Now the Cubs are just trolling the league, right?
Joe Maddon had said he was going to give regulars some rest, mix-and-match and try out some different things during the regular-season ending road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Monday’s lineup, missing a couple of regulars, put a 12-2 beating on the Pirates. The 18-hit attack (tied for the season’s biggest) featured a grand slam by Javier Baez, who drove in a career-high six runs, three hits from Albert Almora Jr. and a two-run homer from Kris Bryant [VIDEO], giving him 101 RBI for the year. Bryant hadn’t driven in a run in five days, and in 2015 he got stuck on 99 with six games to go and couldn’t get to the century mark.
This time he did it in style with the homer, and wide grins broke out in the Cubs dugout as Bryant’s homer highlighted a six-run inning that put the game far out of reach at 11-0. It also provided this comparison:
Last 3 #Cubs with 100+ RBI in age 24 season:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 27, 2016
2016 Kris Bryant
1964 Ron Santo
1955 Ernie Banks
(age computed as age on June 30th)
Pretty good company there, KB. His joining the 100-RBI club means the Cubs have two 30-HR, 100-RBI men for the first time since 2004 (Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou).
For Baez, who had been in a homer drought (none since August 16, a span of 35 games played), the homer was a laser beam down the left-field line [VIDEO] that made the score 5-0 in the fourth inning. It also provided this comparison:
Javier Baez: first #Cubs 6-RBI game out of the 8-spot in the batting order since Starlin Castro's MLB Debut 5/7/2010— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 27, 2016
Baez has cut way down on his strikeouts this year, to 25.5 percent of his at-bats (compared to 44.5 percent in his two months with the team in 2014). While Castro has certainly had a good career, I think Baez can be even better.
While all this was going on, Kyle Hendricks was doing his usual job of mowing down Pirates hitters with his nearly-unhittable changeup. He allowed seven hits and didn’t walk anyone over six shutout innings. He was in trouble just once, in the third when the score was still 1-0. Pirates starter Chad Kuhl singled and was doubled to third by John Jaso. Calmly, Hendricks got Josh Bell on a grounder to first and Andrew McCutchen on a fly ball to center.
Were the Cubs confident of victory after that?
In 4th inning, Maddon asked Hendricks what Dartmouth's mascot is. That shows how relaxed the #Cubs are— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 27, 2016
(The answer appears to be “Keggy the Keg,” who is an unofficial mascot. And no, I am not making that up. The school’s teams are nicknamed “The Big Green.”)
With the six shutout innings, Hendricks’ season ERA dropped below 2.00 to 1.99. A note on that:
MLB ERA leaders— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 27, 2016
1.99 Kyle Hendricks
2.28 Jon Lester
MLB ERA leaders post All-Star break
1.34 Jon Lester
1.36 Kyle Hendricks#Cubs
Hendricks is currently tentatively scheduled to start the last game of the regular season next Sunday in Cincinnati. Len and JD were talking on the telecast about whether it would be better, from a psychological standpoint, to have a sub-2.00 ERA to protect, or whether reaching for that milestone from above it, would be better. I’m not sure they reached any conclusion, but I’m pretty sure Hendricks takes the ball Sunday anyway, as if he doesn’t, he’d go nearly two weeks between starts, assuming he starts Game 2 of the division series.
With the score 11-0 after six, Joe Maddon went on to execute this plan:
Before the game, Maddon said he wanted Strop, Rondon and Chapman to pitch tonight. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 27, 2016
It worked well enough, with one exception. Pedro Strop looked good in his second inning of work since coming off the disabled list. Aroldis Chapman got a bit wild, running a full count on Jason Rogers before getting him to ground out. He got Jaso swinging at a slider for strike three, and Bell grounded to second to end it and nail down the 100th win.
The exception was Hector Rondon, who gave up solo homers to Matt Joyce and David Freese. This is a bit concerning. Hector’s allowed eight homers this year, but four of them have been since August 1, and he’s now allowed multiple runs in back-to-back appearances. Let’s get this all out of your system before the playoffs, please, Hector.
You all know that this is the first time the Cubs have won 100 games since 1935. They are 44 games over .500, the most since that ‘35 team ended the season 100-54. That team peaked at 48 games over, so there’s the next Cubs goal. They’d have to win five of the season’s final six to do it. They also were 48 games over on September 15, 1929, before losing nine of the final 14 games of that regular season. The last time any Cubs team was more than 48 games over .500 was in 1910, when they finished the year 104-50, which is also the last time any Cubs team won more than 100 games.
So there are still things to play for, team and personal goals to reach, even as Joe puts more and more bench players in the lineup and on the field in the late innings. The Cubs probably could have scored even more runs than they did Monday. They had the bases loaded after scoring in the seventh with two out, but Phil Coke (yes, that Phil Coke, just purchased by the Pirates from the Yankees a few days ago) got Almora to ground out. A double by Tommy La Stella probably could have scored Chris Coghlan in the eighth, and a similar hit, a single, by Munenori Kawasaki, likely could have scored Jason Heyward in the ninth, but the Cubs had mercy. Incidentally, Heyward looked pretty good, with a pair of hits, two runs scored and two RBI. How big would that look if he could start hitting that way in October?
The blowout win improved the Cubs’ run differential to +250, which is one short of second-best in team history (best: +323 in 1906). Here are the best behind 1906 (in the modern era, since 1900):
So there’s another goal for the final six games of the season. (H/T: Chris Jaffe for the historic run differentials.)
On the walk watch: The Cubs’ offensive explosion Monday night included six walks, the sixth consecutive time the Cubs have walked three or more times. The season total is now 629, so the Cubs need 22 walks in the last six games to break the franchise record.
On the run watch: The 12 runs brought the season total to 779, so the Cubs need 21 runs to get to 800 for just the third time since 1937.
The Cubs and Bucs will go at it again Tuesday evening. The Pirates’ elimination number from the wild-card race is two, so a Cubs win could help send them on their way to winter. John Lackey goes for the Cubs and Ryan Vogelsong for the Pirates.