I’m not sure why I hadn’t really thought about it until just now when I saw Jeremy Jeffress’s hat in his locker while perusing thumbnails of the videos from last night’s game, but the “M” on the logo becomes a “W” when you turn it upside down. That’s exactly what the Cubs did to the Brewers Thursday night after what had looked like a sure loss for the division leaders.
Not only had the Cubs managed just two runs through eight innings, but they had done so against a team that was holding back three of its top relievers after using them heavily in the previous series. Failure to take advantage of that situation would not have been ideal. Fortunately, a few things broke the right way. And when I say they broke the right way, I’m talking about some pretty crazy stuff.
• I was certain Ian Happ had been beaten to the bag by Jeffress, who displayed a decided lack of hustle in getting over to cover. That would prove to be pivotal, as the safe call was upheld on review. I still say it looked like Happ hit the bag later, but had the pitcher actually busted his butt, the play wouldn’t have been particularly close.
• Then you had Javy Baez up there with two outs and two strikes that came from a pair of wild swings. Probably not the ideal situation, but El Mago snuck one past the shortstop to bring home the tying run. Fantastic production the most dire situation, one of the reasons Javy has been such an offensive force for the Cubs.
• The Cubs had to go with five infielders at one point in the 9th. Wade Davis had loaded the bases with an HBP and single after Justin Grimm had given up a one-out single. The gambit paid off, as Davis struck out Domingo Santana to put the fielders back in a more standard configuration, then got Orlando Arcia to doink a come-backer.
• Kris Bryant. Oh, Kris Bryant. With all the talk about how he’s not performed well in arbitrary situations to which a good deal more import is assigned, he’s continued to have another incredible season. I know it’s hard for some people to believe because the power is down a little bit (due in part to some nagging injuries), but Bryant is putting up nearly identical numbers to those that saw him crowned MVP in a runaway. His go-ahead blast in the top of the 10th his 93rd, tying him with Ernie Banks for most by a Cubs player through the first four seasons of his career. And if you’re getting pensive about that, yes, Bryant is still in only his third season.
• It’s easy to forget about Jake Arrieta after all that happened once he left, but he looked great in his return to the rotation. The timing of the game meant that he could only go five innings, leaving at 71 pitches on a limit of 75-80 and the heart of the Brewers’ order due up. As we’ve seen a couple other times this season, he didn’t miss a lot of bats. In fact, Arrieta generated only two swinging strikes on the evening. He wasn’t getting the ball down very well and allowed a ton of contact in the air, but he limited the damage and kept his mostly anemic offense in the game.
A loss would have put the Cubs in a precarious position, so the resultant swing in the score was about much more than one game in the mental column. Their magic number now reduced to six, the Cubs boosted their playoff odds to 99.4 percent while also pushing the Brewers below the Cardinals — in terms of playoff odds — for the time being.
Another win in Milwaukee would be very big, taking three of four would be absolutely huge. This felt like one of those wins that could really turn the tide of the season for good, the kind that demoralizes an opponent once and for all. Even so, there’s no doubt that this Brewers team is legit and will be a force for years to come.
The relief corps has been really good as a whole and has gotten some very solid performances out of a select few, but the Cubs need to get some longer starts or have the offense build to low-leverage outings. It’s impossible to trust most of the arms with tight games and Wade Davis is going to have to pitch in every single game the rest of the way at this point.
I have to once again tout Brian Duensing for just going out there and getting the job done. Pedro Strop may well be the most underappreciated excellent reliever in Cubs history, which I’m sure has something to do with his hat. And maybe other things. Davis, though, this guy’s on another planet right now. I was all in favor of the trade that brought him to Chicago and I’m guessing I’m not alone.
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I’ll be in Vegas all weekend, which means a Friday afternoon game and AM starts Saturday and Sunday. Lemme know if I need to lay down a bet on the Cubs.