Cole Hamels is delivering like an ace for Cubs

Hamels goes seven scoreless, and Baez gets it done with the bat again

April 18th, 2019

MIAMI -- Sure, the Cubs' first sweep since last August came at the expense of a ballclub with the fewest wins in the Majors.

But Wednesday's 6-0 win over the Marlins at Marlins Park kept the team trending in the right direction.

"That's an easy trap. That's a Major League game, and I really want people to understand one thing: It's very difficult to win a Major League Baseball game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Don't ever think it's just something you can throw your glove out there and do."

Chicago has won six of its last eight games and also moved within one game of .500 for the first time since the season's opening weekend. The series wrapped up a stretch of 12 of 17 games on the road.

The next step from here is simple enough: Get to .500, then take things in increments.

"When our pitchers and our lineup do the job, there's nobody that can beat us," Javier Baez said.

Here are three takeaways from the quick three-game trip to South Florida, where the temperature was 68 degrees warmer than the Second City.

Rotation in command

, who pitched eight innings his last time out, threw seven scoreless frames on Wednesday, striking out eight and allowing just three hits.

Since issuing three walks in his season debut in Texas, Hamels hasn't walked a batter in his last three starts spanning 21 innings.

That nearly changed in Wednesday's seventh inning, when the southpaw fell behind 3-0 in the count to Starlin Castro with the bases loaded, one out and the Cubs ahead, 5-0. Hamels threw three straight four-seamers, getting Castro to chase outside for the punchout. Miguel Rojas proceeded to line out to right field to end the threat.

"The past couple of games, just really trying to stay focused on throwing strikes and executing," said Hamels, who threw 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes. "That's obviously the key to going deep in a ballgame and keep guys off the basepaths: throwing strikes and trying to get outs early. I think ever since that game, it's just always been on my mind this whole season, even in Spring Training. It's maintaining that desire to execute strikes and obviously not give away free passes."

Through their last turn of a four-man rotation, Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana produced a 1.46 ERA (four earned runs in 24 2/3 innings). Hamels, who admitted to being too fine before attacking in the Castro at-bat, and Quintana went consecutive starts without walking a hitter.

"He was really good," Maddon said of Hamels. "That's two nights in a row, our lefties back to back mirror one another. Command of all their stuff, attack the strike zone, good curveball, good changeup, a fastball that was jumping at the end. Really similar performances."

'El Mago' casting spells

Javier Baez, who notched his 500th career hit with an RBI single to right in the third inning, had his stretch of three-hit games snapped at three on Wednesday by going 2-for-4.

Despite that "drop" in production, Baez is feeling it at the plate, even calling it the hottest he has been in this young season. In the eighth inning on Wednesday, he homered in his second straight game, giving him six on the year.

Of his 439-foot homer on Tuesday night, Baez said this: "I think that was one of my best swings that I've had in all my career. I hit it perfectly."

After going hitless during a two-game span over eight at-bats, Baez went 8-for-13 with six runs, three extra-base hits and four RBIs in Miami. Instead of trying to pull everything, his up-the-middle approach returned.

"He's just on a very similar look or pace that he had last year," Maddon said of Baez, who finished as the runner-up for the National League MVP Award in 2018.

Supporting cast up to task

With the noted struggles of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber early on in the season, guys like David Bote and Daniel Descalso have picked up the slack.

Bryant and Rizzo went a combined 2-for-23 in Miami, while Schwarber sat out the first two games of the series before going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts on Wednesday.

Bote, who sustained a brief cramp on Tuesday, finished the series with three hits, two runs, one walk and four RBIs in two games. The veteran Descalso followed up a 2-for-3 showing on Tuesday with back-to-back RBI knocks in the second and third innings on Wednesday.

Baez remembers speaking to former teammate Jon Jay after the Cubs signed Descalso, the only active position player who wasn't with the club last season. Jay's stamp of approval prepared Baez for a teammate who brings energy every day.

"'He's pretty much like me, obviously a different guy, but he's really positive and really cares about winning and doing good,'" Baez recalled. "He's gonna be a huge thing for us."