The Cubs were one play away from this weekend’s three-game series against the Pirates being an unmitigated success. After all, what more could you possibly ask for besides winning each of the three games by football scores?
The answer to that question became perfectly clear in the 3rd inning of Sunday’s series finale. To describe Anthony Rizzo‘s ankle injury as potentially devastating would, in a rare moment for that word’s use in the context of sports, not be hyperbolic. The slugger was quite literally writhing in pain on the infield before being helped to the dugout by Jason Heyward and Cubs trainers.
There was a lot of stuff that happened in this series besides Rizzo’s injury, but it’s hard for it not to be overshadowed by the loss of one of the team’s best players. As it is, though, the Cubs did everything that they needed to do on the field to reverse any perception that they might be playing uninspired baseball.
Everything, of course, except stay healthy.
Friday’s opener started out with a bang, but not a good one. It’s hard to remember just how frustrating the start of this game was, but it looked very much like the Cubs might start their final home stand in the kind of disappointing, sloppy fashion that has become all too common in 2019. Poor defense and a fairly ineffective Jon Lester got the Pirates off to a 4-0 start before many fans had taken their seats.
That deficit disappeared so quickly that it’s kind of hard to remember that it was ever there.
Home runs by Nicholas Castellanos and Willson Contreras got the Cubs to within a run, setting the stage for Nico Hoerner‘s first Wrigley Field at-bat. He got to live the kind of moment that most of us could only dream about as kids.
The Cubs wouldn’t look back from there. Another Contreras home run, a Rizzo grand slam, and a fair amount of additional fireworks allowed the Cubs to overcome a suboptimal start by Lester en route to a huge win.
Not as huge as Saturday’s, though. The Pirates managed a grand total of one full inning of not being blown out. The Cubs dropped a four-spot in the 2nd inning, the first of six consecutive innings in which they would score a run. Castellanos got the party started in this one too, smacking his 51st(!) double of the year to clear the bases and give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
Ben Zobrist hit his first home run of the year, Hoerner hit yet another bomb, and Castellanos banged out one more double to bring his league leading total to 52. Kyle Hendricks was just about as effective as could be asked, pitching six strong innings surrendering only a single run.
The key moment of Sunday’s finale was, quite obviously, Rizzo’s ankle injury. Watching the video is approaching a line that’s a bit too close to traumatic, so I’ll refrain from sharing it here. But the scene is a gut wrenching viewing experience.
The Cubs managed to #WinItForTony on the strength of another offensive explosion, fueled most significantly by a pair of home runs by the other half of the Bryzzo Souvenir Company.
José Quintana was not particularly good on the day, but when your team scores 16 runs, that hardly matters.
- Among Cubs hitters? Well jeez, basically everyone. How could they not be when the team puts up this many runs in just three games? Noted bad and unclutch hitter Bryant stands out above the rest, though. He hit three home runs in the series, seemingly reaping the benefits of a recent cortisone injection. Hey, maybe the Cubs can trade him for someone good (that’s in sarcasm font).
- Let’s get back to Castellanos and his doubles. I mentioned before that he hit a pair on Saturday to bring his total for the year to 52. I didn’t mention that he hit two more on Sunday to extend that total to 54. It’s an insane number that only three Cubs have exceeded in a single season.
- Lester was bitten by some bad defense on Friday, but was not particularly good either way. The veteran lefty got smacked around, allowing 11 hits and walking a pair. The Pirates were driving the ball all over the field early, but he managed to hang on. That the Cubs were able to help him out when he had far from his best stuff is a good sign that maybe they’re actually at the start of a meaningful hot stretch.
Rizzo, Rizzo, Rizzo.
Things went about as well as they could have in all aspects but one. They took care of business against the Pittsburgh Dumpster Fires and, depending on your perspective regarding whether the Cubs should be focused on the division or the Wild Card, things went reasonably well in St. Louis as well. The Nationals were even nice enough to lose two out of three, allowing the Cubs to gain on the first Wild Card spot.
The Cubs and their fans will be hoping for good results in Rizzo’s MRI, which is taking place Monday. A fracture has already been ruled out, which is certainly good for the long term, but even a less than severe strain could easily keep him out for the short remainder of this season.
Cross those fingers, maybe even those toes, and hope for the best.