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2016 Cubs Victories Revisited, September 11: Cubs 9, Astros 5

The offense exploded after a week’s worth of slump.

Photo by Richard Carson/Getty Images

This win gave the Cubs a chance to clinch the N.L. Central with a sweep in St. Louis, as it reduced their magic number to six.

They were 91-51 after this win and led the division by 16½ games.

After Saturday’s game, where the Cubs went 0-for-10 with RISP, I asked the question in the headline to the recap: “Where’s the offense?”

The Cubs answered that question big-time Sunday night in Houston, pounding out 10 hits, including a pair of home runs, and beat the Astros 9-5 in a game that, as the old saw goes, “wasn’t as close as the score indicated.”

Finally, for the first time in three tries in Houston, the Cubs didn’t waste a first-inning opportunity. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a walk, and on the next pitch rounded the bases and scored on a Kris Bryant double. They tacked on two more in the second inning on a pair of singles by Addison Russell and Javier Baez. The first one came home a sacrifice fly that scored Russell, with Baez alertly moving up to second. A line drive to third nearly had Baez caught off base, but a bad throw moved him up to third, where he scored on a wild pitch.

Then the Cubs broke the game open with four in the third, the first coming on Jorge Soler’s 11th homer of the year:

Fun fact about that:

Of course, the Cubs are now 11-0 in games in which Soler has homered, and they added run No. 5 on a walk and a pair of singles by Russell and Baez. David Ross then popped up foul, and both runners advanced, significant because Albert Almora Jr. then singled, scoring both Baez and Russell to make it 7-0.

The Cubs made it 9-0 in the fourth. Anthony Rizzo led off with a single and then Russell hit a colossal home run to the train tracks that run near the top of Minute Maid Park:

The homer, Russell’s 20th, had this significance:

Pretty good company there, Addy. Pretty good company. And he still has three weeks’ worth of games remaining! He’s also now driven in 90 for the year, so has a realistic shot at 100. Russell also scored three times, which gives him 60 runs for the year, tied with last year’s total, so one more gives him a career high.

Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta was doing just fine through the first five innings, interrupted only by Jose Altuve’s 23rd homer of the year in the fourth. So it was 9-1 heading to the sixth, and, unfortunately, Jake had trouble with command again. With one out in the sixth, he hit George Springer, then gave up a double and a single making it 9-2. Two wild pitches made it 9-3 and a walk brought Justin Grimm in. Grimm threw another wild pitch and issued a walk to load the bases.

And you’re thinking — and don’t lie, I know you were — c’mon, they’re not going to blow this lead.

They didn’t. Grimm got two fly balls to end the inning.

But really, Jake has to do better than that. He threw only 49 strikes in 88 pitches (56 percent) and this has been his biggest issue most of the year, failure to command the zone. The wild pitches are a symptom of that, and Ross, catching Jake for the first time since April, usually pretty good at blocking those, had no real chance on Jake’s wild ones. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan posted this Fangraphs article which shows some of the potential differences between 2015 Jake and 2016 Jake. I’m hoping Chris Bosio can help him work these issues out before October.

Trevor Cahill threw an effective seventh and eighth inning, and since he’d thrown just 18 pitches in those two frames, Joe Maddon likely figured he could leave Trevor out there to finish up and thus pick up a save.

Bad idea, apparently; Cahill’s first two pitches of the ninth were both hit out of the ballpark, one by Yulieski Gurriel, one by Evan Gattis, and now it’s 9-5 and Travis Wood’s in the game. Further, with the lead “only” at four when once it had been nine, Aroldis Chapman started to loosen up.

Fortunately, Wood took only 11 pitches to retire the next three hitters and the Cubs had the series win — what we’d hoped they’d get out of Houston — and win No. 91 of the year, putting them back 40 games over .500. It reduced the division-clinching magic number to five (over the Cardinals), and the best-record-clinching number (over the Nationals) to 13. In fact, with the wild-card races very close and none of the other division races as distant as the N.L. Central, when the Cubs do clinch the Central they will become the first team this year to clinch a playoff spot.

The Cubs would have to sweep the Cardinals in order to clinch in St. Louis. That won’t be an easy task — never is, to sweep anyone, much less a contender desperately trying to hang on, playing in their home park — but yeah, it would be sweet to see the Cubs celebrating on the field Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, the earliest they could possibly clinch.