logging innings at the major-league level. Patience was something that I really had to work on and stay with. Stay patient, trust the process, work with the training staff and make sure I was right and I am."

When the Cubs called Barnette over the winter, he said it was definitely a call he wanted to take — to join a team with World Series aspirations and play in front of the fans at Wrigley Field. Now he wants to answer the call out of the bullpen whenever he gets the opportunity.

Joe Maddon hasn't gotten a chance to see Barnette pitch live much due to the early injury in spring training, but the Cubs manager envisions utilizing the veteran righty as a weapon against opposing right-handed hitters. In his MLB career, Barnette has allowed only a .652 OPS to righties vs. a .780 OPS to left-handed hitters.

"He's a strike-thrower. He attacks the zone. He's kind of a fearless guy," Maddon said. "He's an assertive kind of a guy. He's an attacker, he can put the ball on the ground. He's an aggressive sort. Normally pitch-efficient.

"He's very confident right now. He's feeling really good."

When the Cubs signed him over the winter, Barnette was looked at as another potential under-the-radar option in the bullpen and now that the injury is behind him, he and the Cubs are hoping to make good on that potential.

But the Cubs pitching staff is also getting crowded, with Barnette joining a group of bullpen arms that includes:

Pedro Strop
Steve Cishek
Brandon Kintzler
Brad Brach
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery

At the moment, the Cubs have folded both Adbert Alzolay and Tyler Chatwood into a six-man rotation. But they also have Kimbrel's arrival on the horizon as well as the eventual returns of Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr.

It's unknown how all these pieces will fit together, but Barnette could emerge as a reliable piece for Maddon and the Cubs.