This never gets old. Never, and don't fail to enjoy every single one of these wins.
The Cubs became the first major-league team to 20 wins this year, sweeping the Pirates in Pittsburgh for the first time since September 2012 with a 6-2 win over the Pirates. They dominated the Bucs in every aspect of all three games, outscoring Pittsburgh 20-5 and in this one, giving up just two runs despite allowing 11 hits. Last year the Cubs got their 20th win in their 35th game at 20-15.
Jon Lester got himself into trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth he loaded the bases with nobody out, but got out of it with a pair of strikeouts and a fly ball. With two runners on and one out in the fifth, Lester struck out David Freese and Starling Marte to end it.
But even more interesting than those inning escapes was Lester, for the second straight season, throwing his entire glove including the ball, after fielding a comebacker, to Anthony Rizzo for an out:
I love that. Rizzo had the presence of mind to throw his own glove away before catching Lester's, and he cradled the whole thing as if he were protecting a newborn baby, making sure the baseball, which had started to come out of the glove, stayed inside. Lester had made another perfect toss on a comebacker earlier in the game.
That glove toss isn't something these guys practice during spring training... or is it? Seemed pretty natural for Rizzo, anyway. On what the Cubs have termed the "minimalist zany suit trip," this was sort of a "minimalist zany play." Whatever it takes for Lester to get outs on baseballs that are hit his way.
Rizzo also is continuing his hot hitting. He singled, doubled and homered (his ninth) and maintained his major-league RBI lead, now with 27. Also:
Rizzo: at least one RBI in 10 of last 12 games.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 4, 2016
6 HR, 16 RBI over those last 12 games. #Cubs
Ben Zobrist also homered, his second, a three-run shot with two out in the third to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead. It came after a ball glanced off Andrew McCutchen's glove in center field, hit by Rizzo. That was ruled an error, even though Rizzo hit it on the nose, and a walk by Dexter Fowler, the second time he'd reached base in three innings. Here's what Fowler has done leading off the last six games:
Dexter Fowler leading off the game - last 6 games:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 4, 2016
Single, Walk, Single, Single, Single, Single#Cubs
Fowler has been an important part of the offense all year, and consistent on a daily basis. And to think the Cubs nearly didn't have him back this year.
Javier Baez didn't have any fielding gems in this one, unlike Tuesday night, but did go 3-for-5 and did not strike out, driving in the Cubs' final run on a ninth-inning groundout. I really like Baez's new approach at the plate and I'm sure Joe Maddon will find enough playing time for him. Kris Bryant singled in the ninth, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Again, the Cubs could have scored many more runs. Even with going 3-for-12 with RISP, they left nine men on base.
The only discordant note came in the seventh, when Adam Warren, in relief of Lester, gave up a double to McCutchen. No shame in that, as McCutchen is a fine hitter. But the following batter, Matt Joyce, pinch-hitting for Ryan Vogelsong, homered to break up the shutout. The three-run lead brought the Cubs' late-inning tandem, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, into the game, and both completed their innings of work uneventfully. The Cubs' ninth-inning run took a save opportunity away from Hector, but so what? He did fine, a 1-2-3 inning, and the important thing is winning.
Once again, the Cubs made the opposing starting pitcher struggle, running long counts and drawing walks. Juan Nicasio had to be lifted in the fifth inning, having thrown 102 pitches to record 13 outs. Lester threw that many pitches, too, but got to two outs in the sixth before he was removed by Maddon.
The Cubs are now 5-1 against the two top contending teams in their division, the Cardinals and Pirates, and are 13-2 overall against the N.L. Central. They also lead the Pirates by six games and the Cardinals by 7½ games, pending St. Louis' game Wednesday night against the Phillies. They're 13-3 on the road this year, the most road wins for anyone in baseball (the White Sox are second with 12). Keep enjoying every single moment of this ride, because seasons like this don't come our way very often. Or ever.
Cubs walk watch: Five walks in this one, bringing the season total to 139 (5.35 per game). Pace: 866.
The Cubs come back to Wrigley Field having played the fewest home games of anyone in the major leagues, just 10, thanks to the pair of rainouts last week. They begin an extended homestand of 10 games Thursday evening, beginning with a four-game series against the Nationals. Kyle Hendricks will face Joe Ross.