Looking at the pitching matchups for this final home regular-season series, Saturday’s game looked like the toughest one for the Cubs, with Jason Hammel facing hotshot Cardinals rookie Alex Reyes. This was true even though Hammel had thrown well at Wrigley Field this year.
Scratch that “thrown well” part:
Prior to today, #Cubs Hammel had won each of his last 7 starts at home, giving up 5 ER over 46 IP. Today, he gave up 6 ER over 2 1/3 IP— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 24, 2016
Hammel got hit early and often — and that was after easily retiring the first two hitters he faced. Then he walked Brandon Moss, and after that the Cardinals offense kicked into high gear. A single, a hit batter, a double and another single plated four runs in the first inning. The Cubs got two of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on a two-run triple by Ben Zobrist [VIDEO], and it appeared they might be back in the game.
Nope. Stephen Piscotty launched a majestic home run over the Nuveen sign and onto Waveland Avenue in the second, one of the longest homers by anyone at Wrigley this year, to make it 5-2. The Cubs again got a run back. Jorge Soler walked, Hammel singled and Dexter Fowler doubled down the line [VIDEO] to make it 5-3.
Well, that might have made it a game if Hammel could have settled down, but after a pair of singles off him with one out in the third, Joe Maddon had seen enough and replaced Hammel with Mike Montgomery. That didn’t work; the first hitter Montgomery faced, Randal Grichuk, doubled in a run and the rout was on.
The six runs Hammel allowed raised his home ERA from 1.84 to 2.42 -- in just one appearance. If there had been any question about whether Hammel would make the postseason roster, that question appears to have been answered with an emphatic “No” Saturday afternoon.
The Cubs were down by three runs and they’d come back from larger deficits this year, but for some reason this one just didn’t feel that way, perhaps because in the end this game meant nothing to the Cubs and everything to the Cardinals. The visitors seemed to be playing with a sense of purpose and I don’t want to say the Cubs were phoning it in, but Reyes, Matt Bowman and Zach Duke allowed just four Cubs baserunners between the third and eighth innings. One of those was Fowler, who tripled in the fourth. Now that made at least one thing interesting -- could Fowler hit for the cycle? And if he did so, it would be a “natural” cycle, all the hits in order, which has been done just 12 times in major-league history.
But we didn’t even get that. Fowler struck out in the seventh and, after Willson Contreras hit a consolation homer with one out in the ninth [VIDEO] (it clanged off the top of the left-field ribbon board and back onto the field), Dex got one last chance. He popped to short to end the game, meaning it’s still been more than 23 years since the last Cubs cycle (Mark Grace, May 9, 1993).
Maddon took the opportunity to test out some relievers who might, or might not, make the postseason roster. Montgomery threw well after the double. He issued one walk, got out of that with a double play, and then threw a 1-2-3 fourth. Trevor Cahill allowed one hit and one walk, and was also helped out by a nice double play> Travis Wood retired the only two batters he faced.
Hector Rondon put the game out of reach with a bad seventh inning that included a pair of doubles. He didn’t seem to have the same command he usually does, and wound up throwing 26 pitches while recording only one out. Hopefully, this is just a one-off for Hector and he’ll get back to where he needs to be for October.
After Hector’s bad inning made it 9-3, Joe emptied the back end of the bullpen. After Felix Pena mopped up Hector’s mess, Rob Zastryzny made his first appearance in 20 days and allowed a run, and Spencer Patton threw a scoreless ninth. By the time the latter two entered the game, Joe had also emptied the bench and placed Chris Coghlan (first base), Javier Baez (shortstop), Munenori Kawasaki (second base) and Matt Szczur (right field) into the game, making it look and feel like the late innings of a spring-training game. Jake Buchanan, who has made just one Cubs appearance, 19 days ago and who I’m mentioning just because otherwise he probably would not be mentioned on this site at all, must have thrown 75 pitches warming up without getting into the game.
This loss concerns me not at all. Every team’s going to have a stinker once in a while and as I noted above, this one meant nothing to the Cubs after they clinched home field through the National League playoffs with the Nationals’ loss Friday night. The defeat means just one thing: the Cubs cannot tie the overall franchise record for home wins in a season (58, set in 1910). If they win Sunday, that’ll be the most home wins ever in a Wrigley season. The current record, 56, was set in 1933 and tied in 1935 and again this year. It also means that the Cubs’ 100th win of the year will have to wait until the season-ending road trip.
On the walk watch: The Cubs drew three walks in this game. They need 33 more in the final nine games to break the franchise record of 650, set in 1975.
On the run watch: The Cubs have scored 764 runs this year, and must score 36 over the final nine games to get to 800 for only the third time since 1937 (806 in 1970, 855 in 2008).
Sunday’s game will be the 19th and final regular-season game between the Cubs and Cardinals this year, and of course it’s still possible the teams could meet again in the division series. The clubs have split the first 18 matches, so the (largely meaningless) season-series win goes to the winner of Sunday evening’s contest (7:05 p.m. CT), nationally televised on ESPN, weather permitting. (And don’t even ask what happens if weather prevents Sunday’s game, because that could throw a real wrench into the postseason schedule, depending on the action of the final week. You can bet they’ll wait forever to play Sunday.) Jon Lester goes for the Cubs and Carlos Martinez for the Cardinals.