The Cubs won their 98th game of 2016 on this day, their most since 1945. And it put them 43 games over .500 at 98-55, the first time any Cubs team had been that far over .500 in 81 years, since the 1935 version finished the year 100-54.
The win reduced the Cubs’ magic number to clinch home field throughout the N.L. playoffs to one.
Unless you are in your 70s, or maybe even your 80s depending on how early in life you became a baseball and Cubs fan, you have never witnessed what we all did Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
What we witnessed was the Cubs’ 98th win of the season, something they have not done since the last pennant season, 71 years ago in 1945.
Savor that for just a moment, because more important work is to be done before the history of the 2016 season is written. And savor also the return of Jake Arrieta to pitching dominance. It was just the second time since April that Jake had thrown as many as seven innings with just one walk, a testament to much better command than we’ve seen from him since the All-Star break. He allowed just five singles and, thanks to some outstanding defense, only one Cardinals runner got past first base.
All of this helped lead to a 5-0 Cubs win over the Cardinals, dealing the Redbirds a blow in their increasingly-desperate attempt to stay in the wild-card race. Pending the Giants game against the Padres and the Mets contest vs. the Phillies Friday night, the Cardinals now trail both by a full game.
After Jake struck out the side in the first inning, Cubs bats got to work. Dexter Fowler, as he so often does, led off with a walk. Kris Bryant singled and Fowler scored on a wild pitch by Mike Leake. Bryant then came home on a double by Anthony Rizzo that made it 2-0:
Then Ben Zobrist singled in Bryant to make it 3-0 before Leake recorded his first out. Chris Coghlan completed the four-run first with this double down the right-field line to make it 4-0, and really, with Jake’s dominance, everyone could have gone home right then, because the game was essentially over.
No one does that for Cubs/Cardinals games, of course, and watching Jake mow down St. Louis hitters was a pleasant way to pass a Friday afternoon, watching the Cardinals’ playoff chances circle the drain.
The Cardinals did have a brief chance to score in the third inning when the first two hitters singled. Leake attempted to bunt and Rizzo, Bryant and Zobrist turned it into this nifty double play, blunting the threat.
Jake struck out Matt Carpenter to end the inning.
After that it was all Jake. The Cardinals had just four more baserunners the rest of the game, and Jake was dealing:
Nice to see him pounding the zone like that, and with good velocity, still hitting 94 or 95 in the seventh inning, which he ended with his 10th K, a swinging strikeout by Randal Grichuk.
The Cubs had many chances to score -- leaving 10 on base -- but were 3-for-10 with RISP, so no complaints there. The fifth and final run scored on singles by Arrieta, Bryant and Zobrist in the fourth. Rizzo had three hits and increased his RBI total to 105.
Then it was up to the bullpen. Pedro Strop, just off the disabled list, walked the first hitter he faced (Jhonny Peralta) on four pitches, perhaps a bit too amped up for his first real game action in six weeks. But he recovered by striking out Kolten Wong, and then, with an infield shift on for pinch-hitter Brandon Moss, Strop induced the ol’ 5-6-3 double play to end the inning.
In the ninth, Joe Maddon again played “playoff situation” relief pitching. Travis Wood entered to pitch to Carpenter, and got him on a called third strike that had Carpenter running to first base. To be fair, the pitch was borderline:
Carpenter wasn’t happy with C.B. Bucknor’s call, but Bucknor — surprisingly — actually called a pretty good game, and that’s saying something.
Carl Edwards Jr. was brought in to face two righthanded hitters, and got Jedd Gyorko on a routine fly to right and struck out Stephen Piscotty to end it.
Before the game, David Ross was honored for his upcoming retirement after this season:
Here’s hoping he celebrates further a few weeks from now by walking off the field as a World Series champion.
A few notes on the 98th win: It was also the 56th Cubs win at Wrigley Field, tying the Wrigley record set in 1933, tied in 1935. If the Cubs sweep this series they would tie the franchise record for home wins in a season, set at West Side Grounds in 1910.
The Cubs improved their record in blowouts (games decided by five or more runs) to 41-12.
@bleedcubbieblue 43 games over .500 for the first time since 1935.— Chris Jaffe (@jaffechris) September 23, 2016
On the walk watch: The Cubs walked six times Friday, giving them 615 for the season. 36 more in the remaining nine games — exactly four per game -- would break the team record.
On the run watch: The Cubs have scored 760 runs this year. 40 more in the remaining nine games — an average of 4.44 per game — would give them 800 runs for the year. That would be just the third time any Cubs team has scored 800 or more since 1937 (806 in 1970, 855 in 2008).
There were many, many fewer Cardinals fans than you might have expected for a late-September rivalry series when both teams are in playoff contention. Maybe there will be more Saturday, but Cardinals fans seem to have checked out of this season already, even though they still have a decent shot at making the postseason tournament. I’d say maybe 10 percent of the crowd was in Cardinals red, and they were all pretty quiet even when their heroes did something good.