The Cubs got the three wins they needed to put them back over .500 and place themselves second in the division this week against the struggling Nationals. They did this while battling injuries; the injury bug continues to make its way around the clubhouse, as we continue to see new starting position players get injured in Anthony Rizzo and, most recently, Jason Heyward and Justin Steele. (Please can Kris Bryant NOT be next?)
Despite these injuries, the Cubs were able to outscore the Nationals 21-10 this series as the offense continues to putter along. The bullpen pitching is finally looking solid also, which is quite good considering our starters still can’t survive very long into any game, it seems. Without further ado, let’s break down this week’s games.
May 17, 2021
Cubs 4, Nationals 3
WP: Alzolay (2-3) LP: Lester (0-2)
Things started off badly relatively quickly for Jon Lester, making his first start at Wrigley in a Nationals uniform. Just about everyone in the top half of the Cubs lineup was able to hit off him. First it was a couple of singles by the top of the order in the 1st and a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo to score a runner. Then Jason Heyward hit a two-run bomb to center to make it 3-0 Cubs in the 2nd inning. Contreras’s second hit of the night was a solo homer in the 3rd, and by this point just about everyone felt a little bit, just a teeny bit, bad for Jon Lester. But hey, at least Marquee didn’t cut to commercial in the middle of the 1st inning to show the fans of Wrigley giving Lester a standing ovation before he put up this performance!
That being said, our starter, Adbert Alzolay, wasn’t exactly nails either. Although he kept things scoreless through the first two innings, he allowed a Trea Turner home run in the 3rd inning to give the Nationals a little bit of life. To rub salt in the wound, Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the 3rd inning to cut the Cubs’ lead to only one, but the Nats’ bats would die after that.
The Cubs scored one run per inning in the 6th, 7th and 8th. Javy Baez hit a solo homer in the 6th to give the Cubs some insurance. Eric Sogard was able to single on a ground ball to Schwarber, which scored Nico Hoerner. Finally, in the 8th, a Heyward single was able to drive in Anthony Rizzo, who had a double of his own earlier in the inning.
Alzolay survived five innings and didn’t put up a single walk during that span. He had five hits and two home runs, and limiting those homers is something he can work on in the future. The bullpen pitchers that were trotted out after Alzolay did well allowed only one hit between the four of them.
The Cubs also saw a new pitcher make his major league debut, as Tommy Nance pitched the 8th inning. Called up since Alec Mills was put on the IL, Nance isn’t exactly young at 30 years old, but he’s definitely a new face to Cubs fans unless you frequent Iowa Cubs games. He struck out his first big league batter and had some pretty sweet pitches, including this nasty one:
May 18, 2021
Cubs 6, Nationals 3
WP: Thompson (2-1) LP: Harris (0-1)
The Cubs put up another win in this game, pushing the team to back over .500…again. Zach Davies, the starter of the day, allowed all three Nationals runs in 5 innings pitched. He allowed a homer, a walk, and 7 hits total. Luckily for the Cubs, the bullpen and the offense were able to come through for the win this game.
Scoring for the Cubs started in the 3rd inning when David Bote and Nico Hoerner both singled. Willson Contreras singled after a Davies sac bunt to score both of them.
After the 4th inning, Anthony Rizzo left the game to deal with back tightness as a “precautionary measure,” because the injuries won’t stop rolling in for the Cubs. Kris Bryant moved over to first base, because the man can play anywhere nowadays, and Jason Heyward went to right field.
Immediately after, at the top of the 5th, the Nationals were able to get three singles in a row against Davies which tied the game up. Never fear, however; MVP Kris Bryant is here! (For a few more months, at least). He was able to bat in both Hoerner on a ground ball to give the Cubs the lead.
The game continued to stay tight as the top of the inning featured an immediate solo homer by the Nationals to tie the game up again. After Davies allowed another single right after that, he got yanked in favor of Keegan Thompson, who got the three outs for the inning with two strikeouts.
Bote homered at the bottom of the inning after a Matt Duffy walk, and the Cubs never looked back. Ian Happ had a solo homer in the 8th to make the final score 6-3. The bullpen pitched well generally, allowing two hits and striking out six batters between the four of them. They also allowed five walks, but the defense prevailed this game, as is wont to do with the Cubs.
May 19, 2021
Cubs 3, Nationals 4
WP: Scherzer (4-2) LP: Arrieta (4-4)
Runners in scoring position once again killed the Cubs this game, as any other competent team would’ve made something happen in the bases-loaded situation in the 6th inning. However, Contreras and David Bote could not convert enough runs to beat the Nationals’ four. Ian Happ, at least, was able to single to make it 4-2 then, and Javier Baez hit a solo home run in the 9th to make this game at least seem close. However, when you’re facing really good pitching on the mound, sometimes the offense just shuts down.
Max Scherzer, hall-of-famer that he is, struck out eight Cubs, allowing five hits and only two runs. The Cubs had similar issues with the Nats’ bullpen tonight, not being able to convert when in RISP situations and getting struck out five times in the final 2.2 innings of the game.
At least Joc Pederson showed signs of life offensively, after being in the leadoff position for a few games. He had two hits today, leading the team. Poor David Bote was left on base on four separate occasions today, and Arrieta had a hit, surprisingly.
Arrieta’s pitching…well, it was not up to snuff when you take a glance over at the opposing dugout. He allowed seven hits and only struck out two runners. In fact, Tommy Nance again, the first reliever for Arrieta in the 6th, was able to strike out one more runner, and allowed no hits for another pretty impressive outing. More please.
May 20, 2021
Cubs 5, Nationals 2
WP: Steele (2-0) LP: Ross (2-4)
Despite the wind blowing quite strongly out of Wrigley Field, the Cubs were able to keep the Nationals to only two home run hits, by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber…again. Sigh. However, Ian Happ was the star of the show today with two homers, solely responsible for three of the five Cubs runs.
Joc Pederson had another good day, also, with two hits total and an RBI. Anthony Rizzo also had two hits, coming back after sitting out the previous game due to the aforementioned back injury. Luckily for the Cubs, he seemed to get better just in time for Jason Heyward to be put on the 10-day IL today. Covering for him today and through the future is Nick Martini, who debuted quite marvelously with a sac fly RBI to score David Bote and put the Cubs on the board in the 2nd inning, along with scoring on a Joc Pederson single in the 4th to put the Cubs up 4-2.
Trevor Williams allowed the two Nationals’ runs, while also striking out five batters and allowing only two walks. However, he did not survive until the 5th inning, being replaced by Justin Steele. Steele was doing great, allowing no hits, three strikeouts, and only one walk through 1.1 innings until he exited the game due to an injury. Ryan Tepera replaced him, striking out three. Andrew Chafin was able to get out of his inning with no runs thanks in part to yet another amazing Nico Hoerner diving play to save a hit, and Craig Kimbrel got yet another save today with three straight strikeouts in the 9th inning.
After this three-win series, the Cubs have now secured themselves quite precariously in 2nd place in the Central Division, three games back of the 1st-place Cardinals, who the Cubs ironically face this weekend.
The Cardinals are much better than the rest of their division so far, being quite a few games over .500, unlike every other team in the division until the Cubs’ win today that put them over .500 again. The Cards most recently completed a two-game sweep of the Pirates (not hard at all to do) and got trounced by the Padres, getting spectacularly swept themselves last weekend.
On a personal note, I am going camping tomorrow in an area with no TV or internet, so I’m sorry to say I will be unable to cover this weekend’s excitement, despite this being the first series of any actual meaning we’ve had all season. Luckily for all of us, I’ll be back next week to cover the next three game series of the Pirates/Cubs series, because God knows we’d all like to watch more of that.
See you then, and go Cubs go!