You could see a sense of urgency while watching the Cubs on Friday. Manager Joe Maddon benched well-paid shortstop Starlin Castro and went with rookie Addison Russell, and it paid off defensively. Maddon turned to his closer in the eighth and got huge outs against the heart of the Giants order, and Hector Rondon still had enough left in the tank to finish off a 7-3 win.
The Cubs are treating August like October, and for the Giants, this month now has an October feel to it, too. They're facing all contenders the rest of the month, starting with these Cubs and continuing all the way through a series in Los Angeles that takes them into September. The Giants return home next week for the Astros and Nationals, then travel to St. Louis and Pittsburgh, and then return home for these Cubs and the Cardinals again. That's 22 games the rest of the month, all against contenders, and many against guys like Max Scherzer and Michael Wacha and Scott Kazmir. It's a brutal stretch and it hasn't started well. The Giants have dropped two straight to the Cubs, falling a game and a half back in the Wild Card race.
This loss came with an unwelcome twist. The Giants traded a top prospect for Mike Leake, only to put him on the DL with a hamstring strain after one start. His replacement, Ryan Vogelsong, had good stuff early but got just 12 outs. On the other side, Jon Lester took it to a team that chased him hard in the offseason. The Giants were in the Lester sweepstakes right up until the point that Bobby Evans told reporters he "did not receive a rose," and they were willing to offer $150-ish million to bring the lefty to San Francisco.
That Lester hole was never filled, causing the Giants to go out and chase Leake. Lester, meanwhile, has thrown seven or more innings in seven straight starts and he gave up two earned on Friday. He has given up 11 hits and struck out 17 in his past two starts, both Cubs wins.
"He's turning into the metronome that he is," Maddon said. "You're going to see those kind of performances and it doesn't surprise. I've seen it from the wrong side in the past."
The Giants will see plenty more arms like Lester's over the next month, and you know that somehow they're going to end up facing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke every time they see the Dodgers in September. The other difference during this stretch: The Cubs, unlike say the Diamondbacks or Rockies, haven't let the Giants back into these games. They'll see better bullpens this month and Maddon used his well, bringing Rondon in to save the game in the eighth when the Giants trailed by three and put a runner on ahead of Matt Duffy, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Imagine that, a save in the eighth inning. Leave it to Maddon to be the one to turn to this strategy.
"I was prepared there in the ninth inning to do something differently had he gotten into trouble," Maddon said. "He only had six pitches in the eighth which really helped him get it to the ninth inning. The fact that he did it in 25-26 pitches for five outs, that's pretty solid stuff right there."
--- We talked a lot about Brandon Crawford on the pre-game show and used this graphic that shows just how far he's come. He already has surpassed most of his numbers from last season and added an RBI single today, reaching a career-high 70 RBI. The National Leaguers with 70+ runs driven in: Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey and Crawford.