The Cubs continued their Wrigley dominance of the Brewers thanks to some power hitting and more great pitching.
The 76-43 record, 33 games over .500, brought the Cubs to their highest point over .500 since 2008. They led the N.L. Central by 12½ games.
Jorge Soler got off to a terrible start this year. On May 14 he was hitting .174/.263/.267 with 25 strikeouts in 86 at-bats and three weeks after that he went to the disabled list with another hamstring injury, something that's plagued him throughout his career.
Two months later and after a rehab assignment in which he hit even worse than that early-season mark (and granted that rehab assignment numbers usually don't reflect talent, as players are working on getting healthy, but still), he returned to the lineup August 5 in Oakland with a home run in his first at-bat.
That's started an impressive run for Jorge. Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, he capped a five-run first inning for the Cubs by launching this three-run homer deep into the night:
That one came only a few feet short of hitting the bottom of the left-field video board. It brought out chants matching the sub-headline to this recap -- which were repeated every time Soler came to the plate -- and that ball got out of the park in a hurry:
Soler's bomb was hit 106.9 MPH and projected at 450ft... #Crushed! https://t.co/kQzAtMOWJU— Daren Willman (@darenw) August 18, 2016
Soler is hitting .379/.438/.828 (11-for-29) since his return with a double, four home runs, 10 RBI and three walks. The Cubs were reportedly looking for a bat at the trading deadline. Looks like they found one, without even having to make a deal. Soler hit like crazy during the 2015 postseason (.474/.600/1.105, 9-for-19, three doubles, three home runs, six walks) and though he will have to leave games for defense late (as he did in the ninth inning Wednesday), having this kind of bat back is a big, big boost. It's not a coincidence that the Cubs are 10-2 since he returned, including cruising to an easy 6-1 win over the Brewers Wednesday evening, their third straight over the Brew Crew.
That big inning, which also featured RBI singles by Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell, made things easy for Jon Lester. He got into a bit of trouble in the second inning, loading the bases on two singles and a walk, but ended the inning by retiring Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson, who seemed to be left out there to "take one for the team" after a 49-pitch first inning.
Lester made a nice play catching a popped-up bunt by Orlando Arcia in the third, and retired Arcia again on a comebacker in the sixth. Lester was running toward first base while picking up Arcia's grounder, so he just kept running to the base to retire Arcia himself. The latter play scored the Brewers' only run of the game. Keon Broxton had led off the inning with a single and stole second and third base before scoring on the groundout.
The Cubs scored their sixth and final run of the evening on this two-out solo homer by David Ross in the fourth, his eighth of the season:
Grandpa Rossy's blast landed just across the aisle from me in left field. Fun fact about Grandpa's homer:
David Ross (39 y, 151 d) is oldest #Cubs catcher to hit a home run since Jim Hegan (39 y, 301 d) 5/30/1960— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2016
I was a bit surprised that Joe Maddon let Lester come out for the seventh inning, as he had run up a fairly high pitch count in the early inning. Both starting pitchers struggled a bit with command early on and the first inning took nearly 55 minutes to complete, but after that the pace picked up and the game wound up as the quickest of the three so far this series. Lester was at 104 pitches through six innings, but I guess Maddon wanted to save the bullpen after Tuesday's doubleheader.
A two-out walk in the seventh brought Carl Edwards Jr. into the game as Lester departed to a loud ovation after a total of 118 pitches, not only a season high for him, but his most as a Cub and most in nearly two years, since he threw 119 against the White Sox while with the A's September 9, 2014. For his part, Edwards had a much better outing than his last one, retiring four of the five hitters he faced. Travis Wood worked a 1-2-3 ninth to wrap things up.
Cubs starting pitchers have been just amazing since the All-Star break:
#Cubs starting pitchers— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2016
Since all-star break (31 games): 2.07 ERA, 200.0 IP, 0.940 WHIP
August (15 games): 1.13 ERA, 103.1 IP, 0.794 WHIP
And that's even better without the Brian Matusz Game:
#Cubs starters post All-Star break **with Matusz exception**— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2016
1.83 ERA in 197.0 IPhttps://t.co/xujQ9V8LVA
And check out what the Cubs' five top starting pitchers have done at home:
#Cubs ERA at Wrigley this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 18, 2016
1.31 Kyle Hendricks
1.70 Jake Arrieta
1.79 Jason Hammel
2.01 Jon Lester
2.47 John Lackey
Wednesday's win improved the Cubs' home record to 44-19. That's a .698 winning percentage which would equate to 57 wins at home. That would be the most Cubs victories at home since 1910, when they won 58 home games at West Side Grounds. That's also the franchise record. The 2008 Cubs won 55 games at Wrigley Field, the most by any Cubs team at Wrigley.
The Cubs also improved to 24-8 since the last game before the All-Star break, when they broke a five-game losing streak in Pittsburgh. That's the best record in baseball over that span and they have picked up 5½ games over the Cardinals since then and now lead them by 12½ games. The Cubs are 8-3 against the Brewers so far this year and 33-16 against N.L. Central opponents.
Cubs walk watch: The bases on balls have slowed recently, even though the winning hasn't. The Cubs drew four free passes Wednesday evening, bringing the season total to 492 in 119 games. That's 4.13 per game. Pace: 670, still enough to break the club record (650, set in 1975).
As we were during April and May, we stand in a spot to look at this team in awe. They are playing, again, as they were in that amazing early-season run, the late-June/early-July decline appearing to be nothing more than a short detour on the way to an historic year, hopefully capped by October success.