By Cat Garcia
Following a dominant series sweep of the Reds last week in Cincinnati, the Cubs headed to Queens for a weekend series against the New York Mets looking for revenge for last year’s NLCS loss.
If anything, the series was a continuation of last year’s playoffs, as the Cubs once again dropped four straight to the defending NL Champs. After a tightly contested 4-3 loss to the Mets on Thursday, Cubs starters were hit hard in three straight games, as Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester combined for 22 runs allowed in a meager 10.2 IP. The Mets, who live or die by the long ball, lived quite large this weekend, hitting 12 home runs in the sweep. Despite the romping in Queens, however, the Cubs still hold the best ERA in baseball (3.11), a testament to their dominant run prevention so far this year.
Perhaps lost in the carnage was the debut of another Cubs rookie bat in third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who replaced the injured Chris Coghlan on the Cubs active roster. Candelario made his major league debut on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field against Noah Syndergaard and his 100-MPH fastball, a tall task for anyone, especially a rookie in his first taste of big league action. While Candelario did strike out three times, he managed to sneak a sixth inning hit past the Mets’ Norse God. Candelario, whose contact skills are a carrying tool, will likely have more opportunities to impress against non-mythological pitchers.
The Cubs are currently trying on a plethora of bullpen arms for size before likely exploring the trade market at the All-Star Break, as it’s looking as though their search for a shutdown left-handed pitcher will have to extend outside the organization. The Cubs have been rumored to be showing interest in A’s LHP Sean Doolittle, who is currently on the 15-day DL with a shoulder strain, as well as Yankees relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller (though Miller has reportedly been told by the Yankees’ front office that he will not be moved this year).
The Cubs dodged a scare Monday when Kris Bryant collided with Albert Almora, Jr. chasing a flyball Monday against the Reds. “I think I got lucky,” Bryant told reporters on Tuesday. “Yesterday wasn’t the best day in the outfield. Things could’ve been a lot worse.”
Bryant was in left when he ran into Almora chasing Reds pinch-hitter Brock Holt’s fly ball in the fifth inning. The All-Star finished the inning before being pulled in the 10-4 Cubs’ win after a bruise flared up on his leg.
“Right when I hit the ground, I was like, ‘Oh, man, it’s serious,'” Bryant said. “Any time it’s with the knee and it goes a way it’s not supposed to go, it’s scary.”
The Reds knocked off the Northsiders Tuesday 9-5 with John Lackey taking the loss. The Cubs will continue their brief homestand against the Reds before playing a makeup game against the Braves on Thursday. They will then fly to Pittsburgh for one final set with the Pirates before the All-Star Break.
• On the south side, the White Sox are on a bit of a hot streak, taking on the Yankees on the heels of a stretch of four consecutive series wins, including three against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Astros, all of whom they are chasing in the wild card race.
The starting rotation tandem of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon has held the fort down recently, for the most part alleviating some of the stress on a tired bullpen. This, coupled with improved performance from James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez, has carried an inconsistent White Sox offense to a bit of a hot streak.
After a few poor outings to start his Sox career, James Shields has put together three competent starts in a row, including consecutive starts of at least 6 IP with 2 runs allowed or fewer against the Twins and Yankees. Over the stretch, Shields has thrown 17.2 IP with 11 Ks and 7 walks while allowing 6 ER and 2 home runs.
After the All-Star break, the White Sox look forward to the arrival of first baseman Justin Morneau who was signed to the organization on June 9 but is currently still rehabbing from offseason elbow surgery. Morneau hit a strong .310/.363/.458 last season, but did so at hitter-friendly Coors Field. While it’s unlikely Morneau will provide production near that of his MVP-winning days with the Twins, it’d be hard for him to perform worse than current White Sox DH Avisail Garcia, who is hitting a meager .238/.307/.343 on the year.
The Sox lost Tuesday’s match up to the Yankees 9-0, ending a three-game winning run. The White Sox will finish out their series at home against the Yankees Wednesday before an off-day on Thursday. Then stay home and host the cellar-dwelling Atlanta Braves, looking to ride a soft schedule before the All-Star break into the thick of Wild Card contention.