The Cubs have been inconsistent of late and were in need of a shot in the arm from new acquisition Cole Hamels on Wednesday night. The tall lefty appeared to do just that with a very good debut performance backed by some big offense for an easy win.
The Cubs got a reverse Quintana in the 1st inning as starter Nick Kingham struggled mightily. Anthony Rizzo walked and Ben Zobrist doubled to begin the game. Rizzo scored on a Jason Heyward grounder and Zobrist scored when Javy Baez reached on a Sean Rodriguez error at second.
Ian Happ was hit by a pitch and Javy scored when Kingham threw away a pickoff attempt when Baez broke for third. A Kyle Schwarber infield single plated a fourth run, and by the time the inning ended Kingham had 51 pitches. Steven Brault relieved Kingham in the 2nd, walking Happ and Willson Contreras with the bases loaded to make it a 6-1 game.
Hamels actually got an at-bat before he pitched, which was kind of fun. He allowed an unearned run in the 1st after an Addison Russell error, but pitched very well over 5 strong innings.
Brandon Kintzler made his Chicago debut in the 6th and went 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. Rizzo had an RBI groundout in the 6th inning and Contreras blasted a two-run bomb in the 8th to make the Cubs lead 9-1. Brian Duensing allowed a run in the 8th to make it 9-2 and Tyler Chatwood made his first bullpen appearance, pitching around a walk (of course) to close it out in the 9th. (Box score)
Why the Cubs Won
The offense set the tone early by jumping all over the rookie starter in the 1st inning. Giving Hamels a nice cushion before his first outing was a sight for sore eyes after all the early deficits the Northsiders have had recently.
Rodriguez’s error turned out to be big. If he makes the play to retire Baez, the Cubs might have only scored two runs there. They also would not have forced Kingham to throw 50 pitches and leave after only one inning.
Stats That Matter
- Hamels had electric stuff on Wednesday: 5 IP, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 H, 9 K, and 2 BB. He was consistently hitting 94 mph on his fastball and his change up was as nasty as advertised. Some bad luck early, especially on the error in the 1st, pushed up his pitch count and forced him to leave after the 5th.
- Ben Zobrist is totally locked in at the plate right now. He had three hits and a walk Wednesday to move above a .300 batting average. Joe Maddon has done an excellent job resting Zo so he can be fresh down the stretch.
- Javy Baez is just a wizard. He reached base five times against the Pirates, including an unintentional walk. He really has to be a top three MVP candidate at this point.
The Cubs will at least keep a share of first place, but that isn’t the only important thing here. Hamels looked really good and if he can pitch like that the rest of the year the Cubs have a real find.
Chicago heads home for a four-game series with the San Diego Padres starting Thursday. It’s a battle of lefties as Mike Montgomery faces Robbie Erlin at 7:05pm CT on NBC Sports Chicago.