This one was all Jon Lester and Kris Bryant (with a save from Aroldis Chapman).
The Cubs improved to 90-50, led the N.L. Central by 16 games, and had a magic number to clinch the division of seven.
I was sitting around watching the Cubs fecklessly take at-bats in the early innings of Friday night’s game, and miss another excellent chance to score on the opposing starter in the first inning, and wondering how I was going to write a “Where’s the offense gone?” recap... Just then, Kris Bryant slammed a two-run homer deep into the Crawford boxes in left field at Minute Maid Park.
Of course you’d like to watch that again! (Or see it for the first time, if you haven’t.)
That ended a lengthy stretch of the Cubs’ total offense being named “Anthony Rizzo,” as Rizzo’s homer Wednesday in Milwaukee was the only Cubs run of the previous 13 innings.
Turned out, Bryant’s blast was all the Cubs needed, as Jon Lester, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman (33rd save, 13th as a Cub) combined on a seven-hit, no-walk shutout. The Cubs’ 2-0 win broke a baby two-game losing streak and it also means the Cubs have still not lost more than two in a row since before the All-Star break.
Oh, you’re wondering what the subheadline means. This win was the Cubs’ 90th of the year. That makes two straight 90-win seasons, the first time the Cubs franchise has had that since they won 90 three straight years from 1928-30.
The Cardinals and Nationals also won Friday night, so the Cubs knocked only one number off each of the magic numbers in reference to those teams. The number to clinch the N.L. Central is seven; the number to clinch the best record in the N.L. is now 14.
The Cubs could have taken Houston starter Joe Musgrove out of the game in the first inning. Dexter Fowler hit a triple to deep center field leading off the game, and Rizzo walked with one out. But the Cubs could not bring Fowler, or anyone else, home in that inning.
Lester, meanwhile, was helped out by some solid defense. Jason Heyward made an outstanding sliding catch with one out in the first on a sinking popup by Astros rookie Alex Bregman:
Here’s how good that one was:
Jason Heyward just covered 120ft to catch that Alex Bregman foul ball....— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 10, 2016
First step: 0.09 seconds
Route efficiency: 98.5%
In the third, Javier Baez made this slick play on a bunt attempt by Jake Marisnick:
Later in that inning, George Springer singled with two out, but David Ross threw him out trying to take second.
Ross contributed another heads-up play in the fourth. Bregman, batting when Springer was thrown out to end the third, led off with a single and stole second. Then he tried to take third on a ball that bounced away from Ross, but not far enough — Ross threw him out:
In the fifth, Evan Gattis led off with a single off Lester, but Addison Russell started a nice double play to wipe out that baserunner, and then Lester struck out the next hitter. Lester also allowed a pair of singles in the seventh, but got Colby Rasmus on a 3-2 fastball down the middle to end his excellent evening.
Then it was up to Hector and Aroldis, who were more than efficient. Rondon threw 14 pitches and struck out two of the three hitters he faced; Chapman, who hadn’t pitched since his two-inning outing against the Giants last Sunday, needed just four pitches to strike out Bregman, then got Jose Altuve and Yulieski Gurriel to both swing at his first offering and make easy outs to end it. Here are Chapman’s six pitch speeds:
Aroldis Chapman threw 6 pitches to close the Astros out.— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 10, 2016
That’s the way the Cubs had envisioned the last two innings working when they acquired Chapman; as Len Kasper mentioned during the broadcast, “It’s like the Cubs now have two closers.” It’s good to be able to shut down an offense when you only put two runs on the board. A few more fun facts on Cubs pitching Friday night:
#Cubs pitching vs American League this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 10, 2016
14-4, 1.71 ERA, 163.1 IP, 99 Hits, 0.827 WHIP
Jon Lester last 8 starts (all quality starts):— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 10, 2016
1.17 ERA, 53.2 IP, 36 Hits, 53 K, 3 HR, 0.876 WHIP#Cubs
Keep up the great work, guys. It was the Cubs’ 13th shutout of the year, which ties the Dodgers for the major-league lead. Including the final game before the All-Star break, a win over the Pirates that broke the last losing streak longer than two games (five in a row), the Cubs are 37-15 over the last 52 games.
Satisfying, that all was, and is. Still, I’m going to be a bit concerned about the Cubs offense until they can put up games like they did on Monday in Milwaukee.