The Cubs had another marathon the day before Kyle Hendricks was scheduled to start, and once again, he came through.
The Cubs improved to 89-48, still led the N.L. Central by 16½ games, and reduced their division-clinching magic number to 10.
You’ve heard this all before, but it’s certainly worth saying every time Kyle Hendricks takes the mound and does it:
“All he does is get guys out.”
For the third time in five weeks after the Cubs played a long extra-inning game and needed “Cyle” to give the bullpen a break, he did exactly that. Hendricks made only one real mistake, a sinker that didn’t sink and was deposited by Chris Carter over the wall in left field. Otherwise he threw six strong innings, striking out six and allowing just that one run, and the Cubs defeated the Brewers in front of a crowd of 43,662 at
Miller Park Wrigley North that sounded like a home-game throng. Hendricks dropped his league-leading ERA to 2.07.
Imagine how that must feel to Brewers players. Ryan Braun got booed in his home park. Cubs plays got cheered. “Let’s go, Cubbies!” was loudly audible on the TV broadcast.
Carter’s home run held up for quite some time. Cubs hitters looked pretty meek through the first five innings, recording only two hits (singles by Miguel Montero and Javier Baez). They had other baserunners, but the Brewers stayed out of trouble, turning a double play in the fifth.
The Cubs broke through in the sixth. Tommy La Stella led off with a walk, and advanced to second on a ground out. He scored on a single by Jorge Soler to tie the game. Then they took the lead in the seventh, with a nice rally put together after the first two men were easy ground outs.
Montero doubled and Chris Coghlan pinch-hit for Hendricks. Coghlan’s single scored Montero to make it 2-1, and on the throw in, Coghlan took second, where he scored on a ground ball to Scooter Gennett. Now, ordinarily a play like that would have ended the inning easily, but Gennett made some sort of weird back flip and the ball flew out of his glove, allowing Coghlan to score on an error:
So it was 3-1 heading to the eighth, after Felix Pena threw a 1-2-3 seventh on only 10 pitches. Pena, whose numbers were decent but not great at Triple-A Iowa, has had four good outings out of five (we won’t talk about that other one), could be in the mix for the 2017 bullpen.
And in that eighth inning, the Cubs broke it open. With one out, Soler singled and Matt Szczur ran for him. Addison Russell singled Szczur to third, where he scored on a ball hit by Jason Heyward through the infield. That was ruled an error on Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia, though I don’t see how — he never appeared to touch the ball! Anyway, it was now 4-1, with Russell on third. Javier Baez laid down a bunt that scored Russell, and Baez was safe because no one covered first base.
The Brewers changed pitches, but that didn’t help them. Rob Scahill hit Montero, loading the bases, and Coghlan slapped a single to right, scoring a pair of runs to make it 7-1.
Now read the play-by-play descriptions above and you’ll see quite a few names you haven’t seen much recently in Cubs scoring plays: Montero, La Stella, Heyward and Coghlan. This is important as many or all of those players are going to have to contribute during the postseason (and yes, I think all of them will be on the postseason roster, with the possible exception of Coghlan). Montero and Coghlan both had two hits, as did Soler. Coghlan’s overall numbers (including his time with the A’s) don’t look very good, but with the Cubs he’s hitting .231/.370/.338 (15-for-65) with five doubles, a triple and nine RBI. Those numbers are edging closer to his career norms. He could be a useful bench bat in the postseason.
As for Montero, he also threw out a baserunner (Kirk Nieuwenhuis) trying to steal, in the fourth inning, helped out by another excellent swipe tag by Baez. That was just the seventh runner caught by Miggy in 60 attempts this year.
After Pena, Joe Smith threw an efficient 1-2-3 eighth, striking out a pair of Brewers, and he has now thrown four innings since his return from the DL, facing 13 batters and allowing just one to reach base (on a HBP), with seven strikeouts. Smith, too, might be in the mix for the postseason bullpen, if he keeps pitching this way.
Jake Buchanan made his Cubs debut (he previously pitched briefly for the Astros) and allowed a single run, a homer by Ryan Braun. Buchanan’s on the roster to eat up innings in games like this one. He became the 25th pitcher to go for the Cubs this year (26 if you count Montero’s inning against the Mets last July).
So, now let’s talk numbers, magic and otherwise. The Cubs moved to a season-high 41 games over .500 at 89-48. They’re approaching 42 games over, which would match the 98-56 at the end of the 1945 season for the highest mark for any Cubs team since 1935. The magic number for clinching the N.L. Central is now 10, pending the Cardinals/Pirates late-afternoon game in Pittsburgh, and the magic number for clinching the N.L.’s best record drops to 16, again pending a late-afternoon Labor Day game between the Nationals and Braves.
It was nice to have a win with a margin more than one — the five-run victory gives the Cubs a 37-10 mark in blowouts (by baseball-reference’s definition, wins by five or more runs). The run differential is now +229 (691 runs scored, 462 allowed), and with 691 scored in 137 games, the Cubs are on pace for 817 runs, which would be their most since 2008 (855).