It appears the Cubs came to Great American Ball Park bent on revenge for the Reds taking eight runs away from their major-league-leading run differential Saturday night.
They got it, in the third blowout win over the Reds in four tries this weekend (and fifth win over the Reds this year by at least seven runs), a 9-0 crushing of Cincinnati on a brilliantly sunny Ohio afternoon.
The nine-run victory increased the Cubs' run total this year to 119, which leads the major leagues by 16, pending the Cardinals' late-afternoon start against the Padres in San Diego. It increased the Cubs' run differential to +68, which is 31 runs better than the next-best team, also the Cardinals. They have outscored the Reds 60 to 20 in the seven games the teams have played so far this season, the rough equivalent of winning all the games by a 9-3 score. It's the ninth time this year the Cubs have won a game by five or more runs, the third by shutout.
I could go on all day with numbers like this, but you'd probably be bored... What? You say you wouldn't be? All right, here's some more.
The 14-5 mark for the Cubs so far has been matched or exceeded by just two Cubs teams since 1900: 1907, when they were 16-3 on the way to a World Series title, and 1969, also 14-5.
And we can talk about some fun facts for individual players, too:
Anthony Rizzo: first #Cubs player with 8+ HR through team's first 19 games since Billy Williams (also 8) in 1970— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 24, 2016
1970 was one of Billy's finest seasons. He hit .322/.391/.586, led the National League in runs (137) and hits (205) and had career highs in home runs (42) and RBI (129). That got him one of his two second-place MVP finishes; the Cubs' failure to make the postseason that year probably was a major factor in Billy finishing behind Johnny Bench.
We'd take a season like that from Rizzo, I think. (With, of course, a deep Cubs postseason run included.)
Rizzo hit two home runs on the day and drove in four, equalling Bryce Harper and Trevor Story for the N.L. home run lead and putting him just one behind Harper for the RBI lead. All of this despite a low batting average of .203, yet more evidence that BA alone means little. A slash line of .203/.360/.580 gives him a .940 OPS, in line with where I hope he finishes this year. Here's Rizzo's first homer, which was reviewed to make sure there wasn't fan interference:
Since MLB was generous with embed codes Sunday, here's Rizzo's second blast:
If you were wondering why Joe Maddon started Tommy La Stella Sunday afternoon, TLS gave you the answer: 3-for-5 with a home run and three runs scored. The man can hit; you wouldn't want him out there every day primarily for defensive reasons, but he's one of the better-hitting bench infielders in the National League.
Jason Heyward, showing more signs of getting untracked from his bad start, had four hits on the afternoon and drove in three runs by the second inning, as the Cubs once again pounded Alfredo Simon. Simon has made two starts against the Cubs this year, has thrown 3⅓ innings and allowed 14 hits and 13 earned runs (ERA: 11.70). Can we get this guy to start against the Cubs more often? Meanwhile, after that really slow start, Heyward is 10-for-20 over his last five games with five RBI.
About the only thing the Cubs didn't do offensively in this one was draw walks ("just" four of them), but that's largely because they were pounding the ball all over the yard. Thus the 2016 Cubs walk watch stands at 97 in 19 games, or 5.11 per game, again a pace for 827 walks.
I certainly don't want to downplay Jason Hammel's contribution to this win, his fourth straight quality start. Six solid shutout innings with just three singles and two walks allowed lowered Hammel's season ERA to 0.75 and his WHIP to 0.917 and the ERA has overtaken Jake Arrieta's for the club lead, and you know that's just going to make Jake want to take that back over when he starts Wednesday against the Brewers. Further, Hammel's ERA is now second in the National League to the Dodgers' Kenta Maeda, who is off to an otherworldly start at 0.36.
Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon completed the shutout with a scoreless inning each. Rondon hasn't had many chances to pitch due to all the blowout wins, so it was good to see him get in an inning of work (and not have any issues, as closers occasionally due when not throwing in closing situations).
All of this is something few of us have seen before, as noted in the "best start since" numbers I've been posting. For those of you, like me, who are old enough to remember the star-crossed 1969 season, you might be thinking what I've been thinking: the start to this year feels like that. That year, like now, every time the Cubs took the field early in the year, you felt like they could win, even when they went behind, much as this team has done.
Now, of course, we don't want this year to end up like 1969. And I think there's little chance of that. This year's team has a far better bullpen and bench than the 1969 team (go look, at your peril), and most important of all, the 2016 Cubs have a better manager than the 1969 Cubs did, a man who understands the need for regular rest, and means to motivate his players that resonate with the times, rather than the old-school Leo Durocher, who in an era of cultural change managed his players like it was the 1940s. (Five of the 1969 starters played at least 151 games. That won't happen this year.)
Joe Maddon won't do that, and though it's the Cubs players who are accomplishing these outstanding victories, I believe at least some of that is due to Maddon's techniques of managing that allow his players to go out there and do their best work every single day.
Monday is an off day, but stick around BCB, as we'll have plenty here tomorrow. It's more than 48 hours until the next game, Tuesday at Wrigley Field, when Kyle Hendricks will take the mound against the Brewers' Jimmy Nelson.