Wins and losses don’t mean much this week for the Cubs, though I think you’ll agree winning is always better.
The Cubs had the luxury of trying out various relievers in different situations after taking a 6-1 lead into the ninth inning Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
All of the relievers did their job — with the exception of Justin Grimm, who got hit hard in the ninth inning. That forced Joe Maddon to summon someone else, and it appeared he didn’t want to use Aroldis Chapman.
“Someone else” turned out to be Felix Pena, who entered the game with two runners, including the tying run, on base and one out. He struck out a pair (allowing the runners to advance on a wild pitch) sandwiched around an intentional walk and posted his first major-league save, and the Cubs won their 101st game of the season, 6-4 over the Pirates. As I noted, wins and losses don’t mean much until next week, but Win No. 101 has significance. That’s the most wins by any Cubs team in 106 years, since the 1910 pennant-winners won 104. With five games remaining, the 2016 version could still match or even exceed that. Fun note on the 101st win:
As you can see, that boxscore indicates a walkoff win. The Tribune recap of the game notes that the winning rally began with a single. After an attempted sacrifice failed, there was a fly ball to center for the second out. The Cubs followed with two more singles to load the bases before John Kane, an obscure utility player who was a Cub in 1909 and 1910, singled in the game-winner.
Back to the 2016 Cubs: They scored three runs in the second inning, loading the bases on a hit batter (Javier Baez, who looked none too pleased about being hit) and a pair of walks. That brought Chris Coghlan to the plate. Cogs cleared the bases with a triple [VIDEO] that missed being a grand slam by about four feet.
Coghlan had a good day, with two hits, a walk and three RBI. Since his return to the Cubs he’s hitting .271/.403/.417 in 119 plate appearances, and I think his recent performances have cemented his spot on the postseason roster.
The Pirates scored once off John Lackey in the bottom of that inning. After two singles, Lackey induced a double-play ball which scored the run. But that was all off Lackey, who was lifted after five innings in which he allowed five hits and three walks. He might have gone another inning, although he’d thrown 93 pitches, rather a large number for five, plus his batting-order spot came up in the top of the sixth.
So Lackey’s first year as a Cub ends with 188⅓ innings, 53 walks, 180 strikeouts, a 3.35 ERA and 1.054 WHIP and 2.5 WAR (according to baseball-reference), a perfectly fine season. He missed throwing 200 innings (he had 218 in 2015) because of a short DL stint in late August. It will be quite some time before he pitches in a meaningful game again. If the rotation we’ve all guessed for the division series happens, Lackey would start Game 4 (if there even is a Game 4) on October 11. Most likely, Lackey will throw in a rumored sim game that could happen at Wrigley Field next Monday or Tuesday.
After Lackey came out of the game Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. combined for three hitless innings, with two walks and four strikeouts. Joe made some mid-inning pitching changes to get these guys used to possible postseason matchups. Montgomery’s presence in this sequence is a pretty clear sign, I’d think, that he’ll be on the postseason roster and Jason Hammel won’t.
The Cubs pushed across a pair of runs in the ninth, thanks in part to a fly ball dropped by Gregory Polanco [VIDEO] that allowed Albert Almora Jr. to score. Almora had tripled with one out [VIDEO]. Fun fact interlude:
Obscure #Cubs note:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 28, 2016
Albert Almora Jr.: first Cub with a double & triple off the bench since Mickey Morandini 4/7/1999
Baez singled, scoring Miguel Montero, who had walked before that error by Polanco.
Turned out the Cubs needed those two runs to complete the victory after Grimm put together his worst outing since June. It was the second time in his last three appearances (also September 15 against the Brewers) that Grimm had allowed two or more runs. This is concerning if Grimm’s going to be counted on in October.
The Cubs improved to 14-3 against the Pirates, who have been their favorite opponent this year (one win better than the 13-3 to date over the Reds).
On the walk watch: The Cubs drew seven walks Tuesday night. That makes the season total 636, so they need just 15 more in the remaining five games to break the franchise record for walks in a season.
On the run watch: The Cubs have scored 785 runs, so they need 15 more in the remaining five games to get to 800 for just the third time since 1937 (806 in 1970, 855 in 2008).
On the run-differential watch: The Cubs’ +252 run differential is now second-best in franchise history, one run better than the +251 in 1935. If they can keep it at +252 or better, they’ll finish behind only the 1906 Cubs (+323) for the best run differential in team history.
So the Cubs still do have some franchise marks to play for, as well as trying to stay ready for postseason play. The Pirates, meanwhile, had their season ended when the Giants beat the Padres late Tuesday evening — that mathematically eliminated the Bucs from the wild-card race, though they’d essentially been out of it since early September.
The Cubs will try to make it three straight in this series, four straight overall, and six consecutive wins over the Pirates Wednesday evening. Jake Arrieta will make his final regular-season start against the Pirates’ Jameson Taillon.