That’s the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the 2016 National League Central division championship (and become the first major-league team to nail down a playoff spot, too) after a 7-0 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis Wednesday afternoon.
Jon Lester was the pitching and hitting hero of this one. Not only did he throw eight shutout innings, allowing just three singles and two walks and striking out eight (104 pitches/67 strikes), but his looping line-drive single up the middle in the second inning with Javier Baez on second base (after a double) brought in the only run he’d need. Here’s a look at Lester’s hit:
Lester loves hitting against the Cardinals. Since he came to the Cubs last year:
Lester vs. Cardinals: 4-for-16, .250
Lester vs. all other teams: 4-for-98, .041
This could become important if Lester winds up pitching against the Cardinals in this year’s postseason.
He also made a nice defensive play [VIDEO] on a sharp ground ball up by Jedd Gyorko in the fifth inning, as well as a couple other solid defensive efforts. One retired Kolten Wong on a comebacker to end the eighth inning; Lester simply ran all the way to first base with the ball.
It’s been sport, and somewhat unfair, to criticize Lester’s fielding this year, so it seems proper to compliment him on his defensive efforts in this one. He fielded his position well. And here’s how good he’s been recently on the mound:
Jon Lester last 9 starts— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 14, 2016
1.02 ERA, 61.2 IP, 39 Hits, 61 K, 3 HR, 0.827 WHIP#Cubs
More defensive props to David Ross, who threw out two Cardinals trying to steal (Aledmys Diaz and Randal Grichuk). In large part due to Ross’ efforts, no Cardinals runner reached second base all afternoon. It was also mentioned during the TV broadcast that Ross leads all big-league catchers with five pickoffs this year — and Willson Contreras has four.
Lester wasn’t the entire Cubs offense, of course. They also got some home-run power, starting with a 422-foot bomb by David Ross (his ninth of the year, tying his 2012 season in Atlanta for his most since 2007) with Jason Heyward on base in the fifth inning. That was followed with a solo shot by Anthony Rizzo in the sixth for the Cubs’ fourth run of the afternoon:
That homer was Rizzo’s 30th of the season, which provided these fun facts:
(That was 46 for D-Lee and 31 for A-Ram that year.)
The Cubs added three more in the eighth when Jorge Soler (batting for Lester) singled and Kris Bryant sent a sinking liner to center that Grichuk made a diving attempt on, but failed to catch. The ball got to the wall for a triple.
Then Rizzo put the cherry on top with his second homer of the game, a two-run shot, that also gave him 101 RBI for the year. That made him only the second Cubs lefthanded hitter with multiple 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons. It will be Rizzo’s second. Billy Williams had three. That tied his career RBI high, set last year, and one more homer will tie his career HR best, set in 2014.
Rizzo might have hit two homers, but Grandpa Rossy has the title for the longest one of the day, as his went 429 feet to straightaway center field.
Hector Rondon, who JD called “overqualified” for throwing a ninth inning with a seven-run lead, threw a 1-2-3 ninth to finish up the three-hit combined shutout, the Cubs’ 14th of the season. That’s tied for the major-league lead with the Dodgers.
The seven-run margin of victory made the Cubs’ record in blowout (by five runs or more) wins 38-11, and the run differential increased to +234 (722 scored, 488 allowed).
It was nice to see Heyward with two hits, including a solid line drive to the opposite field. Before those hits he hadn’t had a hit on the entire road trip, going 0-for-24 since his previous hit, the 13th-inning game-winner against the Giants September 4.
The win also gave the Cubs the series win over the Cardinals, and they won six of nine played in Busch Stadium this year (though, so far, they’re 2-5 against St. Louis at Wrigley Field, something they can remedy next weekend). They are 8-8 overall against the Cardinals. They also wound up with a winning road trip, making them 42-32 on the road this year. At present, that’s the most road wins for any team in the major leagues. And, they move to 41 games over .500, matching the season high. A win Thursday not only would clinch the division title, but would put the Cubs at 42 games over for the first time for the franchise since the last day of the last pennant-winning season, 1945 (98-56). That, somehow, seems appropriate.
A couple of Cubs pitching numbers to wrap up this recap:
#Cubs finishing 1-2 in MLB in ERA (since 1900)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 14, 2016
1906 Brown & Pfiester
1907 Pfiester & Lundgren
1938 Lee & Root
All three of those seasons, of course, were pennant-winning years for the Cubs. I’d say Lester has to also be in the Cy Young conversation, along with Kyle Hendricks.
So we’re set up for a possible big celebration at Wrigley Field Thursday evening. If the Cubs win, they’re division champions. The Cardinals travel to San Francisco to begin a four-game series against the Giants beginning Thursday night, so their game won’t be over before the game at Wrigley ends. Let’s hope we’re celebrating around the time the Giants and Cardinals are in the third inning. That game’s also important for both San Francisco and St. Louis in the wild-card race.
Mike Montgomery will start for the Cubs Thursday evening and Jimmy Nelson goes for the Brewers. Can’t wait.