The Rundown: Cubs Playing at Another Level, Reds Announcer Takes Swipe at Sandberg, Attend Sunday’s Game with Me

It may have seemed like it’s been forever since the Cubs swept a series, but it’s only been about a month and a half. With yesterday’s 8-3 win, the Cubs managed their first sweep since June 7-9 against the Cardinals.

After playing 50 games in 52 days heading into the All-Star break, it seems a week off has worked wonders for this team. They are certainly carrying a swagger that has been missing for a long time.

“It’s rest,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “People don’t want to listen to that because it’s way too simple. It’s a simple concept. If you’re more rested, you tend to do what you do better. If not, you tend to do it not as good. They don’t let pilots fly too long. They don’t let bus drivers drive too long. I don’t like to drive my RV more than six or seven hours. You lose. You lose something. We all do.”

Jason Heyward has really been carrying this team. He hit a two-run shot to center field in the 5th inning that gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead. The right fielder now has 15 homers, the most he’s hit since a career-high 27 in 2012. Heyward is batting .383 (23 for 60) with five homers,14 RBI and 12 runs in his last 16 games.

Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. went back-to-back in the sixth inning as Chicago pulled away from Pittsburgh, getting José Quintana his third straight win after the lefty suffered through six straight losses.

The Cubs have been a streaky team all season, but they played this series on a different level, looking more like the team that pummeled the Nationals in mid-May. That means they looked less like the team that struggled through a 5-5 homestand against the Mets, White Sox, and Braves three weeks ago.

The Cubs will go chips-in tonight when they welcome the Reds to Wrigley Field for the first of a three-game set. Luis Castillo will start for Cincinnati and he’s tough to beat. The Reds ace has a 3.34 ERA in 43 innings against the Cubs in his career and he’s 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA against the North Siders this season. Still, when the Cubs are streaking, they can beat anybody.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

The Rays lost a combined perfect game in the 9th inning yesterday when Orioles batter Hanser Alberto weakly grounded to beat a defensive shift for a single. There has never been a combined perfect game in MLB history.

The Athletics acquired SP Homer Bailey in a trade with the Royals yesterday. Over 18 starts this season, Bailey has posted a 4.80 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 81 strikeouts and 38 walks.

Oakland swept the White Sox and have now won 24 of their last 35 games. The A’s currently hold the second wild card spot.

The Braves have now gone 9-0-1 in their past 10 series after completing a sweep of the Padres in San Diego.

The Giants thumped the Brewers in Milwaukee on Sunday, taking the series from a team that is usually excellent at home. The Brewers are 9-17 since June 12 and are now 2.5 games behind the Cubs. The Giants are now just 4.5 games out of the second wild card position.

Just days after the experimental rule was introduced, an Atlantic League player became the first professional to steal first base.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Shane Bieber The Indians’ most consistent starter notched his eighth win with a nine-strikeout performance yesterday, cooling off the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins.
  2. Robinson Canó – The veteran second baseman led the Mets to a 6-2 win over the Marlins with a 4-for-5 day that included a solo home run.
  3. José Altuve – The Astros’ infielder was 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a home run, and four RBI as Houston pasted the Rangers.

On Deck

I want to take one of our readers and one of their friends to the Cubs game on Sunday against the Padres. The prize includes two seats in the bleachers with me and two beers or soft drinks. You can eat as many hot dogs as you like, but you’ll have to buy those on your own. We have to arrive and leave separately, but you are both welcome to join me for a postgame drink at Murphy’s Bleachers, my treat.

Here are the rules to enter for a chance to attend the game:

  1. You must be at least 21 to enter with proof of ID.
  2. Leave a comment below stating your interest in attending.
  3. Find me on Facebook and make a donation of at least $5 to the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Woman’s Network through my Facebook fundraising campaign. You don’t have to make a social connection, I will leave my account publicly accessible through July 22.
  4. If you want to donate though their website instead, that’s fine, but I will need proof of your donation.

Extra Innings

Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman is retiring after this season. He said one of his biggest regrets is calling all Cubs fans obnoxious during a 2008 game.

“Far and away the most obnoxious fans in baseball in this league,’’ he called Cubs fans at the time. ‘‘The kind of thing . . . that makes you want to see the Chicago Cubs team lose.’’

The legendary announcer isn’t shy when pointing out that Ryne Sandberg benefited more from the official scorer than any other player in baseball.

‘‘I’m not taking away from the fact that he’s a Hall of Fame player. And I think he’s a great person. But there was an element of home cooking that he got from official scoring that very few players, if any that I can recollect at all, got from their home scorer. And he would never leave his feet to field a ball. Never. And I had a problem with that.’’

Brennaman turned down a chance to work Cubs games on the television side with Harry Caray after DeWayne Staats left in 1989. He has been the voice of the Cincinnati Reds since 1974, taking over for, of all people, Al Michaels.

They Said It

  • “It’s one of those nebulous concepts where you just can’t wrap your mind around it except it’s true. We played well. That’s my takeaway. Of course I like that we won, but we played well. I just want us to go out there and play with the focus and play well, play our game. And you can take what happens after that. Other teams are good. They’re good major-league players. We progressively played better in the series. First game a little rusty. Second game better. Today, I thought, was our best effort.”Joe Maddon
  • “You can play through the physical tiredness, but when you’re going at it every day and getting beat up like we were before the All-Star break, it’s more of a mental grind. I think we’re mentally rested, and that’s a good thing.”Kris Bryant

Monday Walk Up Song

Never Surrender by Corey Hart. The Cubs are on quite the roll since Theo Epstein said the team has been playing flat.

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