Jorge Soler would not return to action for two months after being injured in this game. The Cubs won anyway to improve their record to 40-16. They had a 10-game lead in the N.L. Central after this win, the first time their division lead hit double digits.
I wrote in this recap that I didn’t think Albert Almora Jr. was ready for a callup. Wrong about that: not only was he ready, but he contributed immediately both offensively and defensively.
Before I get to the apparent hamstring injury to Jorge Soler, let's talk about how this one almost got away.
I imagine if Joe Maddon had this one to do over, he probably would have let Jon Lester at least start the ninth inning. Lester had been dominant over eight, allowing just four singles and no walks, with nine strikeouts. At one point he retired 13 straight Phillies. He'd thrown only 95 pitches; he'd thrown more than that in every start since his first this year (except for the 2⅔-inning mess in San Francisco). And:
Jon Lester is the first #Cubs lefty to strike out 9 without a walk in consecutive starts during the modern era (since 1900) via @EliasSports— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 7, 2016
With a 6-0 lead, I guess Maddon wanted to get Justin Grimm some work. Mistake! Grimm got hit hard. Three of his eight pitches went for hits, the third a three-run homer by Freddy Galvis. That meant Hector Rondon got up and into the game hurriedly, with a save situation now presenting itself. That didn't work either, as Tommy Joseph sent Hector's fifth pitch into the seats, making it 6-4. After a groundout and a strikeout, pinch-hitter Odubel Herrera singled, bringing Ryan Howard to the plate.
Five years ago, when Howard was one of the best hitters in the game, that would have been a fearful situation. Not now, though, with Howard struggling and benched. Rondon (11th save) got Howard to ground out on the first pitch and the Cubs had their 6-4 win over the Phillies, a game far closer than it should have been.
Now let's talk Soler. Two innings before his injury, he made this fantastic catch:
I've been a critic of Soler's fielding, but he's been better lately and that one was terrific.
Two innings later, he laced a single to left field and pulled up just as he was rounding first base with a hamstring issue. This has been a problem for Soler dating back to his minor-league career. He missed a month last year with a similar issue. All we can do is wait for this:
#Cubs will send Jorge Soler - who has injury history with left and right hamstrings - to get an MRI on Tuesday in Philadelphia.— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) June 7, 2016
There really isn't any need to race out and find another outfielder if Soler is on the shelf for any significant length of time. Kris Bryant could play left field and Javier Baez third base, and the Cubs could add an outfielder like Matt Murton (who is hitting .382/.432/.559 over his last 10 games at Triple-A Iowa) for bench strength. In my view, calling up Albert Almora would be silly. He needs regular playing time and I don't think he gets it in Chicago.
As for the rest of this game, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning that could have been bigger. They had two doubles and two singles, yet scored only once, in part due to this play:
Bryant was originally credited with a triple, but that was overturned on a crew chief review due to fan interference. I don't understand how the Phillies are allowed to have seating like that; there's really no barrier at all between the fans in the front row and baseballs heading that way. That area really needs some room, some gap, between that first row of seating and the wall. This isn't the first time the Cubs have had a ball hit in that area reduced to a double because of fan interference.
Had Bryant been allowed to stay on third base, he'd have scored on Anthony Rizzo's subsequent single. The Cubs added two more on this home run by Jason Heyward into almost the same area, only this one clearly was in the seats:
The homer, Heyward's third of the year, was the 100th of his career. It followed a double (!) by Lester. Lester has two hits this year in 25 at-bats, both for extra bases.
Fun fact:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 7, 2016
both David Ross (5/27) & Jason Heyward (6/6) hit their 100th career HR off Adam Morgan this season. #Cubs
When David Ross was as old as Jason Heyward is now, he had 11 career HR.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 7, 2016
They're currently tied at 100. #Cubs
The Cubs added two more in the seventh, one of them on this excellent bunt by Matt Szczur, and their final run on an RBI single by Rizzo in the ninth. Who knew those runs would turn out to be somewhat important?
So the only clunker part of this game was Grimm's outing, and he's had a number of bad ones this year. It's possible that management has to think about replacing him in the bullpen in the long run.
The win was the Cubs' 40th of the season. It's the earliest any MLB team has hit 40 wins since 2001, when the Mariners were 40-12. Seattle was in the middle of a 15-game winning streak when they did that, so this year's Cubs have a tall order to keep that pace up!
Cubs walk watch: Well, it had to happen again, I suppose. It had been two months and a day since the last time the Cubs had no walks in a game, April 5 against the Angels. They won that one, too. Walk total: 250, an average of 4.46 per game. Pace: 723.