Cubs keep grinding, make it two in a row over Padres
The Cubs found themselves in first place on June 1. Obviously, there's a long way to go, but the thought of facing someone like New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom in an important playoff game is certainly conceivable.
So it might come in handy that the Cubs have shown a surprising skill this season in grinding out at-bats and making the opposing pitcher work hard.
On Sunday against Cincinnati, Reds starter Tyler Mahle gave up just 1 hit and 1 walk, but threw 98 pitches in 5 innings. On Monday, San Diego's Chris Paddack threw 93 in 4 1/3 innings.
On Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Padres left-hander Ryan Weathers tossed 88 pitches and left after 5 innings. It's tough to beat a great pitcher, but one way to do it is to get him out of the game early.
The Cubs made it two in a row against the Padres. Two-run homers by Patrick Wisdom and Willson Contreras were enough to earn a 4-3 victory, the Cubs' eighth win in their last nine games.
Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks was on his game, except in the fifth inning when he gave up 2 home runs, one to former Cubs catcher Victor Caratini. Still, Hendricks (6-4) picked up a win for the fourth straight outing.
Cubs relievers Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel shut it down in the final 3 innings, allowing just 1 baserunner on a Tepera walk.
Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 13th save. In his last 11 appearances, Tepera has given up 1 hit and no runs, with 17 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.
Before the game, manager David Ross talked about what it takes for a team to collectively force a pitcher into long innings and a high number of pitches.
"I think our guys have done a really nice job of commanding the strike zone and not chasing outside of it," Ross said. "I think the frustrating part with that is at times when you preach owning the zone, not chasing outside of the zone.
"When the zone gets a little bit bigger from one night to the next or (the umpiring) is inconsistent, then that leads to them not having as much success. But I think in general, we've done a nice job of commanding that strike zone and being ready to hit when the ball is in the strike zone and have worked really hard on that."
Ross credited hitting coaches Anthony Iapoce and Chris Valaika, along with quality control coach Mike Napoli with helping teach the Cubs how to extend at-bats.
"So when it's in that zone, they try to let it eat and fire away and get off their 'A' swing," Ross said. "And when it's not, you try to shut it down. At some stretches, that's going to come and go.
"The pitcher on the mound matters and how nasty their stuff is. But I think it's just staying on your plan and being free to swing when it's in your zone."
When it comes to passing St. Louis for first place in the NL Central, Ross downplayed the achievement, while still admitting it's the ultimate goal.
"I don't check the standings too often," Ross said. "We're playing really good baseball. We're getting a lot of contributions from guys who have been called up and are stepping up in moments. That makes me extremely proud. We're getting great starting pitching. Guys are grinding at-bats, the bullpen is still doing phenomenal.
"I understand also, we have a really long way to go. We have such a long season still ahead of us. I try to keep that in perspective. I try to stay in the day-to-day moment with these guys an not get too far ahead."
Anthony Rizzo returned from six games off with a sore back and went 2-for-4 at the plate. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. left in the sixth inning with right oblique tightness.