Why Tuesday’s win in Milwaukee was so significant for Cubs
MILWAUKEE — You don’t have to remind the Cubs of the significance of July.
David Ross, the players and the team’s front office all know what a strong month could mean for the organization as it heads towards the trade deadline at the beginning of August.
But the start of July wasn’t looking too promising.
The Cubs had lost their first three games of the month and were 1-7 since winning the opener of the London Series.
“We needed a win,” Ian Happ said.
Tuesday, in Milwaukee, they had arguably their biggest of the season, a 7-6 extra innings win over the Brewers.
The Cubs were cruising. They were up 4-0, Kyle Hendricks was dealing and the offense had a baserunner in every inning through the 5th. The Brewers, though, are a pesky bunch and began chipping away in the 5th, tacking on a run against Hendricks.
Then in the 6th, with two outs and Christian Yelich at second base, William Contreras hit a 3-foot, 56.6 mph roller. With Contreras charging towards first on the grass on the inner part of the infield and not in the running lane, catcher Miguel Amaya fielded it, and flipped it to Trey Mancini at first. The throw went past Mancini, into the outfield and Yelich scored and Contreras advanced to second. Ross pleaded his case, arguing that Contreras should have been ruled out on interference, to no avail.
The frustration began to rise, and the momentum seemed to be ever so slightly shifting toward Milwaukee.
The Cubs added insurance runs in the 8th, but Milwaukee rallied in the bottom half with two runs and had the tying run at second base. Ross turned to the dependable Adbert Alzolay for the final out of the 8th and he delivered. In the top of the 9th, the Cubs went down quietly, with Christopher Morel striking out on a pitch timer violation.
Again, the momentum appeared on the Brewers’ side scoring 2 runs off Alzolay with all the batted balls against him having an expected batting average of .440 or below to force extras. That sent the 41,133 fans at American Family Fields going crazy, even with plenty of Cubs fans in attendance.
“There’s ups and downs, even within the game,” Ian Happ said. “Obviously challenging to have something like that happen, where you’re back at 6-6, but it doesn’t stop the job that you have to do and the at-bats you have to take.”
Those are the types of games that have gone against the Cubs this season. Before Tuesday’s win, the Cubs were 10-21 in games decided by 1 or 2 runs.
“We’re not winning those 50-50 games and we’re not winning them because of high leverage pitching, we’re not winning them because of high leverage hitting,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before the game. “And I think that’s ultimately where I look and [say] how do we fix that and what is causing that? Obviously, this is what I do. I spend all my time thinking about like, what are the reasons for that?”
Later that afternoon, the Cubs showed a knack to win those “50-50 games”.
“Fight and claw to do all they can to win baseball games and that was a nice character win,” Ross said. “Hopefully we can build off that and move forward.”
That’s crucial as the team heads into the All-Star break and the trade deadline not too far after that. The Cubs sit 6 games below .500 and 7 games back of the Reds in the NL Central. If they can go on a run from now until the break, that changes the mood ahead of the Midsummer Classic. After the break, the schedule turns in their favor a bit — they play the Red Sox, Nationals, Cardinals, White Sox and Cardinals again — all teams under .500, except the Red Sox who are at .500 and last in AL East.
Suffice to say, a lot can change in that time. Tuesday’s win can help be that sparkplug.
“Obviously, a week ago at this time, we were talking about, the buy side,” Hoyer said. “I still want to be there, we just need to start to climb back to .500 again. And we need to start that quickly in order to do that. And we’ve talked about this, for 12 years or whatever, like you have to evaluate your team and you also have to evaluate the standings. Those are two different evaluations.
“We need to get close to .500.”
The Cubs hope Tuesday’s game is the first step to shifting their luck. It certainly felt that way. That’s what can make this July exciting for them and their fans.
“I think July as a month, comes with a lot of outside noise, sometimes whether it’s trade deadlines or All-Star stuff,” Nico Hoerner said after the game. “And all those things can be positives, too. … I think the only thing that you can really do is what you have in front of you and enjoying games like that, competing in games like that.
“I thought we did a really nice job of that today, whether we won or lost. I thought everyone was in a good spot. Kyle was amazing. And same as yesterday, you know, just give yourself a chance over and over and over and trust that it plays out.”