By Richard Kagan
Chicago Cubs fans can breathe a sigh of relief — for a day. The Cubs beat Arizona on the road 7-2, and won a series in what seemed like a long time. The Cubs had lost seven out of the last ten games, and almost gave back the great start it had, coming out of the All-Star break.
Chicago (61-55) leads the suddenly hot St. Louis Cardinals by a game. Milwaukee trails by two games. It’s looking like a sprint to the finish.
Jake Arrieta won his 12th game by pitching a quality start. He only gave up one run on a handful of hits. He looked like the old Jake in some innings. His stuff is better than good. When he is on, he is a darn good pitcher. He ERA dropped to 3.73 and that has been the pattern in his recent starts. At this moment, he is the ace of the pitching staff.
Chicago was leading 2-1 when Javy Baez hit a big three-run homer in the 8th inning to give the Cubs a 5-1 lead. Ian Happ then connected for a long drive for another home run. Kris Bryant added a home run in the 9th inning to give the Cubs a 7-1 lead to take some drama from what’s been a draining road trip. It’s a trip that saw catcher Willson Contreras go out with a strained hamstring while running to first base vs. San Francisco. He had to be helped off the field. It looks like he may miss 4-6 weeks of play. He had become the backbone of the offense, and was having a great season. He will return in September in what may be a pennant race.
Jake Arrieta earlier spoke to the media and said he thought the team was ready to separate itself from other teams and that it had what it took to win the Division. That was when the team was on fire back in July. August is another story. Instead of moving on —and widening the gap, the Cubs have played lackluster baseball, while maintaining the slimmest of leads. This team is on a roller-coaster, and where it stops, no one knows for sure.
Jose Quintana has to right himself. He had looked rather ordinary in his recent starts. The Cubs got him in hopes to stabilizing the starting rotation. He hasn’t done that yet. There are a lot of questions marks to this team, who last year, ran away with the Division. Can Alex Avila and Victor Caratini hold down the catcher’s spot until Contreras returns? How does Quintana start to win again? When is Rizzo going to start hitting? Can Javier Baez restrain himself from swinging at that low, outside pitch?
The answers to these questions will come as the games continue. The Cubs have some very good players. There’s still more baseball to be played.