The Cubs won yet another road series and improved to 43-18 on the year.
This gave them a 4-2 record on their road trip and maintained a nine-game lead in the N.L. Central.
If I had told you before Sunday's game that the Cubs would make four errors, you wouldn't have given them much chance to win this one, right?
As it turned out, only one of the errors made any difference in the final score. A first-inning wild throw by David Ross on a double steal led to the Braves' only run, while the Cubs opened up offensively in the late innings and crushed the Braves 13-2. The Cubs won this series in Atlanta and won the season series from the Braves four games to two. Since their only three-game losing streak of 2016 the Cubs are now 14-4. The 13 runs were the most scored in a game against the Braves this year.
The rest of the errors were made in a weird game whose pace can best be described as "languid," much like many southern summer afternoons. It was hot and humid at Turner Field, with a light shower breaking out in the late innings, and eventually the Cubs took advantage of some mediocre Braves pitching to score seemingly at will. The game was close until the fourth inning, and then this play might have opened things up:
Javier Baez hustled down the line and beat out a nicely placed bunt. He was called out, but it was overturned on review. So instead of the Cubs having a runner on first with two out, they had runners on first and second with one out, and that led to two runs. The first run scored on a single by Ross, and the second on this beautifully placed safety squeeze by Jon Lester:
In addition to superior pitching, Lester did all the little things right Sunday afternoon. Beyond the squeeze, Lester also caught a popped-up Braves bunt attempt and also was part of a 5-2-6-1 rundown play in the second inning after two more errors -- one by Ben Zobrist and another by Ross -- put a runner on third with nobody out. The WGN broadcast noted the Braves had "100 percent efficiency" in situations like that this year. So I looked that up. Atlanta, before Sunday, had been in that situation (runner on third, none out) three times and scored three runs. Now they're at 75 percent efficiency after failing in that situation.
Lester wound up with seven outstanding innings, with just the one unearned run allowed, no walks and seven strikeouts, and he lowered his ERA to 1.89, currently fourth in the N.L. behind Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner, pretty good company.
The Cubs blew the game open in the seventh, scoring three runs on a double by Zobrist, a single by Anthony Rizzo (who drove in three on the day), a solid double by Jason Heyward and a bases-loaded walk. Heyward went 6-for-13 in the series with three doubles, a home run and two walks. He's definitely coming out of his season-long slump; in June Heyward is now hitting .325/.413/.600 (13-for-40) with three doubles, three home runs and five walks.
A six-run eighth made the score 13-1, capped by a three-run homer by Baez (his fifth), the only home run of a 16-hit afternoon. Adam Warren gave the Braves a consolation run in the bottom of that inning. Hector Rondon pitched the ninth, to give him some work as he hadn't thrown in six days. He didn't get much work, finishing off the Braves in seven pitches.
So the Cubs move to 25 games over .500 for the first time in 2016. As I noted in the preview, the 2015 Cubs hit the 25-over mark on September 18, when they were 86-61. Here's how they compare to other recent teams off to great starts after 61 games
2016 Cubs: 43-18
2001 Mariners: 48-13
1998 Yankees: 47-14
1984 Tigers: 45-16
It won't get any easier, facing the Nationals, Pirates and Cardinals over the next 10 days, but the Cubs are 13-3 against those teams so far this year. The Pirates and Cardinals face each other late this afternoon and personally, I'd like to see the Pirates win that game. If that happens, both Pittsburgh and St. Louis will be double digits behind, the Cardinals 10 back and the Pirates 11.
A few notes you might have missed earlier today: the Cubs claimed reliever R.J. Alvarez on waivers from the Athletics and optioned him to Double-A Tennessee. Alvarez, who pitched briefly for the Padres in 2014 and the A's in 2015, is recovering from arthroscopic elbow surgery and had made three rehab outings in the A's system. He'll be bullpen depth. The 40-man roster now stands at 39. And former Cubs reliever Neil Ramirez, who had been let go by the Brewers, was claimed by the Twins.
Cubs run and run differential watch: I'm going to start this because the Cubs offense finally woke up this weekend. The 13 runs Sunday give the Cubs 335 for the season, or 5.49 per game. Continuing to score at that pace would give the Cubs 890 for the season, which would be the team's most since 1930. The Cubs have scored 800 or more runs only twice since 1937, 806 in 1970 and 855 in 2008.
The differential is now +162, or 2.66 per game. Continuing on that differential pace for the season would result in a +430 for the season, which would not only demolish the Cubs' team record (+323, 1906), but would break the major-league record (+411, 1939 Yankees).
Do I think the Cubs can keep up those paces? Not really; it's much more difficult to do those sorts of things than it was back when those other clubs set those marks. On the other hand, I have been constantly amazed at everything this year's Cubs have done... so why not?
Cubs walk watch: after drawing zero walks in two straight games, the Cubs got eight free passes in this one. Season total: 263, an average of 4.31 per game. Pace: 698.