The Rundown: Cubs Singled to Death by Nationals, Swept Away, Darvish Opens Big Series in Gotham

I don’t blame Cubs fans if this weekend left them confused and bewildered. After the Nationals drop-kicked them 7-5 yesterday, the Cubs leave Wrigley Field having been swept for the first time all season. In fact, they haven’t lost a home series since dropping two of three to the Reds May 24-26.

Sometimes you run into a team that is just about unbeatable, and right now Washington is that team. They probably won’t sustain it for the rest of the season, though, and the Cubs are perfectly capable of getting on a similar roll in the season’s final month. They’ll need to because they leave town trailing the Cardinals by 2.5 games in the NL Central after St. Louis swept the Rockies over the weekend.

The Cubs used eight pitchers yesterday and though some of the moves seemed to be head-scratchers, I can only assume that overmanaging the bullpen only cost Joe Maddon because he had to go to Tyler Chatwood for a third straight day. If Maddon has one constant weakness, it’s that he just doesn’t know when (not) to make a change on the mound. He prefers sacrificing bench help in favor of a longer ‘pen so maybe he was just trying to prove a point. It also didn’t help that Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick had trouble recording outs.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Cubs, who will travel to New York to take on the Mets. The North Siders are going to have to get to New York’s bullpen to have any chance of winning the series, and generating all of their offense via the home run won’t get it done in Flushing. Four of the five runs Chicago scored yesterday came courtesy of the longball and they almost won it in the 10th inning with another blast, but a deep drive off the bat of Nick Castellanos was caught at the warning track.

Meanwhile, the Nationals were a relentless singles machine all weekend, outhitting the Cubs 37-20 in the series. Washington had more singles in the three-game set than the Cubs had total hits. Maddon always talks about being better at situational hitting and it’s easy to see why: Of their 14 hits yesterday, the Nationals singled 11 times. That kind of production wears on pitchers and creates potentially big innings.

Despite the sweep, the Cubs remain a game and a half ahead of the Phillies for the second Wild Card spot, though they dropped to four back of the Nationals for home field in the coin-flip game.

As for the Cardinals, they travel to Milwaukee to play the Brewers for three games starting tonight. The Central race will still come down to the last two weeks of September, and ideally the Cubs would like to surpass the Redbirds before finishing this season playing seven of 10 against their lifelong rivals.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Anthony Rizzo sat out yesterday with a sore back, but the team hopes he will be back in the lineup Tuesday night. “It’s a little bit different spot, [Rizzo] said,” according to Maddon. “So we’re not as concerned. … When I talked to him afterwards yesterday he was pretty optimistic.”
  • Entering Sunday’s game, the Cubs ranked last in the National League in contact rate (73.7%), while the Nationals paced the Senior Circuit in that category (79%). Chicago ranked last in the NL in swinging-strike rate (12.4%), while Washington also led the way in that area (9.5%). It is therefore not surprising that the Cubs have also seen the fewest pitches (40.4%) in the strike zone.
  • Chatwood was in a bad spot yesterday, pitching for the third time in the series and in an unfamiliar roll, too. His wild pitch that gave the Nats a 6-5 lead seemed to really deflate everybody.
  • Kyle Schwarber hit his 30th home run of the season yesterday, tying a career high. The two-run blast in the 8th inning also tied the game at five.
  • The Cubs will turn to Yu Darvish Tuesday night in hopes of stopping their three-game skid. He’ll square off against Marcus Stroman, who was limited to four innings in his last start due to hamstring tightness. The Cubs have faced Stroman just once, when he shut them out on three hits as a rookie with the Blue Jays in 2014. Darvish hasn’t walked a single batter in his last five starts.
  • The Cardinals are pulling away from the rest of the division right now and could have a commanding lead by the end of this week if they continue running over opponents.
  • The Nationals haven’t swept a series at Wrigley Field since 2005. The last time the Cubs were swept at home was last September.

How About That!

The Braves swept the Mets and have now won eight straight games.  Josh Donaldson, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Freddie Freeman have each reached the 30-home run club this season. It’s the seventh time, and first since 2003, that the Braves have had three players hit at least 30 home runs.

Anthony Rendon is a stealth NL MVP candidate. Sunday’s performance at the plate gives him an overall slash line of .329/.407/.617 with 29 home runs and 35 doubles. He also remains a defensive asset at third base. Still, it looks like a two-player race between Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso, with a fading Christian Yelich as a dark horse if he can have a hot September.

Prior to New York’s 5-1 victory over the Dodgers, Aaron Judge had promised a well-wisher that he would “hit one for you tonight.” The Yankees outfielder delivered in the 3rd inning, mashing his 16th home run of the season and the 99th of his Major League career.

The Marlins took two of three from the Phillies over the weekend despite having just won four of their previous 20 games. Miami is 7-9 against Philadelphia this season, accounting for 19.1% of their season win total.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Clayton Kershaw – The perennial Cy Young contender notched 12 strikeouts against the Yankees last night, despite taking the loss. Kershaw didn’t walk a single batter.
  2. Anthony Santander – The Orioles left fielder was 5-for-5 with two RBI yesterday, including his 13th tater of the season.
  3. Anthony Rendon – The Nats third baseman had a big game, going 4-for-5 with a home run and two RBI.

Extra Innings

Indeed, the Cubs do look much better in street clothes than they did in those awful all-whites they donned this weekend. This is a nice, playful jab at MLB by the team’s marketing department.

They Said It

  • “They’re hot, probably as hot as any team we’ll ever play right now. They’re putting the ball in play. They’re finding holes. They’re just putting good at-bats together. It’s a lot different from what we saw them earlier in the season. But I think they’re doing that to every team.”Cole Hamels
  • “We’re going to play another hot team, which is the Mets.To take the woe-is-me attitude would do nobody any justice. So we’ve got to wash it and get ready play good baseball in New York.” – Nick Castellanos
  • “It’s something we have to continue to work at, to move the ball, score runs with outs. If it was second and third, nobody out, the ground ball to second base. You score a run and get the other guy to third base. Scoring runs with outs is an art form that we have to accomplish, too.” – Joe Maddon

Monday’s Walk Up Song

New York State of Mind by Billy Joel. Gotham, here we come. Raise your hand if you’re familiar with the Old Grey Whistle Test.

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