Of course, nothing's ever "so easy" in baseball. Good teams usually sweep bad teams, not the other way around. It's not that easy to sweep a series no matter how good or bad each team coming in is. But this week, the Milwaukee Brewers looked like the definition of a team that's "choking," or, if you will, finding ways to lose. The Cubs took advantage of all of those Wednesday night in a 6-2 win over the Brewers that dropped Milwaukee to three games out of first place. That would be delicious, except that the team that took over first place is the Cardinals, and, with 23 games left in the season, St. Louis looks like the club that's going to win the N.L. Central. Again. Oh, well. We can root for whoever they face in the postseason.
Anyway, this was another solidly-played effort by the Cubs on yet another beautiful
late summer early fall evening. Where has this nice weather been all year?
Kyle Hendricks put together his ninth good-to-excellent start out of 10, and the 10th might have been, too, if it hadn't been interrupted by a three-hour rain delay a couple of weeks ago against the Orioles. Hendricks has eight quality starts out of 10. For whatever that flawed stat is worth, that's just five fewer than Travis Wood, who's made almost three times as many starts. Since Hendricks gave up three runs in his first big-league inning, he has posted an ERA of 1.61 in the subsequent 61⅓ innings. In this one, he allowed a run in the second inning on three straight singles, and then got himself in a bit of trouble with three singles and a run that scored when Chris Valaika just couldn't handle a baseball at first base. With the bases loaded, Rick Renteria decided to pull Hendricks at 80 pitches. Justin Grimm got him out of the jam.
We can forgive that Valaika error, I think, because in the second inning he had hit a two-run homer. Courtesy BCBer ubercubsfan:
Valaika isn't really a major-league player and he really isn't a big-league-quality first baseman. Did you ever think you'd be glad to hear that Mike Olt is returning to the big leagues? (He's expected to join the club Friday after a successful one-game rehab assignment with Kane County in their playoff opener, in which he hit a three-run homer). But Valaika has hit three home runs in 72 at-bats with the Cubs, raised his batting average to .208 with a 2-for-4 night, and was actually intentionally walked in the Cubs' four-run third inning. Sure, it was to face Hendricks, but at that point I was wondering who the tougher hitter might be -- Hendricks or Valaika.
Speaking of that third inning, it was yet another example of how this team can put together big innings without the long ball, and without Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom are out indefinitely. Three different Cubs drove in run, with the big hit being yet another double from Jorge Soler, his fifth in seven games. Welington Castillo also doubled in a run, on a ball that one-hopped into the stands -- Castillo was lucky that happened, as he wasn't even to first base when a fan down the left-field line gloved the ball. Logan Watkins, who went 2-for-4 and who is making the most of his chance to play every day, singled in the Cubs' last run.
After the third, the Cubs' bats were pretty quiet -- just three singles and a walk the rest of the way. But they'd made their statement, and the Cubs' bullpen kept the Brewers just as quiet in their 3⅓ innings of work, allowing just one single. Watkins made a throwing error allowing Jean Segura to reach in the ninth, but Hector Rondon otherwise set the Brewers down in finishing up a game in a non-save situation.
With the win, the Cubs are now 25-36 within the N.L. Central and, at last, no longer have the worst record in the major leagues within their own division. That "honor" now belongs to the Boston Red Sox, whose loss to the Yankees Wednesday dropped them to 24-36 within the N.L. East. More importantly, the Cubs continue to improve on that awful 13-27 start; they are now 51-49 in the 100 games since that record was posted May 16. That's the fourth-best record in the league since that date -- only the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers, the three first-place teams in the N.L., are better.
The Cubs will most certainly enjoy their day off Thursday before taking on the Pirates, another team whose playoff hopes they could ruin, in a three-game set beginning Friday at 1:20 CT. Tsuyoshi Wada will face Pittsburgh's Vance Worley in the series opener.