Contreras joins in Chicago Cubs' homer barrage
So just what is it the Cubs are worried about anyway?
Before Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about contingency plans if center fielder Dexter Fowler has to go on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Fowler was not able to play in Sunday night's 10-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were fine without him on this night. Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell each hit home runs, and pitcher Kyle Hendricks struck out a career-high 12 as the Cubs swept the three-game series to improve to 47-20.
And oh yes, yet another kid from the pipeline made his major-league debut, and he made it an explosive one.
Catching prospect Willson Contreras came up as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and hit the first major-league pitch he saw over the wall in center field for a 2-run home run.
The delirious crowd of 41,024 screamed for a curtain call, and Contreras obliged, eating up the attention. Contreras, 24, will get his first big-league start Monday night, but it would be hard to top Sunday.
"It was amazing," he said. "My teammates, everybody was like, 'Amazing.' That's what they said. I was just trying to enjoy the time. I was like, 'Relax, enjoy your time, and have a nice at-bat.'"
The Cubs called Contreras up from Class AAA Iowa Friday to be their No. 3 catcher and soak in the winning atmosphere. A big-time hitter in the minor leagues, he may well be here for a long career if he continues that kind of hitting in the bigs. He is the first major-leaguer to homer on first-pitch seen since Minnesotal's Eddie Rosario on May 5, 2015. He is the first National League player to do so since the Pirates' Starling Marte in 2012 and the first Cub to do so since Jim Bullinger in 1992.
The Cubs set the tone early, with Hendricks hitting his spots consistently on a hot, humid night that was perfect for hitting. But the strikeouts were somewhat surprising.
"A little bit," said Hendricks, who is 5-6 with a 2.94 ERA. "I never go into a game trying to do that, honestly. I think today, it was the changeup. That was the answer."
Rizzo's RBI single gave Hendricks a run in the bottom of the first, and Baez made it 2-0 with a homer in the second. Bryant and Rizzo went back-to-back to start the third. Contreras' homer was made possible by Baez saving the bottom of the sixth by hitting an infield single with two outs. With the crowd already roaring, Contreras wasted no time homering off Pirates reliever A.J. Schugel.
As for the bigger picture, the Cubs seem to have the depth to cover for Fowler, if he has to go on the DL. Jason Heyward started in center field Sunday, moving to right in the seventh, with Albert Almora Jr. coming into the game in center.
But the Cubs would miss Fowler and his .398 on-base percentage.
"He pretty much has set the offensive tone," Maddon said. "You look at the run differential. He's the guy that pretty much set up, him and Zo (Ben Zobrist) did, and Anthony (Rizzo) and KB (Bryant) doing their thing, driving in runs. But this first part of the season really took on the tone that it did because of him. When I say, 'You go, we go,' it's pretty much true. When he's making things happen at the top, the rest of the group seems to fall in order."
Scouting reportCubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field
TV: Comcast SportsNet Monday; ABC 7 Tuesday and Wednesday
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' John Lackey (7-2) vs. Jaime Garcia (4-6) Monday at 7:05 p.m.; Jason Hammel (7-2) vs. Adam Wainwright (5-4) Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.; Jake Arrieta (11-1) vs. Michael Wacha (2-7) Wednesday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: The teams have played two series this year at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, with the Cubs winning four of six, outscoring the Cardinals 34-21. The Cardinals opened Sunday 11½ games behind the Cubs in the NL Central as they try to hang onto a wild-card spot. Aledmys Diaz entered Sunday with a line of .303/.351/.487 with 8 homers and 32 RBI. Brandon Moss had 15 homers. Matt Carpenter was at .300/.417/.559 with 10 homers and 42 RBI. The Cardinals went into Sunday's game against Texas leading the NL in runs scored. They were third in on-base percentage and homers. The Cubs were second in runs and first in OBP. Their pitchers led the league in ERA (2.63) while the Cardinals were sixth (4.03). The Cubs are in the early stages of playing games on 24 consecutive days.
Next: Miami Marlins at Marlins Park, Thursday-Sunday
-- Bruce Miles