The Cubs had been struggling for a week or so; before this win they had lost six of their last eight and had a bit of trouble scoring runs.
Not on this sunny afternoon at Wrigley, where they blasted 12 hits and four home runs off six D'backs pitchers, including Zack Godley, who had been one of the players sent to Arizona in the Miguel Montero trade.
The Cubs improved to 76-57 after this win. They were 9½ games behind the Cardinals, four games behind the Pirates and eight games ahead of the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
If I could have written a script for the type of game the Cubs needed after the tough losses to the Reds, Friday's 14-5 win over the Diamondbacks would have been exactly, precisely what I would have proposed. (Well, maybe without the five Arizona runs, but you get what I mean.)
The Cubs walked. The Cubs hit. The Cubs took advantage of errors as the D'backs played a poor game in just about every aspect of baseball. Four walks, a pop-fly single by Chris Coghlan and a sacrifice fly in the first inning off former Cubs prospect Zack Godley produced three runs. They added one in the second on Addison Russell's 11th homer of the year. Russell homered again in the fourth after Jon Lester drew a walk, giving the Cubs a 6-1 lead.
Yes. Jon Lester walked. It was just the second walk of his career (and first since 2010), and the run he scored was his first career run. But Lester wasn't done with baserunning adventures!
The Cubs exploded for an eight-run inning in the fifth, their biggest inning of the year. It started innocently enough, with a single by Javier Baez. Baez was thrown out trying to steal second, so when David Ross followed with a double, it looked like it might be a wasted inning. But D'backs shortstop Nick Ahmed fumbled a ground ball hit by Lester for an error, and Russell drew a walk. Dexter Fowler flied to left and the inning should have been over, but it was just beginning.
The next five Cubs reached base; Austin Jackson singled and Coghlan walked to load the bases, and Anthony Rizzo followed with a colossal home run to right field, a ball that would have been on Sheffield last year, but landed just below the new right-field porch for a grand slam. It was the second slam of Rizzo's career and first since 2012. It was also the 99th homer of Rizzo's career (98th as a Cub), so he's got a milestone to shoot for with his next one. Kris Bryant singled and then Baez atoned for the caught-stealing with a home run of his own, his first of the season.
All of that was off A.J. Schugel, whose name sounds like it should be something you'd get at a bakery (apple Schugel?), and Schugel should thank Ahmed for the error, which made all seven runs charged to him unearned. The eight-run inning gave the Cubs a 14-2 lead and allowed Joe Maddon to play the rest of the afternoon like a split-squad spring-training game. Fowler, Jackson, Rizzo and Bryant all got to sit for the last portion of the game, welcome rest, I'd think, given the upcoming tough schedule. In all, eight different position players played two positions in this game as the D'backs also emptied their bench. With Aaron Hill likely unavailable due to a hamstring injury he suffered in Arizona's last series at Colorado, D'backs manager Chip Hale used starting pitcher Chase Anderson as a pinch-hitter in the ninth.
Back to Lester for a moment. Maybe his baserunning escapades tired him out. Though he allowed just five hits and two runs, he struggled through the first five innings, at one point issuing two walks that loaded the bases in the second when the game was still just 3-0. He also threw a wild pitch in that inning and wound up throwing 91 pitches through five, after which he was lifted for Justin Grimm. It's a good thing the Cubs scored so many runs, because this was not one of Lester's finer games, except on the basepaths.
Grimm threw a scoreless inning, then Tommy Hunter gave a pair of runs back in the seventh on a home run by Jake Lamb. Hunter's going to have to do better than that, as the Cubs need him for middle relief down the stretch and (hopefully) into October.
The complaint department is mostly closed up tight today except for a bit of criticism of the garbage-time pitchers. Tsuyoshi Wada entered to throw the eighth and wasn't all that effective nor impressive, though the run he allowed was unearned due to an error on Jonathan Herrera. Travis Wood came on for the ninth and was similarly unimpressive; he issued a walk and a pop-fly single before retiring the next three hitters to end it. By then Trevor Cahill had started to throw and Wood, having thrown 31 pitches, is probably unavailable for Saturday's game.
The Cubs' four home runs Friday were hit on a weird weather day that started out humid with fog patches blowing in off the lake. Eventually the clouds and fog cleared and it became quite a pleasant afternoon, though with the wind still blowing in. Here are a couple of fun notes about the homers:
#Cubs have homered in 13 straight games at Wrigley Field. They have had 4+ HR in 4 of last 12 games at Wrigley— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 4, 2015
Addison Russell: first #Cubs starter with 2 HR out of the 9-spot in the order at Wrigley Field since Fergie Jenkins 9/1/1971— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 4, 2015
Fergie was actually at Wrigley today signing autographs to benefit his foundation.
Bryant drove in a run, his 85th RBI, leaving him one short of the team rookie record, set by Billy Williams in 1961 and tied by Geovany Soto in 2008. He's got a pretty good shot at a 100-RBI season. The last National League rookie to have 100 RBI was Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, who did it in 2006. In all of N.L. history just 15 rookies have had 100-RBI seasons, just three since 1953: Zimmerman, Albert Pujols in 2001 and Mike Piazza in 1993. Pujols and Piazza were Rookies of the Year and Zimmerman finished second to Hanley Ramirez.
Incidentally, if you heard chants from the crowd at weird times, there was a huge contingent of burnt-orange-clad University of Texas fans in the Wrigley stands Friday afternoon, taking in a Cubs game before the Texas/Notre Dame football game in South Bend tomorrow.
All of that, of course, is secondary to winning. With the Cubs winning an afternoon game, their playoff competition knows they have to win just to keep pace. Pending Friday night's action the Cubs trail the Pirates by 3½ games for the top wild-card spot and lead the Giants by 7½ for the second spot, and they reduced their magic number for clinching that second spot to 22.
Let's do it again tomorrow! Jake Arrieta will make his first start since his no-hitter and face Robbie Ray.