The Rundown: Cubs Regain Lead for 2nd Wild Card, Bryant’s ‘Mental Grind,’ Montero Hits Grand Slam and Nears Return

We knew this series against the Giants was going to be exciting and important.

Well, last night didn’t disappoint.

Joe Maddon pulled out all the stops, as if he were managing a playoff game. After starter Jason Hammel walked the first two batters in the top of the 5th, Maddon surprisingly replaced him with reliever Justin Grimm. Hammel had thrown only 76 pitches.

The relief corps consisting of Grimm, Tommy Hunter, Jason Motte, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon pitched five innings of two-run, two-hit ball.

Add in a three-run home run from Kyle “Khal” Schwarber (his second HR in as many games), and you have the makings of another special win from a special season.

With the win, the Cubs climb back into the lead for the second Wild Card by a half-game. They also gained a half-game on the idle Pirates, for what that’s worth.

The decision to remove Hammel

Jason Hammel was not exactly pleased when Joe Maddon took him out of the game in the top of the 5th. After the game, Hammel sought clarification from his manager, writes Jesse Rogers.

“I felt like I earned the right to get out of that situation,” Hammel said. “He leveled with me. We’re on the same page.”

Maddon’s reasoning: “The command was a little off with the fastball. I did not want to let them back into the game right there.”

I like both aspects of this situation. I like that Hammel is passionate about wanting to stay in the game, and I like that Maddon was willing to make a bold move to make sure a Cubs win is secured.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this from Hammel. Last year he made some irritated comments after being pulled by then-manager Rick Renteria after 6 innings.

I’m sure this is a heat-of-the-moment thing and that Hammel realizes getting the win tonight was the most important thing. At least I hope so.

A second wind

Watching Kris Bryant lately has been a bit frustrating, as his batting average has plummeted and his strikeouts have come at an alarming rate.

Patrick Mooney writes about the “mental grind” Bryant is going through, and reminds us that this is only Bryant’s second full season as a professional baseball player.

Personally, I think Bryant will eventually break out of this funk he’s been in. Regardless, it’s nice that even in the midst of a bad slump, he is still doing a lot to help the team win (baserunning, taking walks, etc.).

“I’ve been through struggles in every year of my life in baseball, and I’ve learned from it,” Bryant said. “I’m going to come back here stronger from this. It’s all a learning process. We’re winning along the way. My teammates are picking me up — and that’s all I can ask for.”

Other notes

* Jed Hoyer met the media yesterady and said the Cubs don’t have immediate plans to bring up Javier Baez, writes Jesse Rogers. This is something we heard recently from Joe Maddon as well. I still think Baez has a shot to come up in a couple weeks, assuming he keeps hitting at Triple-A. But maybe they will be content to keep him at Iowa for a little longer, with Tommy La Stella making his way back.

* Hoyer also mentioned the Cubs have been active making waiver claims but that the players are being pulled back, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. Hoyer said he thinks it’ll be more difficult this year to pull off an August trade due to so many teams being in contention.

* The rehabbing Tommy La Stella will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, but may stay on rehab a little longer. I’m sure the Cubs would like to be careful with La Stella and make sure his oblique is fully healed before he comes back.

* Miguel Montero, on the other hand, will likely be back with the Cubs fairly soon — possibly on Saturday. Last night, Montero hit a grand slam for Double-A Tennessee.

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