Dexter Fowler led off Tuesday night’s game with a home run.
In the next inning, Ben Zobrist walked and Addison Russell doubled him in.
That’s because the Cubs kept getting runners on base and leaving them there. To wit:
- Getting runners on first and second after Russell’s double with two out in the second. Kris Bryant struck out to end that chance.
- Getting runners on second and third in the third inning with one out after two walks and a wild pitch. Russell flew out and Jason Heyward hit a foul popup, no runs crossing the plate.
- Loading the bases with two out in the fourth, all on walks. Jorge Soler hit a routine fly to center to end the inning.
The Cubs had only two other baserunners after that, but you get the idea. 1-for-8 with RISP and 10 men left on base on a night when Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia was yanked with two out in the second (shortest outing of his career) and Alex Reyes, who relieved him, issued six walks.
Even with all that happening, the Cubs were hanging in with a 2-2 tie and Jason Hammel was one out away from putting together a pretty good outing. If he’d been able to retire Brandon Moss with a runner on in the bottom of the sixth, Hammel would have thrown six innings, allowing only two runs.
Whoops. Hammel left a fastball right in Moss’ wheelhouse and and it was deposited in the right-field seats for a two-run homer. Hammel gave up one more hit and then Joe Maddon replaced him with Justin Grimm.
Let’s put it this way. The numbers don’t look great for Hammel in this one: 5⅔ innings, six hits, four earned runs. On the other hand, he struck out nine, and as noted, was one pitch away from a quality start. Hammel’s home/road splits this year are pretty extreme:
Home: 13 starts, 76⅓ innings, 1.77 ERA, 0.996 WHIP, five HR allowed
Road: 15 starts, 81 innings, 5.33 ERA, 1.395 WHIP, 18 HR allowed
So the answer appears to be: If Hammel does in fact make the postseason roster, don’t pitch him in road games!
The bullpen did a decent job of keeping the game close. Grimm, Joe Smith and Felix Pena combined for 2⅓ innings of shutout ball, allowing a hit and a walk and striking out a pair. But the Cubs could not score any further after the second-inning run.
There’s not much more to say here. Give some credit to the Cardinals relievers, I suppose -- but on the other hand, the Cubs did have plenty of baserunners and could have scored plenty of runs against Reyes, and didn’t.
So the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the N.L. Central title remained at three, meaning the earliest they could clinch would be Thursday at Wrigley Field, presuming they can defeat the Cardinals in the series finale. The Mets beat the Nationals Tuesday night, so the Cubs’ magic number for the best record in the N.L. dropped to 11.
One note about Fowler’s leadoff homer that I think is important:
Dexter Fowler in 104 PA leading off games this season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 14, 2016
.404/.490/.775, 8 Doubles, 2 Triples, 7 HR, 13 BB, 2 HBP#Cubs
That’s beyond impressive. Forget the homers — a .490 OBP leading off games? This is one reason Joe Maddon coined the phrase “You go, we go” regarding Fowler’s leadoff abilities. It’s one reason I continue to advocate for the Cubs keeping Dex around after this year.
The series finale comes up in just a few hours, an afternoon contest at 12:45 p.m. CT. The game preview will post at 11 a.m. CT. Jon Lester will go for the Cubs and Carlos Martinez for the Cardinals.