This victory brought the Cubs again to a new season high, 13 games over .500 at 73-60. They maintained their 3½-game lead in the N.L. Central over the Brewers.
Since Joe Maddon took over as Cubs manager, August has been the month where the team has really taken off.
After a solid 6-2 win over the Braves Thursday at Wrigley Field completed play for August 2017, the Cubs are 58-27 in August since Maddon came to Chicago. One of the things Maddon has instituted for the Cubs is “American Legion Week,” where players are told not to show up until an hour or so before game time, and the Cubs haven’t taken batting practice most of this homestand. This is supposed to help with late-season fatigue and it seems to have worked.
Thursday, the Cubs got yet another good outing from Kyle Hendricks and rode a four-hit night from Jon Jay and a two-run homer by Kris Bryant to victory.
Hendricks walked a pair in the first inning but helped himself when he picked Ozzie Albies off first base. Hendricks is really, really good at that:
Hendricks with another pickoff at first. pic.twitter.com/GKzGxy5Oew— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 1, 2017
Hendricks picked Ozzie Albies off first for the second out of the inning. That's his 12th since 2015, the most for any righty in baseball.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) September 1, 2017
And then the Cubs wasted no time in taking a 2-0 lead. Jay led off the bottom of the first with a single, went to third when Bryant’s double down the line bounced into the seats and scored on an infield out. After Albert Almora Jr. walked, Javier Baez singled in Bryant.
An error helped the Cubs make it 3-0 in the third. A walk to Anthony Rizzo and single by Almora put runners on first and second. Ian Happ sent a ground ball to third with two out that should have ended the inning, but Braves third baseman Jace Peterson booted it to load the bases. Rene Rivera, who came into the game with nine walks in 187 plate appearances this year, drew a walk to force in a run.
Meanwhile, Hendricks was on a roll. He gave up baserunners here and there but was helped by a second-inning double play. In the fifth, Ben Zobrist made an error allowing Dansby Swanson to reach. Two outs later Albies singled him in to make it 3-1, but Almora ended that inning with some outstanding defense:
Diving catch by Albert Almora pic.twitter.com/lncgW8rsZn— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 1, 2017
Ben Zobrist walked with one out in the sixth and that brought Bryant to the plate:
2-run homer for Kris Bryant pic.twitter.com/98zFY9lx7u— Kevin Marchina (@kg_holler) September 1, 2017
Check out the launch angle on that one!
The wind was blowing in strongly at 17 miles per hour on a night that felt a bit autumn-like; without that wind KB’s ball probably lands on Waveland.
Hendricks got to two out in the seventh before allowing a second run on a pinch-homer by Lane Adams. He was then lifted to a nice ovation. Hendricks was topping out at about 87 on his fastball and his changeup was hitting at 79; this is only about 1-2 miles per hour short of what he was doing last year and it seems clear he’s got pretty good movement and location back on his pitches. Since his return from the disabled list he’s posted a 2.31 ERA and 1.286 WHIP in eight starts. Those numbers aren’t too far off what he did last year, and with the Cubs (briefly) going to a six-man rotation for the upcoming week, the extra rest will help Hendricks and the rest of the starters.
The Cubs added a final run in the eighth. Jay blooped a ball down the left-field line that was fair by a foot or so, and it bounced all the way into the corner for a triple, his fourth hit of the night, and Bryant singled him in. KB ends August hitting .343/.457/.588 with five home runs and 26 runs, by far his best month of 2017.
The Cubs got good relief from Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Wilson, a total of 2⅓ innings with one hit and one walk allowed. Wilson struck out the side in the ninth, even though Dansby Swanson extended his at-bat to nine pitches by fouling off seven straight Wilson offerings before swinging and missing. That’s a good sign: Wilson has now had five straight good outings, a total of 5⅓ innings with only one hit allowed, no walks and seven strikeouts. Whatever was wrong with him when he first came to the Cubs seems to have been worked out, and that’s excellent news, as the Cubs will need that kind of performance in the postseason.
One more note, which didn’t really affect the game much one way or the other: Plate umpire C.B. Bucknor had a terrible night calling balls and strikes. According to the @CubsUmp Twitter account, Bucknor missed 14 calls in this game. That’s a huge number; most games have maybe three or four missed calls per @CubsUmp. Six went in favor of the Cubs and eight against.
The Cubs maintained their 3½-game lead over the Brewers, who also won Thursday evening. The Cardinals won in San Francisco and remain six games behind. This win was satisfying for another reason, too:
Last time #Cubs won a game after scoring 15+ runs the previous game was 4/22/2016, the day after Arrieta's 16-0 no-hitter— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 1, 2017
Several callups and DL activations are expected Friday, and also the Cubs should add Leonys Martin, who was acquired from the Mariners late Thursday. Martin was acquired before Thursday night’s deadline for postseason eligibility, so there’s another name in the mix for October’s roster. I’ll have an article posted when the Cubs announce Friday’s roster additions.
Friday afternoon, the Cubs go for their second win in a row over the Braves and fifth straight overall. John Lackey goes for the Cubs and Mike Foltynewicz for the Braves.