Cubs relievers shut off wind, Brewers
When Christopher Morel hooked a 2-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole in the sixth inning, there seemed to be no chance it would turn into a game-winning RBI for the Cubs.
With the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field, it was the fifth home run of the day and the Cubs' bullpen would be hard-pressed to protect an 8-7 lead for three innings.
But the bullpen has turned into a Cubs specialty lately. Michael Rucker and Mark Leiter Jr. shut the door, then Brandon Hughes collected a save for the second consecutive day and the Cubs beat the Brewers on Friday.
"That felt really good," Morel said through a translator. "I wasn't able to help our the team there with that error defensively (in the sixth), but just to be able to help them out offensively, help us get the win, it felt good."
After winning four straight series against the Nationals, Marlins and Reds, the Cubs have proved they can compete with contending teams, edging the Orioles and Brewers the past two days. The Cubs are now 10-4 over their last 14, and pitching has been the biggest reason.
Cubs relievers have had their ups and downs, but the team found some solid additions in pitchers like Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, David Robertson and Mychal Givens the past couple of years. All of those player, plus Scott Effross and Chris Martin, were traded away, but the bullpen has continued to hold its own.
During the 10-4 stretch, Cubs pitching has posted a 2.93 ERA, fourth-best in MLB during that span.
Nine different Cubs pitchers have ERAs below 3.00 over the past two weeks, including relievers Leiter, Hughes, Rowan Wick, Erich Uelmen, Sean Newcomb and Steven Brault. Before the game, manager David Ross talked about how the bullpen of the future is shaping up.
"If you're looking into next year, Ro (Wick) has definitely established himself as a big-league bullpen piece," Ross said. "Hughesy's had a great consistent season. Hopefully we get Codi (Heuer) back (from Tommy John surgery). I think Adbert Alzolay can get back healthy and be a real piece. There's like four right there without even grinding right now."
Starter Keegan Thompson had his second straight short start. He was pulled in the fourth inning after allowing 5 runs and 3 homers. The Cubs led 4-2 after two innings but trailed 5-4 when Thompson left the mound.
The wind wasn't finished yet, though. Patrick Wisdom's 2-run homer to center in the fifth put the Cubs back in front. Kervin Castro gave up a pair in the top of the sixth, but Morel responded in the bottom of the inning.
Besides the pitching development, Morel continued to make a case for being part of a brighter Cubs future. He's survived a few slumps in his rookie season, now has 12 home runs on the year and started at shortstop Friday to give Nico Hoerner a day off.
After Milwaukee took an early lead on Andrew McCutchen's 2-run homer in the first, the Cubs scored 3 in the bottom half. Seiya Suzuki and Franmil Reyes hit nearly identical fly balls off the wall in right-center field. Suzuki's went for an RBI double, while Reyes legged out his second triple since joining the Cubs.
"I thought it was a pop up for sure," Brewers right-fielder Hunter Renfroe said of Reyes' triple. "Then, obviously, we know how the wind's blowing and it carried, carried and carried."
Now nine games into his stint with the Cubs, Reyes is hitting .368 with 7 extra-base hits.
"My confidence went from 20% to like over 120%," Reyes said earlier this week in Washington. "The way they treat me here, the way they let me play, they let me be me -- it's special to be here."
Veteran left-hander Wade Miley was planning to throw a bullpen session Friday and could be close to returning from a left shoulder strain. ... Kyle Hendricks (right shoulder strain) is planning to begin rehab program in Arizona soon.