PHILADELPHIA — They didn’t listen to their manager. They may not in October either. But if Chicago Cubs hitters want to take matters into their own hands, and simply bring the thunder against playoff-caliber pitching, surely Joe Maddon won’t mind.
Before the Cubs’ series-clinching 8-1 win against Aaron Nola and the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Maddon was opining about how to win a game against an elite arm like the Phillies right-hander.
“I still want to see us get back to opposite-field hitting,” Maddon said. “Scoring runs with singles …That’s what we have to show more of to beat the better pitching. To go out there and just beat them up with the three-run homer, that doesn’t normally occur.”
Except it did Sunday against Nola.
But instead of one three-run homer, the Cubs hit three solo shots off the Cy Young contender. The first one came from Daniel Murphy in the third inning, after Nola had struck out seven in a row, mostly with a devastating curveball. He never did recover from the gut punch delivered by Murphy, the Cubs’ latest game-changer on offense.
“I was probably as surprised as anyone to get Aaron right there, as well as he’s been throwing it this year,” Murphy said after the game.
Nola looked human after the blast to right, which came on a 1-2 pitch after several foul balls. Soon after, Anthony Rizzo hit his 23rd home run of the season and he was followed by MVP candidate Javy Baez hitting his 30th of the year while notching RBI No. 100 at the same time. That made it 3-0, and the Cubs never looked back.
They added three triples in the game, compiling three home runs and three triples in the same game for just the second time since 1900, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
So about that scoring with singles Maddon was talking about? It never materialized, not that anyone is complaining.
“We’re just grinding out at-bats,” Murphy said.
If Baez was the offense’s engine in the first half of the season, Murphy has been leader at the plate in the second half. In fact, before Murphy arrived, the Cubs were stuck in neutral on offense, languishing near the bottom of the NL in many post-All-Star break categories. Murphy has been a difference-maker at exactly the time the Cubs needed him.
“Daniel coming here is the separator,” Maddon said. “For a while there we weren’t really playing a wonderful offensive brand of baseball.”
So what does this all mean?
As long as Cubs hitters are thinking about using the whole field, while making contact as often as possible, then good things like home runs will occur. For some reason, they got away from that early in the second half, but the fight has been there since Murphy came on board. Early on, he noticed his new team’s ability to get up off the mat. They did it again this weekend.
“After the first game of the series, it was really an embodiment of what I’ve seen from this ballclub from afar,” Murphy said.
A 2-1 loss in Game 1 of the series was followed by resounding 7-1 and 8-1 victories, with Sunday’s win adding to the Cubs’ list of vanquished aces. If you’re keeping track at home, the Cubs won games just this week that were started by Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Mike Foltynewicz and now Nola. If that’s not getting playoff-ready, nothing is.
“We can be relentless at times,” Maddon said. “I love that about our group. I’m still looking for that moment where we move the ball with a runner on third and less than two outs more consistently, but other than that I thought there was a really good passing of the baton from one batter to the next.”
OK, OK, we get it. Maddon wants more than home runs. For example, the Cubs twice had a runner on third and no outs on Sunday, but got that runner home only once. In fact, the whole reason Murphy is on the team is because the Cubs got away from what made them good on offense in the first half. It’s a little ironic that he’s the guy who changed Sunday’s game, not with an opposite-field dunk, but with a pulled blast to right.
“You get smacked in the face and everything changes,” Maddon said of Nola after the Murphy home run.
As for the Cubs manager’s formula for beating playoff pitching, he was right on the money in regards to at least one thing.
“Beating good pitching starts with having good pitching yourself,” he said. “You don’t beat good pitching unless you pitch better. That’s where it begins.”
Jon Lester delivered, despite some hard-hit balls off him. He put up zeroes for six innings, allowing his offense to catch up to Nola. They did, and the Cubs sealed a big win, which has been a regular thing of late.
“We’ve been playing as well as we’ve been playing all year,” Maddon said.
It’s true. And the Cubs can put even more distance between them and their rivals if they can take care of business against a desperate Brewers team the next three days. And while Murphy has made a huge difference as of late, the noise regarding the MVP candidacy for Baez is getting loud again. Thirty home runs and 100 RBIs isn’t exactly an every-year thing, especially for middle infielders.
“I think everyone is getting to see what the hype is all about when they drafted him and called him up,” Lester said. “Glad he’s on our side.”
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