Cubs snap 2 streaks -- 10-game skid, Braves' 14-game surge

June 17th, 2022

CHICAGO -- After Cubs starter walked off the field in the seventh inning on Friday afternoon, Willson Contreras waited for the young pitcher at the bottom of the dugout steps. Contreras gave him a quick hug of appreciation.

"He's back," Contreras said.

And the Cubs are back in the win column.

Thompson delivered the best start of his career at precisely the right time, using a fastball-heavy attack to set Chicago up for a 1-0 victory over the streaking Braves. Actually, both the North Siders and Atlanta were streaking, but in opposite directions, adding another layer to Friday's contest.

With the win, the Cubs snapped a season-high 10-game losing streak. In turn, that ended the Braves' 14-game winning streak. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time since Sept. 15, 1999 (Phillies over Astros) that a team with a double-digit losing streak defeated a club with a double-digit winning streak.

"I think everybody can take a deep sigh of relief now," Thompson said.

That includes Thompson, who set career highs in innings (six-plus), strikeouts (nine) and whiffs (18), while matching zeroes with Charlie Morton. The 18 swinging strikes were the most for a Cubs pitcher this season and the most since Adbert Alzolay had the same total on May 11, 2021.

Contreras' comment hinted at the recent struggles for one of Chicago's most intriguing arms. In his last two starts, Thompson allowed 12 runs (10 earned) in just 3 2/3 innings in road outings against the Orioles and Yankees. On Sunday in New York, the righty exited after facing only nine batters and recording two outs.

In those starts, Thompson found himself leaning more on a sinker and mixing in a changeup more than he did out of the bullpen.

"I was trying to place balls the last time," Thompson said, "instead of just going after guys and staying in the zone and letting them put it in play. There was a couple of fastballs that were hit in one of my outings. I think it just took me away from it."

In the wake of those appearances, Contreras shared some thoughts with Thompson, who was near the top of MLB's WAR leaderboard into late May as a multi-inning relief weapon. Some of his feedback was about the pitcher's delivery.

"I gave him my point of view. Today, he was right on track," Contreras said. "I'm not saying it's because of me. I'm just trying to help the team. I'm trying to help each guy in this clubhouse. That's what it's all about."

For Friday's game, Contreras served as the designated hitter, giving catcher Yan Gomes the chance to team with Thompson. What followed were six-plus innings in which Thompson was dominant.

Thompson threw 48 four-seam fastballs (52 percent of his 92 pitches on the day) and generated 10 swinging strikes with the pitch. The cutter checked in second at 26 percent. That pitch distribution was closer to how Thompson operated as a reliever (45.5 percent four-seamers and 26.2 percent cutters) than in his previous starts this year (35.6 percent four-seamers and 27.2 percent cutters).

"We know his potential. We know what he's got," Gomes said. "He's got plus-plus pitches on every angle. I think sometimes when you see guys making that transition, they tend to try to pace themselves.

"And that just seemed to be one of the conversations that we were having today, and even before that: 'Don't pace yourself. Come out, give it all you've got. And if you start running out of gas, we'll take you out.'"

As for that fastball-led approach?

"That was just the big message today," Gomes said. "Just come out and, how can I say this? Throw a lot of screw-you fastballs."

As a long-time catcher, Cubs manager David Ross loved what he saw from Thompson against the Braves. Thompson did not take the mound intimidated by Atlanta's streak or the pressure of righting the ship for Chicago. The righty just went after Atlanta with the same ferocity and rhythm that he used to post a 1.54 ERA through May 22 (prior to moving into the rotation full-time).

"I just saw him continue to look in and shake off to heater, heater, heater," Ross said. "Guys were late on his fastball. It was explosive today. He pitched with some meaning today: 'This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to come right after you guys.' I thought the rhythm was really nice. It made everything else tick up.

"Great job by him. We needed that. That was a great performance."