Chicago Cubs sweep San Francisco Giants behind Jordan Wicks’ quality start as younger players help in the postseason hunt – Boston Herald

Jordan Wicks took time to look around Wrigley Field, taking in the standing ovation from Chicago Cubs fans to cap his home debut.

Wicks had just produced his first quality start in the Cubs’ 8-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday to secure a sweep. The 27,443 fans acknowledged Wicks’ performance as he walked off the mound with two outs in the seventh inning. Wicks became the first Cubs starting pitcher since 1901 to record three straight wins to begin his big-league career.

“It was especially nice to have fans cheering for you for once instead of against you,” a smiling Wicks said of his first start at Wrigley. “It was really special for me.”

With their win, the Cubs (76-64) moved 12 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 18, 2019. Coupled with the Milwaukee Brewers’ loss in Pittsburgh, they pulled within 1 1/2 games of first place in the National League Central.

Wicks was able to maintain aggressiveness in the zone once Seiya Suzuki’s two-out, three-run double in the bottom of the first off Giants lefty Alex Wood gave the Cubs a lead they never relinquished. Cody Bellinger’s RBI double and Nick Madrigal’s RBI single in the third put them ahead 5-0. The offense tacked on a run in the fourth (Miguel Amaya home run), sixth (Christopher Morel RBI single) and seventh (Bellinger home run).

Wicks was never in jeopardy of letting the Giants back in the game, partly because of the effort behind him. The defense cleanly handled all 12 grounders Wicks induced, including a double play turned by Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner. Wicks helped himself, too, in the third when he knocked down a comebacker, calmly picked up the ball at his feet and easily threw out Paul DeJong at home.

The comfortable win allowed manager David Ross to stay away from a heavily used back end of the bullpen. Ross hasn’t used closer Adbert Alzolay since Friday because the right-hander is “dealing with stuff” and that “sometimes four days is better than 15 (days on the injured list).

“We try to navigate as best we can, we try to fill holes,” Ross explained. “It’s my job to navigate that and take the heat if I need to: ‘I make the dumbest moves in the world. Why didn’t I throw this guy or that guy?’ Sometimes there’s stuff in this seat that you don’t want everybody to know. Protecting the players is everything.”

The Wicks-Amaya tandem has been an impressive duo. Their familiarity from working together in the minors has led to a 2.16 ERA (four earned runs in 16 2/3 innings) through Wicks’ first three MLB starts. Ross said he wants to pair Wicks with Yan Gomes at some point, but he has liked how the lefty and Amaya have worked together.

“If one thing is not working, he knows immediately where to go apart from that, where to head to as a backup plan or second plan from that experience,” Wicks said of Amaya. “That’s really comforting because we don’t have to call timeout and have those conversations on the mound. He immediately knows. He’s an extremely mature catcher back there, which is really nice to have.”

The Cubs have put trust in their younger players, guys who started the season in the minors and worked their way to the big leagues over the last six months. Their respective performances earned them opportunities to help the Cubs battle for a postseason berth.

“For me almost it’s more calming just because the only thing I’m focused on is winning the game,” Wicks said. “You’re not sitting up here and focused on, like, I could care less what my stats are. I could care less what this is, like, my whole goal when I take the mound is when I come out of the game, I want us to be in the best position possible to win the game and so that’s my whole entire mantra.”

Added Amaya: “We know what’s the deal here. We’ve have to go out there and do our job. This is our business, execute things that we can control and go out there and have fun. (The team) knows what we’re capable of doing. We spend so much time working, just go out there and let things happen.”

All three pitchers who appeared in Wednesday’s win — Wicks, Daniel Palencia and Luke Little — as well as Morel and Amaya are 24 or younger and began the season in the minors. The Cubs have been able to rely on the veteran players who have gotten them to this point while infusing the roster with up-and-coming players who can gain valuable experience the rest of the season.

Competing for the playoffs and concurrently finding big-league success on the player-development side can be challenging parallel tracks. So far, the Cubs’ ability to bring up reinforcements from the minors has helped put them in playoff position. The schedule remains tough with the Arizona Diamondbacks coming to Wrigley for four games beginning Thursday, kicking off two series against them in a one-week span.

“There’s a lot of young talent around here that’s very, very good and getting to experience a winning environment and around a bunch of winners and contributing — that’s a good sign of the health of our organization and hopefully that continues,” Ross said. “It’s a nice series. Back to work tomorrow, we’ve got another team chasing us.”

Alexander Canario and Little made their major-league debuts Wednesday. Six days after his promotion, Canario pinch hit in the ninth versus Giants closer Camilo Doval. Ross acknowledged it wasn’t the ideal matchup but was happy with how Canario battled. He worked a full count before striking out. Little was called up Wednesday morning as the corresponding move to right-hander Shane Greene being designated for assignment.

Little tossed up a zero in the ninth, striking out two of the four Giants he faced. When the Cubs moved him to the bullpen earlier in the season, Little, who began the season at High-A South Bend, realized the organization might be trying to fast-track him to the majors by the end of the year.

“It’s a little bit of adjustment, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to go out and do my job, I’ve got to go throw to the best of my ability and obviously, it’s intensified because we’re in a playoff race,” Little said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and do my job.”


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