I wrote in the series preview that I thought the Cubs could sweep this series and nothing that I saw during the Cubs' 5-1 win over the Marlins Monday evening dissuaded me from that notion.
This one's another "complaint department is closed" recaps, because the Cubs pretty much did everything right in this win. Even Starlin Castro's error was irrelevant. Instead, it's time to praise Castro because he made a spectacular diving catch on a flare by Dee Gordon that seemed headed for a hit into center field and also hit his fourth home run of the season.
Jason Hammel was outstanding again. He threw 6⅔ innings and allowed four singles and a double. For the fifth time in his 10 starts this year he didn't walk anyone and he struck out a career-high 11. He came one short of tying his career high in pitches, throwing 117. I think Joe Maddon wanted to have him finish that seventh inning, but the Castro error extended the inning. Fortunately, James Russell entered and finished the inning, the only time other than the fourth that the Marlins managed more than one baserunner, without incident.
The 117 pitches is the most thrown by any Cubs starter this year and that many pitches has been thrown in a game by anyone in the major leagues just 22 times this year. Just six times has any starter in baseball gone to 120 or more. That's rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and that would seem to be a good thing in keeping starters healthy, even as it increases bullpen size. Hammel came into this game with a minor issue with a fingernail that had Maddon push his start back a day (which became two with Saturday's rainout). Hammel appeared to have no ill effects at all from that. With the five hits and no walks allowed, Hammel dropped his WHIP to 0.896, which is fourth in the major leagues behind Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer and Shelby Miller, pretty good company.
The Cubs' team record for lowest WHIP in a season by a qualified starter is 0.842. It was set by Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown... in 1908. Since 1945 only four Cubs starters have had a WHIP of under 1.0: Ray Prim (0.998 in 1945), Warren Hacker (0.946 in 1952), Bill Hands (0.994 in 1968) and Dennis Eckersley (0.969 in 1985). Before that you have to go back to 1919 (Pete Alexander, 0.928) to find a qualified starter with a WHIP under 1.0.
Hammel's having an impressive season and clearly is one of the best finds by Theo & Co., both for last year's performance which allowed him to be included in the trade that brought Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to the Cubs, and for this year's. And this performance is from the man generally considered to be the team's No. 3 starter. He could be the best No. 3 starter in the league.
The Cubs had a lead by the game's third batter. Dexter Fowler singled, Kris Bryant walked (again working a walk off an 0-2 count) and Anthony Rizzo doubled in a run. A second run scored on a Jorge Soler groundout. Soler went 0-for-4 batting cleanup, but did drive in that run and had several other good at-bats. The Cubs' other runs scored on a single by Russell in the fourth, a double by Bryant in the seventh and Castro's homer.
Pedro Strop, who seems back on track after a bad stretch, dispatched the Marlins on eight pitches in the eighth inning and after Castro's round-tripper put the game out of "save situation," Travis Wood entered to throw the ninth. After getting the first two outs easily, Wood struggled a bit, walking Christian Yelich on a seven-pitch at-bat and going to nine pitches before getting J.T. Realmuto to strike out to end it. The last two at-bats went on long enough that Hector Rondon started to loosen up, which is what Maddon was trying to avoid by having Wood throw the ninth.
It was a good game all the way around for the Cubs. Even Mike Baxter, the last man on the bench, got a hit, an eighth-inning single pinch-hitting for Russell. Now that he has a hit as a Cub, can they please send him back to Iowa and get Arismendy Alcantara on this roster?
During the game telecast JD mentioned that the Marlins are the most extreme ground-ball hitting team in the major leagues. That wasn't in evidence much Monday night as Hammel was busy striking out so many. But being a ground-ball hitting team should play right into the strength of Kyle Hendricks, who will start Tuesday night's game against Brad Hand. Hendricks is on his best game when he can induce ground balls. I look for another win Tuesday.