The Cubs won their ninth game in a row August 10, and in so doing swept the Angels for the season and outscored them 23-3 in the four games.
But they wound up losing Pedro Strop for several weeks with a knee injury.
The win put the Cubs 30 games over .500 at 71-41. They led the N.L. Central by 12 games.
The good feelings about the Cubs' 3-1 win over the Angels, their ninth consecutive victory, are tempered a bit by the injury suffered to setup man Pedro Strop in the eighth inning.
More on that later.
As has been the norm since the All-Star break, the Cubs got outstanding starting pitching, and again from Jason Hammel, who's having by far the best second half of his career. Is it the potato chips he's been told to munch on during games to avoid cramping? Is it the extra rest he's getting (seven days off between starts this time)? Whatever's going on, Jason, keep doing it. Hammel threw seven shutout innings and allowed only four singles and a pair of walks. From Jason:
#Cubs Hammel "I've never been on a team this good before"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 11, 2016
#Cubs Hammeil on potato chips: "I don't know if it's working but it tastes really good. It's still a silly idea to me, but I'm doing it"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 11, 2016
And here's how good Cubs pitching has been since the break:
#Cubs starting pitching since All-Star break (24 games)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 11, 2016
2.31 ERA, 156.0 IP, 110 Hits, 133 K, .199 Opp BA, 0.974 WHIP
If you subtracted the Brian Matusz start (6 ER in 3 IP), it's an even 2.00 ERAhttps://t.co/LDJQlomHye— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 11, 2016
As is usual these days -- and I hate to make it sound routine, but pretty much every day, we see plays like this -- Hammel was helped by his defense. Check out this magnificent stop by Javier Baez:
That play went so fast that you can't really see Baez' grab too clearly in the video. Thankfully, the MLBGIFs Twitter account has it:
Pick it, Javy: https://t.co/bksaR6eb7J pic.twitter.com/rL4nsjf0ic— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) August 11, 2016
The throw wasn't as good as the stop, but it was enough to get Albert Pujols, who doesn't run well anymore.
While Hammel was mowing down Angels, the Cubs were putting together a couple of single-run innings in the third and fifth. Kris Bryant hit a one-out double in the third and was singled in by Anthony Rizzo. Then Hammel helped himself with a one-out single in the fifth and Dexter Fowler laced a double down the left-field line to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
The only real trouble Hammel had was in the fourth, when he allowed a pair of singles and then walked former Cubs catcher Geovany Soto to load the bases with two out. Hammel then got Angels pitcher Ricky Nolasco to hit a weak grounder in front of the plate to end the inning. Nolasco was batting eighth; Mike Scioscia has batted his pitcher eighth in all 10 interleague road games the Angels have played this year. They went 4-6 in those games and Angels pitchers went 2-for-20, so it didn't really help much.
Hammel was lifted for pinch-hitter Matt Szczur in the seventh after his fine outing, and on we went to the eighth. With Hector Rondon still unavailable and Joe Maddon not wanting to overwork Carl Edwards Jr., Joe called on Strop to throw the eighth, even though Pedro had thrown in the previous two games, and made 12 pitches Tuesday night.
Yunel Escobar, leading off the inning, hit a slow roller down the third-base line. It was one of those hits where the batter couldn't have rolled the ball out there any better; no one was going to be able to throw him out. Baez and Strop, though, both ran after it as if they thought they could make the play. Strop picked up the ball and appeared to have his left leg slip awkwardly under him as he did so. Javy stopped him from throwing and Pedro walked away, but then stopped and seemed to be in pain.
He had to be helped off the field and appeared not to be able to put any weight on his left leg.
Maddon said Strop hurt his knee, MRI tomorrow.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) August 11, 2016
So we'll find out later today what's up with Pedro. The likely best-case scenario is that it's a mild sprain and he could be back maybe by the beginning of September. The worst-case is that he's got an ACL or MCL tear and he's out for the rest of the season. I certainly hope for the best for Pedro, who's been such a key part of this bullpen. I imagine Justin Grimm's on his way back to Chicago to possibly take Strop's place on the 25-man roster.
Travis Wood was summoned and given all the time he needed to warm up, and that resulted in a double to left-center by Kole Calhoun, putting runners on second and third. Fortunately, Carl Edwards Jr. was ready to go, because there's no way you let Wood face Mike Trout and Pujols.
Edwards calmly struck out Trout and got Pujols and Andrelton Simmons to ground out to end the inning. The Pujols groundout scored a run, but the Cubs were conceding that to get the out.
Addison Russell got the run back in the bottom of the inning with this solo homer, his 13th. That tied his career high, set last year.
And then it was Aroldis Chapman time. Again, the crowd came to its feet as Chapman entered. The Cubs produced an entry video for Chapman, similar to the one they had for Rondon, with his entry song "Wake Up" by Rage Against The Machine.
Chapman (24th save, fourth as a Cub) did not disappoint. He struck out all three hitters he faced, with all three strikeout pitches clocking over 103 miles per hour:
And so the Cubs went to 30 games over .500, the first time they've been 30 games over since the last day of the 2015 season. It's just the fifth time any Cubs team has been 30 or more games over .500 since 1945 (1969, 1984 and 2008 were the others).
The nine-game winning streak is a season high. The Cubs have not won more than nine straight games since 2001, when they had a 12-game streak. Here are all the single-season winning streaks of 10 games or more in Cubs history (since 1913, as far as baseball-reference's database goes back; they had a 14-game streak in 1906, one of 11 in 1910, and one of 10 in 1911):
As you can see, the Cubs have not had many double-digit winning streaks in recent franchise history. They've won 10 games or more in a row just four times since the last pennant year, 1945: 1953, 1970, 1998 and 2001.
The Cubs had little trouble with the Angels this year; granted that the Angels are in the midst of one of the worst years in their recent franchise history, but the Cubs swatted them away easily in the four games they played, winning all of them and outscoring the Angels 23-3. Trout, one of the best players in the game, went 1-for-16 with seven strikeouts against the Cubs this year.
This weekend will certainly be a bigger challenge for the Cubs, as it always is facing their biggest rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. Last time the Cardinals came to Wrigley, they swept the Cubs, though it should be said the Cubs were without Fowler in that series, and having Dex does make a difference. The Cubs are 55-22 when Fowler starts, 16-19 when he doesn't. The Cubs begin this series 12 games ahead of St. Louis and -- dare I say -- could bury them by winning or sweeping the four-game set.
I'm not predicting that. It's always tough facing the Cardinals. But the Cubs have a chance to make this historic season, in which they are now again on pace to win more than 100 games (103), even better.