October began as September ended -- with a Cubs win, this one their fifth in a row.
The team record after this game was 94-65, and they still had an outside shot at catching the Pirates for the top wild-card spot. They trailed by two games with three games remaining for both teams.
The Cubs defeated the Reds 5-3 Thursday afternoon, in so doing recording their eighth series sweep of at least three games this season.
That's the most series sweeps for the Cubs since the 2008 edition accomplished that feat nine times.
I could sit here and type out superlative stats like this all afternoon. And actually, that'd be a lot of fun. Instead, though, I'm going to let video tell the story for at least Austin Jackson's contributions to this game. Remember I said in the recap to Wednesday night's win that I'd like to see Jackson step up his game? He did it again Thursday after a career night on Wednesday.
Here's his three-run homer after a pair of walks to Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler in the third inning:
And here's a terrific catch he made in the bottom of the inning with two runners on base; both would have scored if not for Jackson's grab:
The Cubs added two more runs in the fifth on a double by Anthony Rizzo that bounced into the seats in the left-field corner. That's 96 RBI for Rizzo, and it would have been 97 if not for the bounce, as Jackson, who was on first base, would have scored easily. Jackson did score when Chris Denorfia singled.
It might be a meaningless milestone in modern baseball but I'd really like both Rizzo and Kris Bryant get to the 100-RBI mark. Rizzo needs four, Bryant just one.
Jason Hammel had his shaky moments early in this game, but unlike other recent outings, he managed to get himself out of all of them. He wound up allowing five hits and struck out five in his five-inning, 86-pitch outing. Personally? I'd still go with Kyle Hendricks in the postseason behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. But Hammel has at least put himself back in the conversation with this outing, though it was against a bad team on a wet, messy day where the first few innings were played in rain that ranged from a light drizzle to a steady, autumnal downpour. Just after the game became official after five innings, it stopped.
Javier Baez, playing third base Thursday afternoon to give Bryant a break, made a couple of very nice defensive plays in this one. In the fourth, with runners on first and third and one out, Tucker Barnhart grounded to Baez, who glanced very quickly to see if he could turn a double play, but then fired accurately to Schwarber at the plate to get Jay Bruce, who had run on contact.
In the sixth, Brandon Phillips led off with a double and stole third. Bruce then hit a popup on the outfield grass behind third that Baez caught. Baez briefly looked down and Phillips, who saw no one covering third, took off for the plate... with Baez in hot pursuit. Eventually this wound up as a TOOTBLAN with Phillips tagged out by Addison Russell. A soft ground ball to Russell got Justin Grimm out of this inning unscathed.
The bullpen had a rough time in the Reds' seventh, though it was not all the pitchers' fault. Fernando Rodney gave up singles to the first two hitters he faced, then Ramon Cabrera hit a ball that Russell couldn't handle, apparently due to the bad field conditions. That loaded the bases, but Rodney struck out Brennan Boesch. The next hitter, Jason Bourgeois, hit into a force play that would have ended the inning had the error not happened. Since it was just the second out, a run scored, and neither Clayton Richard nor Trevor Cahill had a good day, as they both allowed run-scoring singles making it 5-3.
The three runs meant that the Cubs' usual setup tandem of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon had to finish up this one, although I think Joe Maddon was going to give them an inning of work each anyway, as neither had thrown since Monday.
Strop gave up a hit, but eventually struck out the side. Rondon had an efficient inning (11 pitches) and recorded his 29th save. One more save for Hector and he will become the 12th pitcher to have a 30-save season for the Cubs. Here's the rest of the list: Randy Myers, Rod Beck, Carlos Marmol, Bruce Sutter, Mitch Williams, Kerry Wood, Joe Borowski, Ryan Dempster, Kevin Gregg, Lee Smith and Ted Abernathy.
This win, the Cubs' fifth in a row, finished their season series with the Reds at 13 wins, six defeats. It was also the Reds' 12th consecutive loss. Good. They've had their turn. Also, it was the Cubs' 94th win of the year, meaning only the 1984 Cubs (96) and 2008 Cubs (97) have won more games for this franchise since the last pennant in 1945. Want more? Sure you do. The 94 victories means the Cubs will have the most wins ever for a third-place team in the divisional play era... unless they take advantage of that very small chance of catching the Pirates and hosting the wild-card game. There are just two possibilities remaining for that:
If the Cubs go 3-0, the Pirates must go 1-2 for a tie at 97 wins If the Cubs go 2-1, the Pirates must go 0-3 for a tie at 96 wins
While I certainly think it's possible for the Cubs to sweep the Brewers, given the performance of the Reds against the Cubs, to think they could take two of three from the Pirates in Pittsburgh is probably a pipedream. On the other hand, the Reds are 10-6 against the Pirates this year and 4-2 at PNC Park. Stranger things absolutely have happened. I won't go into this weekend thinking it's going to happen... but neither will I be astonished if it does. (Wait till you see the pitchers the Cubs are facing in Milwaukee.)
That Cubs/Brewers regular-season-ending series begins Friday night at Miller Park. Jake Arrieta has a final tuneup for Wednesday's date with the Pirates; he will face Ariel Pena (who?).