While the Cubs are preparing for the organization’s first playoff game in seven years, it seemed like the appropriate time to look back month by month at the 2015 regular season.
The Cubs seemingly provided one highlight after another and filled the season with countless memorable games.
From the first win of the year against the Cardinals to the last victory of the regular season in Milwaukee, this three part report will cover every step of the journey of one of the best teams in franchise history leading up to Wednesday’s Wild Card Game.
April and May was a feeling out period for Joe Maddon as he got to know his players. Walk-offs, one-run victories and comebacks in the first two months set the tone for the season. The Cubs were tied with the Cardinals at the top of the division after eight games of the season. And the team finished April with a winning record for the first time in six years.
Kris Bryant made his big league debut. And four days later Addison Russell was called up.
The Cubs swept the Mets, won series against the Reds and Pirates and a blowout in Milwaukee turned into a positive for the Cubs.
- Record – 12-8
- Month in Review – April 2015
April 5 – Cubs Set Opening Day Roster
The Cubs finalized the first roster of the season. Matt Szczur and Jonathan Herrera claimed the last two spots on the 25-man roster. The Cubs opened the season with three catchers, 12 pitchers and 13 total position players. Herrera played a bigger role on the 2015 Cubs than anyone could have envisioned in Spring Training much less when he signed a minor league contract last off-season.
Joe Maddon’s Opening Day rotation: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks.
April 8 – Jake Arrieta Deals the Cards a Shutout – Cubs 2, Cardinals 0
The Cubs won for the first time in 2015 in what ended up being the second game of the season. Starlin Castro drove in Anthony Rizzo with the first run and Castro scored on a sac fly from Miguel Montero.
It was the first win for Joe Maddon as manager of the Cubs on a cloudy, cold day at Wrigley Field.
April 8 – Cubs Sign LHP James Russell to a Minor League Contract
What was overlooked at the time turned out to be a good signing. James Russell returned to the Cubs on a minor league contract and played a rather big role out of the bullpen before he was designated for assignment late in the season.
April 11 – Cubs Outslug and Outlast the Rockies – Cubs 9, Rockies 5
The Cubs posted their first road win of the season. And Dexter Fowler made his old team pay the entire weekend. Fowler set the tone for the offense. Chris Coghlan and Mike Olt hit back-to-back jacks and Starlin Castro smacked the Cubs’ third longball of the game. Jason Hammel posted the win. The game proved to be very costly for Mike Olt. The Cubs’ third baseman was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning that as it turned out broke his wrist. The injury to Olt would open the door for the promotion of Kris Bryant.
April 11 – Bryant Hits First Homer of the Season, Russell Turns in Highlight Reel Play in I-Cubs Victory
Kris Bryant had three hits in Iowa’s third game of the season that included a double and his first longball of the season. Bryant was slow out of the gate, but Addison Russell started his year swinging a hot bat and turning in web gems.
Report includes video of what was to come later in the season at Wrigley Field.
April 11 – Kyle Schwarber Blasts First Double-A Home Run
While the Cubs were taking care of the Rockies at Coors Field and Kris Bryant and Addison Russell were creating highlights with the Iowa Cubs, Kyle Schwarber launched his first homer for the Smokies.
Few thought Schwarber would be in the big leagues in just a couple of months. The front office had not shown the willingness at that point to aggressively promote players to help the Major League team win games. Report includes video.
April 12 – Dexter Delivers the Game Winner – Cubs 6, Rockies 5
Dexter Fowler was down to the last strike with two outs in the ninth and the Cubs trailing 5-4. Fowler launched a two-run homer off LaTroy Hawkins and beat his old team in his return to Coors Field. The Cubs won their first series of the season.
The weekend in Denver had an impact on the Cubs. The days of rolling over and giving up late in games were no longer accepted. This was the first of what would be a season full of comebacks, winning games in their final at bats and showing this Cubs team would not quit until the final out was recorded.
April 13 – Soler Supplies the Power, Alcantara Provides the Walk-Off Win in Extras – Cubs 7, Reds 6
The Cubs won a game for the second time in as many days in their last at bat. Arismendy Alcantara singled in Jorge Soler with the game-winner in the 10th inning and completed the comeback over the Reds.
Jorge Soler went deep twice, the second longball tied the game in the eighth inning. The Cubs were two games over .500 at the end of the night for the first time since 2009.
April 15 – Wood Silences the Reds, Cubs Take the Series – Cubs 5, Reds 0
This was a huge series for the young Cubs at the time. Travis Wood pitched his best game with the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo smacked a two-run home run and handed former Cubs’ right-hander Jason Marquis the loss.
The Cubs won a series at Wrigley against the Reds, which doesn’t sound like a big deal six months later. At the time it was. The Reds treated Wrigley like their second home and knocked the Cubs around for several seasons. But that started to change the summer before when Anthony Rizzo got tired of the Reds and challenged the entire dugout in Cincinnati. This series let the Reds know, the days of the strolling into Wrigley and walking out with wins were over.
April 16 – Cubs Call-Up Kris Bryant, Expected to Make Big League Debut
News hit the wire the Cubs were calling up Kris Bryant to the majors. Bryant was expected to join the team during the next road trip. The front office made the call early and Bryant was at Wrigley Field the next day.
April 18 – Starlin Castro Delivers a Happy Ending in Extra Innings – Cubs 7, Padres 6
The Cubs found a way to beat the Padres at Wrigley on a Saturday afternoon in April. Starlin Castro delivered the game winner in the 11th inning, a single with the bases loaded that plated Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs beat Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant picked up his first hit in the big leagues.
April 20 – Bryant Breaks Out, Arrieta Beats the Bucs – Cubs 5, Pirates 2
Kris Bryant drove in three runs and scored a fourth on a Little League Home Run. Jorge Soler had four hits and Jake Arrieta beat the Pirates for the first time this season. Arrieta retired 20 of the last 22 batters he faced on a Monday night in the Steel City.
Arrieta picked up the 500th strikeout of his career in the seventh inning.
April 20 – Cubs Calling Up INF Addison Russell, Expected to Join Team on Tuesday
Four days after Kris Bryant was called up, the front office made the decision to have Addison Russell join him in the big leagues. Russell was playing second base for the I-Cubs but admitted at the time he had no idea he would be in the majors so soon.
The oblique injury to Tommy La Stella, Javier Baez’s leave of absence and a struggling Arismendy Alcantara led to Russell’s unexpected call-up. Alcantara was sent to Iowa to make room for Russell on the roster and he was not recalled.
- Cubs Calling Up INF Addison Russell, Expected to Join Team on Tuesday
- It’s Addison Russell Day … Russell Set to Make Big League Debut Tuesday
April 21 – Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo Complete Cubs Comeback – Cubs 9, Pirates 8
The Cubs mounted a comeback in Pittsburgh and hung a blown save on Mark Melancon. The Cubs won for the fourth time on the young season in their last at bat. The Cubs loaded the bases in the ninth down 8-6. Castro singled in Anthony Rizzo and Soler. And Kris Bryant scored the game winner on a single from Welington Castillo.
April 26 – Cubs Scratch Out a Sweep – Cubs 5, Reds 2
The Cubs had been the doormat in the NL Central for five years, basically the team where the rest of the division turned when they needed wins. The Cubs swept what ended up being a two-game series in Cincinnati after sitting in the clubhouse for hours the day before waiting out the rain. Addison Russell delivered the big hit, a bases clearing two-out double in the fourth inning. Jake Arrieta picked up his third win of the season.
April 27 – Cubs Drop the Hammel on the Pirates – Cubs 4, Pirates 0
It’s easy to forget how good Jason Hammel was prior to July. Hammel was the Cubs most consistent pitcher in the first two months of the season. And Hammel delivered a gem against the Pirates. Hammel tossed eight innings of shutout ball while Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant drove in all four runs with three two-out hits.
This win secured the Cubs first winning April in six years, a big step for an organization that had lost so many games.
April 29 – Cubs Cleared of Tampering Charges in Hiring of Joe Maddon
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and Alan Nero maintained for six months the team followed the rules during the process of Maddon becoming the Cubs’ manager. The Rays convinced Major League Baseball that Maddon would not have left Tampa unless he knew about the Cubs’ job. And MLB took six months to clear the Cubs of any wrong doings.
The Cubs were in second place on the last day of April, 2 ½ games behind the Cardinals.
- Record – 14-14
- Month in Review – May 2015
May 1 – Jon Lester Shut ‘Em Out, Addison Russell Hit It Out – Cubs 1, Brewers 0
May started with a game of firsts … Jon Lester’s first win in a Cubs’ uniform and Addison Russell’s first big league home run.
Jon Lester pitched a gem on a Friday afternoon at Wrigley. Lester shut out the Brewers and retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced. Addison Russell, the youngest player in the NL, led off the third with a home run into the yet to be completed bleachers in left center. Report includes video of Russell’s blast.
May 6 – Cubs Finally Close One Out in St. Louis – Cubs 6, Cardinals 5
The Cubs’ 25-and-under club drove in all six runs behind another excellent outing from Jon Lester. The Cubs first win of the season in St. Louis. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler collected the RBI and Lester turned the game over to the pen with a lead that was not coughed up.
Joe Maddon was tossed for the second time on the season.
May 9 – Bryant Blasts Off in Blowout Loss to Brewers – Brewers 12, Cubs 4
This was an ugly game but a turning point in the season for the Cubs. Kris Bryant launched his first home run and quieted the critics that were claiming he was all hype. As the game got out of hand, Joe Maddon emptied the bench and he had David Ross pitch the ninth inning.
Ross’ pitching debut relaxed the young team. The Cubs went on a run … and they never looked back.
Report includes video of Bryant’s first big league home run.
May 11 – Bryant and Rizzo Jacks Back Lester – Cubs 4, Mets 3
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back jacks in the first inning and set the tone for the series against the Mets. Bryant christened the new left field bleachers with a two-run homer, his first at Wrigley. Jon Lester was really good and beat Jacob deGrom.
Includes videos of Bryant and Rizzo homers.
May 14 – Cubs Come All the Way Back and Sweep the Mets – Cubs 6, Mets 5
The Cubs were down 5-1 in the fifth inning, but not for long. Matt Szczur, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant drove in the four runs in the fifth and tied the game. Dexter Fowler scored the go ahead and winning run on passed ball. The Cubs swept the Mets … and announced to baseball the young Cubs were going to be around all season.
May 15 – Cubs Win on an Unbelievable Finish to a Wild Day at Wrigley – Cubs 11, Pirates 10
A wild Friday afternoon at Wrigley ended in the 12th inning when Gregory Polanco fell down in right field attempting to catch a shallow fly ball off the bat of Matt Szczur. Starlin Castro scampered in with the winning run, the Cubs fifth straight at the time.
Includes video of Polanco’s slip in what ended up as one of the most memorable wins of the season.
May 16 – Jon Lester Leads the Way, Cubs Win Sixth in a Row – Cubs 4, Pirates 1
Jon Lester beat Gerrit Cole on a Saturday afternoon at Wrigley. The Cubs claimed the series behind Lester. Starlin Castro and Kris Bryant led the offense as the Cubs beat Cole for the first time.
May 17 – Cubs Move Travis Wood to the Bullpen
Travis Wood pitched the ninth inning of the Cubs 4-1 win over the Pirates. Joe Maddon moved a struggling Wood from the rotation to the pen without saying a word. And Wood thrived in his new role for a majority of the season. The fifth spot in the rotation was turned over to Tsuyoshi Wada.
May 19 – Cubs Trade Welington Castillo to the Mariners
The Cubs found a trade partner for Welington Castillo after shopping the team’s former starting catcher since the Winter Meetings. The Cubs received RHP Yoervis Medina in the deal, which did not work out as the Cubs hoped. Castillo was later dealt from Seattle to Arizona and he had a very good season with the Diamondbacks. Moving Castillo cleared a spot on the 40-man roster that would be filled a month later by Kyle Schwarber.
May 21 – Hendricks Keeps the Padres in a Haze for First Complete Game Shut Out – Cubs 3, Padres 0
Kyle Hendricks pitched a gem in the Cubs last game of the season against the Padres. Hendricks not only recorded the first complete game shut out of his career, but it was the first complete game shut out of the season for the Cubs’ staff. Kris Bryant launched a two-run homer in the first inning. And Addison Russell went deep in the seventh.
May 24 – RIZZO! – Cubs 9, Diamondbacks 6
The Cubs spent the weekend at Chase Field and Anthony Rizzo supplied the only win with a three-run home run in the top of the ninth. Jorge Soler tied the game in the eighth and the offense outhit a poor outing from Jake Arrieta. Rizzo drove in six of the nine runs with a home run and a bases clearing double.
Includes video of Rizzo’s blast.
May 26 – Bryant’s Homer Tied It and Russell Walked Off the Nationals – Cubs 3, Nationals 2
Kris Bryant hit a mammoth home run off the left field video board in the eighth inning that tied the game at two. Addison Russell doubled in Jonathan Herrera in the ninth inning for the win.
Video of Bryant’s 477-foot blast is included.
May 31 – Cubs Patience Leads to Walk-Off Win over Royals – Cubs 2, Royals 1
The Cubs ended the second month of the season with a walk-off win in 11 innings over the Royals. David Ross delivered the game winner, a bloop single with the bases loaded in the 11th that plated Kris Bryant. The Cubs found a way to beat the defending AL Champs on a pitcher’s day at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs finished the second month of the season four games over .500 with a 26-22 record, six back of the Cardinals and in second place in the NL Central.