The Cubs completed a sweep of the Pirates with this blowout. They improved to 72-60, which was at the time a season-high 12 games over .500. They continued to lead the N.L. Central by 3½ games.
Now that was fun!
The Cubs broke a whole passel of records in their 17-3 win over the Pirates Wednesday evening, and I’ll get to those, but we have to put the bad with the good, and this game did not start out anything like a 17-3 win typically would.
Jose Quintana had a shaky first inning in which he threw 31 pitches, gave up two weird hits (one dropped right in front of Jason Heyward, the other, a possible double-play ball, took a strange bounce off the mound), hit two batters — and then struck out the side. In between all that the Pirates took a 2-0 lead.
I don’t think anyone figured the Cubs would then score a dozen unanswered runs, and then tack on more, nor did it look like Quintana would have anything resembling a good outing.
And yet, that’s exactly what “Q” did. He retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced; the only baserunner after the first inning off him came on a solo homer by Josh Bell. By the time Bell hit the dinger, the Cubs’ lead was double digits.
That was helped in part by these two magnificent catches by Jon Jay in the third inning:
Back-to-back great catches by Jon Jay in CF. pic.twitter.com/Rtmeet6rCX— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 31, 2017
Jon Jay has Wrigley pumped after snagging pair of ripped liners in CF. First one was more aesthetically pleasing, second was a perfect route— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) August 31, 2017
Meanwhile, the Cubs were beginning to crush Pirates pitching. Things started slowly; a single and a walk in the first put runners on first and second, and one out later Ian Happ’s single made it 2-1.
A run got “manufactured,” to use the old saying, in the second. Javier Baez reached on an error, stole second and took third on a second error, and then...
Quintana missed on a bunt attempt, and when Pirates catcher Chris Stewart threw back to third, Javy wasn’t anywhere close to the base as he had never stopped running. The steal of home tied the game and really energized the Wrigley crowd.
Javier Báez: first #Cubs steal of home since Báez did it in NLCS Game 1 on October 15th— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 31, 2017
The third inning is when records started to fall. Kris Bryant singled with one out and Anthony Rizzo doubled him in.
Happ was next:
This blast made Ian Happ the sixth Cubs player to hit 20 homers this year. That's a franchise record. pic.twitter.com/XaBAwMlrMP— Cubs Talk (@CSNCubs) August 31, 2017
That was Happ’s 20th homer of the season, and that home run broke two records. He’s the sixth Cub to post 20 homers this year (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras are the others), which is the most Cubs to do that in one season, breaking the previous mark of five set in 1958 and tied in 2004 and 2008. Here are the Cubs who previously held that record:
1958: Ernie Banks, Walt “Moose” Moryn, Lee Walls, Bobby Thomson, Dale Long
2004: Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Derrek Lee, Corey Patterson
2008: Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, Mark DeRosa, Derrek Lee
Five of the six Cubs who have 20+ homers this year (all but Rizzo) are age 25 or under, which set a major-league record for such things, breaking a record set by the 1979 Montreal Expos and tied by the 2007 Brewers. Here are the players who previously held that one:
2007 Brewers (Braun, Fielder, Hardy, Hart)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 31, 2017
1979 Expos (Carter, Dawson, Parrish, Valentine) both had 4https://t.co/j3xtUYIyfQ
Ian Happ has his 20th home run in his 89th career game. No player in #Cubs franchise history has hit 20 home runs in fewer games.— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) August 31, 2017
Most HR by a #Cubs player through 89 career games:— Hot Stove Stats (@HotStoveStats) August 31, 2017
Ian Happ - 20
Kyle Schwarber - 19
Vince Barton - 16
Earl Webb - 14
Geovany Soto - 14
HR through 89 career games:#Cubs Ian Happ - 20— Hot Stove Stats (@HotStoveStats) August 31, 2017
Joe DiMaggio - 18
Willie Mays - 17
Barry Bonds - 14
Hank Aaron - 11
The Cubs had a 5-2 lead at this point and that, as it turned out, would have been enough to win the game. But this team was not done hitting, no, not by a long shot.
The fifth inning turned into a slugfest off a pair of Pirates pitchers. Seven runs scored; among the biggest hits were a two-run double by Baez and this single by Quintana:
Jose Quintana with a RBI single. pic.twitter.com/W9ZYv4pB2J— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 31, 2017
That was Q’s first RBI as a Cub. Two batters later, Quintana was able to trot around the bases thanks to Schwarber:
"It's the Thuggish Ruggish Bone." Schwarber HR pic.twitter.com/r9UwXzkgQc— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 31, 2017
Kyle’s 23rd homer of the season made it 12-2, and Quintana gave thanks:
Quintana recorded 2nd career RBI & told me he thanked Schwarber for the HR that followed..."I've never gotten to run the bases like that."— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) August 31, 2017
The Cubs weren’t done with home runs, either. Rizzo leading off the sixth:
Anthony Rizzo hits his 31st home run! pic.twitter.com/hU9LOVWXFN— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 31, 2017
That’s 96 RBI for Rizzo; just 14 more will give him a career high, and one more home run ties his career best. Happ was the next hitter, and he had singled, homered and doubled, meaning he needed a triple for the cycle:
Nice try, Ian. Maybe next time!
The Cubs weren’t done scoring, either. Schwarber, in the seventh, with a runner on first, No. 24 of the season:
Another home run for Kyle Schwarber. 15-3. pic.twitter.com/GC4xwbVVEz— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) August 31, 2017
And in the eighth, four Cubs singles made it 17-3 and did something no Cubs team had accomplished in 87 years:
Last two times #Cubs scored 15+ runs four times in a month— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 31, 2017
August 2017 (4 times)
June 1930 (4 times)
One more fun fact: The 14-run margin of victory was the largest for the Cubs at Wrigley Field since August 14, 2009, when they had a 17-2 win over... the Pirates. That 14-run win margin also increased the Cubs’ season run differential to +90, all of which is attributable to the second half (399-399 in runs scored/allowed before the All-Star break). That’s the best differential in baseball in the second half; the Indians (+81) are second. Also, the Cubs are up to 669 runs scored, which passed up the Dodgers for third-best in the National League. That’s 5.07 runs per game, or a pace for 821 on the season, which would be 13 more runs than last year’s team. Only three Cubs teams since 1937 have scored 800 or more runs in a season: 1970, 2008 and 2016.
Final note of interest: The Cubs got good relief work out of Hector Rondon, Justin Wilson and Felix Pena in a low-leverage situation (three total innings, two hits, three strikeouts), perhaps a good sign for the future.
Whew! Quite the evening at the ol’ ballyard. The sweep also put the Cubs at a season-high 12 games over .500, and maintained a 3½-game lead over the Brewers, who won Wednesday afternoon over the Cardinals with this play:
Credit where credit is due, Keon Broxton’s fantastic catch stole what would have been a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk that would have given the Cardinals the lead. St. Louis thus drops to six games behind the Cubs, which is fine by me. The Cubs’ win over the Pirates puts Pittsburgh 10 games out of first place and unless something unusual happens, that likely ends the Pirates’ dreams of contention this year.
Also, the Dodgers lost Wednesday night. It’s L.A.’s first four-game losing streak of the season (first since May 2016, in fact), and here are the two best records in baseball since this year’s All-Star break:
That’s only 2½ games difference. Perhaps the Cubs are peaking just at the perfect time. The Cubs have scored 78 more runs than the Dodgers since the break, and allowed just 18 more, so both pitching and offense are starting to click for the Cubs.
Good times. The Atlanta Braves come to Wrigley Thursday evening to begin a four-game series. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and Sean Newcomb for the Braves.