Even though the Chicago Cubs were spiraling downward prior to the All-Star break, Willson Contreras didn’t want any of his teammates to give up on their postseason aspirations.
Putting their troubles aside seems to be working as the Cubs, losers of 13 of 15 contests prior to the break, will look to complete a three-game sweep when they visit the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday in Phoenix.
“I told my guys, ‘Let’s start from zero. Let’s do it because I believe in this team, I believe in the talent that we have,’ ” Contreras told reporters after Saturday’s dramatic 4-2 victory. “June was a tough month, but it’s already over. We’re looking forward to playing better baseball.”
Contreras was one of the key figures of an unlikely win in Chicago’s second game since the resumption of play following the All-Star break.
The Cubs were one out away from a disappointing one-run loss when Rafael Ortega doubled and Robinson Chirinos drilled a tying single off Arizona right-hander Joakim Soria.
Two pitches later, Contreras drilled the tiebreaking two-run homer to put Chicago ahead. Craig Kimbrel worked the ninth for his 21st save and the Cubs were suddenly celebrating a highly gratifying victory.
Contreras was a key cog as he went 3-for-4 and scored twice. The blast was his 14th of the season.
Chicago manager David Ross said Contreras, who has played in 82 games, is refreshed after the break. He had struck out seven times over the final four contests prior to getting the breather.
“He’s carrying a heavy load for us this year,” Ross said. “For him to get his legs under him at the All-Star break and come through like he did, that’s the right-handed hitter he’s capable of being. He’s pretty good in the box.”
The victory got the Cubs back to .500 at 46-46, but they remain eight games behind the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
Failing to protect the lead represented a bitter low for the Diamondbacks, who own the worst record in the majors at 26-68. Arizona has lost four straight and 55 of its past 66 games.
“It’s like biting on an onion,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “And it’s hard to describe the feeling. It hurts, it’s painful and we feel this way because we care and we should let it burn a little bit. I’m still not where I need to be.
“At some point, I’ll let this one go, but they all hurt no matter what. And this one was as close as you can get, but we just didn’t close it out.”
Arizona has scored just three runs while losing the first two games of the series. The Diamondbacks had just five hits on Saturday.
Josh Rojas had a run-scoring single and is 3-for-8 with two RBIs in the series.
Right-hander Merrill Kelly (5-7, 4.46 ERA) will look to put an end to Arizona’s latest slide.
The 32-year-old Kelly is 3-0 over his past five starts, quite the feat considering the Diamondbacks’ sustained run of futility. He has a solid 2.05 ERA during the span and has struck out 21 and walked three.
Kelly lost his lone career start against the Cubs on April 19, 2019, when he gave up three runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. He walked a career-worst seven and struck out five.
Right-hander Zach Davies (5-6, 4.37) will be on the mound for the Cubs.
The 28-year-old Davies is 0-2 over his past three starts and pitched five innings or less in each of them.
Davies is 4-2 with a 3.44 ERA in six career starts against the Diamondbacks. David Peralta is 4-for-8 with two doubles against Davies, who has allowed homers to All-Star Eduardo Escobar and Christian Walker.
–Field Level Media