It was suddenly summer at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon after what seemed like an endless spring string of chilly days and evenings. The temperature soared to near 80, the sun shined brightly on a near-capacity house, and the wind was blowing out to center field.
This didn't appear to be working out well for the Cubs at first. The second batter John Lackey faced, Anthony Rendon, launched a pitch into the left-field bleachers for a 1-0 Nationals lead. It was the first time the Cubs had even been behind since the third inning of Monday's win over the Pirates. Felt strange, didn't it?
It didn't feel strange for long. In the second inning, after the Nats had extended their lead to 2-0, Ben Zobrist walked and Tommy La Stella homered to right, his second of the year, to tie the game at 2. One inning later, Anthony Rizzo extended the lead to 3-2 with this shot:
The play was challenged by Dusty Baker. It's really difficult to see on this review where the ball was in relation to the foul pole. To me, based on where the ball was caught -- that spot is in fair territory, so I'd say that was definitely a home run. The review was ruled "call stands," and the Cubs had the lead. Three pitches later, Zobrist hit a no-doubter:
The Cubs and Lackey held that two-run edge into the fifth inning, when they got runners on first and second on a double by Jason Heyward and a two-out walk to Rizzo. Then, Zobrist again:
The three-run shot made it 7-2 and gave Zobrist four homers in his last three games and eight RBI in this series. Here's an interesting factoid about Zo's RBI this week:
Ben Zobrist: first #Cubs player with three consecutive 3+ RBI games since Sammy Sosa April 15-17, 2003— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 6, 2016
Pretty impressive. Rizzo is now tied for the league lead in RBI with 28 (Nolan Arenado), and Zobrist is tied for fifth with 24.
Lackey, meanwhile, had little trouble with the Nats after the second inning. He wound up with 11 strikeouts over seven innings, and one of those K's was a milestone, his 2,000th career strikeout [VIDEO], for which he got a warm standing ovation.
The Cubs completed their scoring for the afternoon with a double by David Ross and RBI single by Dexter Fowler in the sixth inning. 8-2 seemed to be a large enough lead, but Clayton Richard and Justin Grimm got hit pretty hard in the eighth, allowing four runs, with the big blow a two-run homer by Wilson Ramos.
Six runs -- well, that just hasn't happened too much this year. It was only the fourth time this year that the Cubs had allowed six runs in a game, and they've now won two of those four. The two-run deficit brought in Hector Rondon for his fifth save in as many opportunities; he retired the Nats 1-2-3 on 10 pitches in the ninth, with a pair of K's.
The Cubs' run differential increased to +98 after this win. Here's some fun facts about big run differentials this early in the year:
Every one of the teams on that list prior to this year made the postseason, all but the Rays won their league pennant, and of the others, only the 1902 Pirates did not win the World Series (because it hadn't been invented yet). Hopefully, a good sign for this year's Cubs.
There's one other piece of video I want to share with you from this one: Fowler's catch jumping into the ivy in the third inning:
That ball was hit a long way by Ryan Zimmerman and Fowler made an outstanding grab.
Cubs walk watch: Five more free passes Friday afternoon brought the season total to 146, or 5.21 per game. Pace: 845.
I was joined in the bleachers today by my friend and fellow baseball writer Rob Neyer, who was in town on business but had an afternoon free to take in a game. He told me he'd been to Wrigley before but never in the bleachers, and he was impressed by the ballpark renovations. He couldn't have picked a better day, or game, to spend in the bleachers. I also met BCB'er Kedzie Kid, who sat across the aisle from me Friday afternoon wearing a Ron Santo jersey.
So, the Cubs move seven games ahead of the Pirates and 7½ ahead of the Cardinals, pending Friday night's game between those clubs. They have assured themselves of no worse than a split of the four-game set against the Nationals, and with Jake Arrieta scheduled to go Sunday, I'd say they have a very good chance of winning it.
Before that, Saturday afternoon's contest matches Jason Hammel and Gio Gonzalez. A reminder that it's a bit later start, 3:05 p.m. CT. Outside the Chicago and Washington markets Saturday's game is being carried on FS1.