Cubs bullpen finally shines in extra-inning win
Cubs manager David Ross officially loves baseball's new extra-inning rule, which puts a runner at second base to start every half-inning.
The Cubs got their first taste of it Sunday and survived with a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh in 11 innings when a Javy Baez single drove home David Bote with the winning run.
"We won, so it's good so far," Ross said. "It definitely puts a lot of heat in the moment and the heart rate goes up. I think sometimes in (regular) extra innings it ends up being home run derby."
While the Cubs swept the Pirates and improved their record to 7-2, best in the National League, there was a success story behind the victory.
A 2-1 win in 11 innings meant five scoreless innings by the bullpen. With the exception of a couple guys, the Cubs' bullpen has been horrendous so far this season. At the start of the day seven Cubs relievers owned ERAs in double-digits.
Some of those ERAs came way down Sunday as Casey Sadler, Dan Winkler and Ryan Tepera all threw at least one scoreless inning. Jeremy Jeffress, the star of the Cubs' bullpen so far, pitched a perfect 11th to earn the victory.
After the game, Kyle Schwarber repeated the company line that there's plenty of good stuff in the bullpen, it's just that some guys haven't dialed it in yet.
"We spent the first part of spring training and then summer camp, facing these guys in live BPs," Schwarber said. "It's off the charts stuff-wise. I think the more we just keep running these guys out there, the experience is going to come."
Schwarber was also the defensive star of extra innings. In the 10th, he threw out Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings at the plate after Josh Bell dropped a single into left field. Schwarber's throw reached Willson Contreras on the fly and he survived a collision.
"I know Stallings is kind of an average runner," Schwarber said. "When I picked up the ball, I checked out the third base coach and he was giving the sign to go. It was kind of just get it and let it go. It was kind of the janitor toss, I guess. Let it fly and I was just praying it was on line."
The Cubs also erased Pittsburgh's designated runner in the 11th. The inning began with a routine grounder to shortstop, runner Kevin Newman made a break for third and was thrown out easily.
Jon Lester gave the Cubs another quality start, giving up 1 run and 4 hits in 6 innings. The lone run was a homer by Newman in the first inning.
Pittsburgh pitchers Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl were perfect through four innings, before Contreras and Schwarber opened the fifth with back-to-back doubles to make it 1-1.
After the game, Lester talked about concerns with the Cubs scheduled to play in St. Louis next weekend, while reports suggested the Cardinals had more positive coronavirus tests. The Cardinals, whose schedule series in Milwaukee this weekend was not played, released a statement saying there would be no official announcement until Monday.
"I would imagine we're probably not playing those games next weekend, but I can't fully speak to that. That's just my opinion. Maybe there's a way where we flip the schedule around where we're playing someone else.
"I think guys right now just want to keep playing. We're playing well. It stinks we're dealing with this, but it's the nature of the beast. If we're in St. Louis next Friday, we're in St. Louis next Friday. We'll figure it out and we'll try to beat the Cardinals and move on to the next day. Right now today I don't see that happening."
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