Whether the Cubs found a Game 3 playoff starter candidate on Tuesday night, they at least earned a second consecutive victory. And that has been rare Cubbie occurrence since their 13-3 rush from the gate this season.
Since then, the Cubs’ only back-to-back wins came Aug. 17-18, Aug. 23-24 and during a three-game streak Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
It’s only the second time since that start that they’ve done it without Yu Darvish earning one of the wins.
On the coldest night of the short season, it was Alec Mills pitching aggressively with a strong wind at his back for six scoreless innings in what amounts to the first round of tryouts for the spot behind Darvish and Kyle Hendricks in the Cubs’ playoff rotation.
Takeaways from the 3-0 victory in the series opener against the Reds:
On a night that began with 20-mph winds blowing in from the outfield, Mills gave up just one hit through four innings, fearlessly pitching to contact as six of the first 12 he faced hit fly balls to the outfield that went nowhere but teammates gloves.
It was the first time in six starts he had not allowed a homer and secured just his second quality start since opening the season with two impressive starts.
He’d allowed eight runs in eight innings over his past two starts before Tuesday.
The Cubs took command of the game early on a pair of two-out triples — a two-run drive by David Bote over the head of Nick Castellanos in right in the second and a drive down the line past Castellanos for another run in the third.
For Báez, it was his first extra-base hit since a homer six days earlier in Pittsburgh — his third since Aug. 24 (a 14-game span). Báez also hit a shot to left in the seventh that got knocked down by the wind for a long out.
“I’d love to tell the Brewers everybody who’s available and not available and have them game plan that way, [major daily newspaper beat guy], Jesus” — Cubs manager David Ross, with a smile, when asked whether rehabbing pitcher José Quintana (lat) might be available to pitch against his nemesis Brewers this weekend after playing catch Tuesday.
Speaking of Quintana…
Quintana’s light throwing Tuesday marked the first day he threw since trying to throw a between-starts bullpen session a week earlier. It would be startling to see him activated at any point during the weekend Brewers series.
Tyler Chatwood also played catch Tuesday, his second day throwing since leaving his Aug. 30 start with forearm inflammation.
And recently acquired bullpen lefty Andrew Chafin (finger) threw from a mound Monday as he remains on track for a return from the injured list in about a week.
Cy Young favorite Yu Darvish (7-1, 1.44 ERA) of the Cubs faces another potential Cy Young candidate in Trevor Bauer (3-3, 2.05) on Wednesday in a rematch of Darvish’s 3-0 win Aug. 29 in Cincinnati. Game time: 7:15 p.m.
League-wide Tuesday, players including Puerto Rican-born Cubs Báez and Victor Caratini, will wear Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 on the day MLB honors the Hall of Famer who died 48 years ago this winter in a plane crash in his native Puerto Rico during a flight to deliver humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
“Wearing No. 21 is going to be a big thing,” Báez said. “Bigger than people think.”