Young Cubs dominate Pirates for fourth straight win
|Wednesday, May 18, 2022, 8:49 AM- -|
CHICAGO - Although this season on the Northside is expected to be a rebuilding year, there is no reason the Chicago Cubs (15-20) can't have fun doing it. After shutting out the Pittsburgh Pirates (15-21) on Monday, both teams were back at it Tuesday night at Wrigley, where the Cubs could move into third place with a win.
It was a hectic day for the Cubs on Tuesday with Jason Heyward hitting the IL, Conor Menez getting sent back to Iowa, and most importantly, Marcus Stroman being allowed to return to the team after being shut down with COVID. The first two moves are significant as Bryan Hudson was promoted from AAA Iowa to take the place of Menez, while N0 .21 overall prospect Christopher Morel got the bump from AA to take the place of Heyward.
For a team that is more focussed on the future instead of the present, the Cubs gave their fans a great glimpse of what the future might look like in another impressive 7-0 showing. The win marks the Cubs third consecutive series win after not being able to win a series for over a month.
Making his second start of the season was Keegan Thompson, as the Cubs have finally put him in the rotation. Thompson continued to do Thompson things, allowing just four hits in five shutout innings and adding five strikeouts. His ERA is 1.41, and it is getting to that point where even if Stroman returns, this is a guy you can't move from the rotation.
JT Brubaker got the ball across from him and gave the Pirates an interesting stat line. Despite lasting 5 2/3 innings and striking out 10, Brubaker allowed six runs (four earned) as a large chunk of the Cubs damage came in one inning. Early on, both pitchers were on a mission as Thompson recorded four strikeouts through two innings, with Brubaker adding three.
It was in the bottom of the third when the Cubs broke through for good as Jonathan Villar went the opposite way for his first homer of the season-ending a streak of nearly 140 at-bats without a home. In the fourth inning, the fireworks and excitement began as this was the time when the Cubs started to capitalize on the Pirates miscues.
With Daniel Vogelbach connecting for his first career triple in the top of the fourth, Seiya Suzuki made the play of the game as he caught the ball near foul territory in right and then fired a laser home to nab Vogelbach to keep the Pirates off the board. Willson Contreras and Vogelbach would then have a heated exchange as both benches cleared before resuming play.
Whenever you see incidents like that, it tends to affect teams differently, and for the Cubs, it awakened them. Not only did Contreras lead the bottom of the fourth off by reaching via the error, but Ian Happ saw his infield pop up land on the dirt for a single as the Pirates were imploding in front of the fans.
A Suzuki double followed that up to extend the lead to 3-0 as he is hoping to finish off the month strong after a horrendous start to May. Still, with no one out after Alfonso Rivas drew a walk, Frank Schwindel flared one out to right for another RBI double as Suzuki came home to make things 4-0.
A Villar single and Ilderamo Vargas RBI fielders choice later, and the Cubs used a five-run inning to bust the game wide open 6-0. Looking to get through five innings to secure the win, Thompson retired the Pirates in order and put himself in line for the victory as the bullpen was coming in to work.
Daniel Norris was the first out, facing one batter and then leaving with an injury. That allowed David Ross to bring in Hughes, who was making his major league debut. There was not a single person in the seats that expected Hughes to do what he did as he not only tossed 1 2/3 scoreless frames, but did so by striking out all five hitters he faced. That is an MLB record for a player making his debut, so he does have that to take with him.
With Mark Leiter Jr relieving Hughes and finishing things off in the eighth inning, it was time for another major league debut as Morel entered as a pinch hitter. Showing a good eye and the ability to fight off pitches, Morel worked a 3-2 count as the crowd was getting into it. Morel thrived off that noise as he squared up and mashed his first career homer in his first career at-bat, bringing home the game's final run to make things 7-0.
His homer marked the ninth time in team history that a player homered in his first-ever at-bat, with Contreras being the last to do so. The Pirates went down in order in the ninth as they have now been shut out twice by the Cubs in this series and are approaching 25 innings without a run.