The Cubs had often had trouble solving the White Sox’ Chris Sale, but not on this day. They wound up with a split of the four games with the Sox and improved to 61-40 with this win, maintaining their 6½-game lead in the N.L. Central.
For the fourth straight day in the Chicago crosstown series, the White Sox scored first, and for the second time they plated a run in the first inning. John Lackey gave up an infield single to Tim Anderson that died in the grass near third base, wet following pregame rain, and Melky Cabrera doubled him in.
Here we go again? Not so. Lackey settled down and at one point retired 11 straight White Sox. Only one other Sox runner got past first base on him in his best start since early June.
Meanwhile, the Cubs wasted no time getting the run back. After Dexter Fowler worked a nine-pitch walk leading off the bottom of the first, Kris Bryant slammed a ball to deep center field for an RBI double:
The Cubs added solo runs in the third (Ben Zobrist RBI single) and eighth (Addison Russell RBI groundout) and Aroldis Chapman posted his first Cubs save in a 3-1 Cubs win that earned them a split in the four-game set. More on Chapman later.
The Cubs did an excellent job of cutting up Chris Sale (and I promise, that's the last of the Sale cut-up jokes), and defeated him for the first time. They turned Fowler's walk into a run within two batters in the first. Then Sale hit Fowler leading off the second, and three batters later they had their second run. In the past, Sale has defeated the Cubs with strikeouts, but not in this one:
Chris Sale career starts vs #Cubs— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 29, 2016
2015 (2 starts): 14.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 25 K
Tonight 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K
And Lackey's fine outing -- six innings, four hits, one run, one walk, four strikeouts -- continued the Cubs' run of good starting pitching since the All-Star break. Including the last game before the break, the Cubs are on a 9-5 run in which they've outscored their opponents 55-38. The team's overall run differential stands at +155, which is still 42 runs better than anyone else (Nationals, +113).
The Cubs debuted what they figure to be their last three inning relief sequence of Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Chapman in this game. Teams obviously took notice of the Kansas City Royals' success the last two years with shutdown relievers after the sixth and tried to replicate it, and the Cubs might now have something comparable.
Strop worked a scoreless seventh that was marred only by a four-pitch walk to Dioner Navarro. Rondon gave up a leadoff double, then recorded two outs. At that point Joe Maddon decided to summon Chapman for a four-out save.
Once again, the atmosphere at Wrigley Field was electric as Chapman entered to a loud ovation and began throwing pitches at 100+ miles per hour. Of the 24 pitches he threw, 16 were in three-digit territory, peaking at 103. He mixed in a few sliders with the fastball, and wound up with a pair of strikeouts (Cabrera and Todd Frazier) to go along with two groundouts, including this slick play:
Here are all four outs Chapman recorded:
Chapman thus posted his 21st save in 22 opportunities, and first as a Cub. Here, from Caitlin Swieca, who writes for Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville, is an interesting idea regarding Chapman saves:
So I've decided I'm going to donate $10 to a Chicago domestic violence org every time Chapman gets a save.— Caitlin Swieca (@CaitlinSwieca) July 28, 2016
I hope she winds up donating quite a bit of money; that would be good for the Cubs and good for the organizations she decides to donate to.
The Cardinals defeated the Marlins Thursday evening, so the Cubs' lead in the N.L. Central remains at 6½ games (and they lead the Pirates by 8½). And, as we were mentioning here during the Cubs' earlier great start to this season, 61-40 is now the Cubs' best record through 101 decisions since 1969, when they were 63-38 (I say "decisions" because the 1969 team had one tie game through their first 101 game of the season). They definitely seem to have righted the ship after poor play through the end of June and beginning of July. With three games remaining in July, they still have a chance to have a non-losing record, though they'd have to sweep the Mariners to wind up at 13-13.