The Cubs improved to 75-60, increased their lead in the N.L. Central to 4½ games (biggest of the year), and reduced their division-clinching magic number to 23, all with this win.
The Cubs defeated the Braves 14-12 Saturday afternoon for their sixth consecutive win, matching their longest winning streak of 2017. After something like that happens, the emotion you’d think we’d all feel would be excitement for the win, the streak, all the runs...
Instead, the overwhelming sensation, for me at least, was relief that the Cubs actually did hang on to win this one after a parade of relievers in blue pinstripes had a lot of trouble recording outs with big leads.
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start at the beginning. Jon Lester, in his first start back from a disabled list stint, struggled in the first inning. He loaded the bases on two hits and a walk and throwing 31 pitches before finally retiring the side. He had a 1-2-3 second, and then the Cubs got the bats going.
A single by Anthony Rizzo and two walks loaded the bases with one out, and that brought Rene Rivera to the plate:
Congrats to @ReneRivera13 (and thanks!) for hitting his first career grand slam! pic.twitter.com/MA18Uqk2aA— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 2, 2017
Rivera’s first career grand slam gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead. At the end of the video you can see the man who got the ball; it hit right below the “Hey! Hey!” letters and off the edge of the pole, into the “well” in the first row of the left-field bleachers. Cubs security came and found the man and arranged for a meet-and-greet with Rivera after the game:
Kudos to the fan who returned grand slam ball to #Cubs @ReneRivera13. He really appreciated it. Ball had yellow mark from foul pole on it— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 2, 2017
Fun fact about Rivera’s slam:
Prior to René Rivera, last player whose first HR in a #Cubs uniform was a grand slam was our guy @David_DeJesus3 (5/11/2012)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 2, 2017
4-0 sounds great! Well.. until Lester started giving up home runs. Freddie Freeman with a man on in the third, then Matt Kemp right after Freeman, and it’s 4-3. It might have been more except for a slick diving catch by Jon Jay to end the frame.
Javier Baez made it 5-3 in the bottom of that inning with his 21st:
Javier Baez hits a solo home run for his 21st home run of the season!!! #ThatsCub pic.twitter.com/ubmlRjCz3O— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB_) September 2, 2017
But Lester gave up yet another homer, to Rio Ruiz, in the fourth, and it’s a one-run game again.
The Cubs took care of that in the bottom of that inning. Lester led off with a walk, his fourth of the season. A single by Jay and a walk to Kyle Schwarber loaded the bases for Rizzo, who cleared them with a triple into the right-field corner, his second triple of the season. That gave Rizzo 100 RBI for the year, and produced this fun fact:
#Cubs with 30 2B, 30 HR & 100 RBI in 3 straight seasons— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 2, 2017
Hack Wilson 4 (1927-30)
Anthony Rizzo 3 (2015-17)
Baez doubled in Rizzo and Jason Heyward singled in Baez for a five-run inning, and the Cubs had a six-run lead at 10-4.
Lester, who struggled all afternoon, made it through the fifth — managers still seem determined to give the struggling starter a chance for the “win” — and at least on the Wrigley pitch-speed meter, his fastball velocity was dropping. He hit 92-93 in the first inning, but by the fifth he was barely touching 90. It’s a good idea, then, that the Cubs are likely going to stick with the six-man rotation for at least one more turn.
Hector Rondon threw a scoreless sixth and the Cubs extended the lead to seven. Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout, and scored on another wild pitch.
It’s 11-4 heading to the seventh. What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, as it turned out. Justin Wilson resumed his walking ways, issuing walks to the first two hittters he faced, both of whom scored on a double by Nick Markakis. Joe Maddon had seen enough at that point and called on Koji Uehara, who gave up an RBI single to Kurt Suzuki. This made it 11-7. OK, so it’s still a four-run lead after Uehara got out of the inning on a line-drive double play. All three batters Uehara faced hit the ball hard off him, and that’s concerning.
The Cubs pushed across two more in the bottom of the seventh. Rivera singled and after pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella walked, Jay sacrificed them to second and third, where pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. singled them both in.
Now the Cubs have a six-run lead heading to the eighth. What... could... possibly... go... wrong?
Well, we do know this. Felix Pena, who threw eight consecutive pitches out of the strike zone and thus walked the only hitters he faced, will not be on the postseason roster. He was replaced by Carl Edwards Jr., who retired one hitter before giving up a long double to Freeman, which made it 13-8. A groundout scored the second walk to make it 13-9.
Getting a little tight around the collar yet?
Heyward loosened that a bit with his ninth home run of the year [VIDEO].
The Cubs now have a five-run lead entering the ninth inning, and Brian Duensing, who’s been pretty solid most of the year, is entering the game. Again, I ask:
What. Could. Possibly. Go. Wrong?
Ugh. Duensing gave up singles to the first two batters he faced, one of which was an infield hit originally called as an out on the field, but overturned on review. A passed ball during that second at-bat put the lead runner on third, where he scored on a force play.
One out, 14-10. Wade Davis had started to loosen up and at this point, even without the game in a save situation, Joe figured it was time for his closer.
Davis got Lane Adams to ground out. Two out.
What could possibly go wrong?
This was just one of those days when no pitcher seemed to be able to get outs, when almost no lead was safe. Jace Peterson doubled, 14-11, and after a wild pitch advanced Peterson to third, Ozzie Albies singled to make it 14-12.
That meant Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ best hitter, is at the plate representing the tying run. Yikes.
Davis had one good 95 mile per hour fastball in him and it got Freeman on a 2-2 count.
In the immortal words of Jack Brickhouse: “When you come by, bring my stomach!”
On a coolish afternoon with the sun peeking in and out of clouds and the wind blowing off Lake Michigan, the last thing I expected was a 26-run, 29-hit, 11-walk, six home-run game. But there it was, because baseball. And a win is a win, no matter how it’s recorded. After such good pitching Friday, having this happen one day later... well, it probably doesn’t mean anything. It was good to see this offense, particularly from Heyward, who had two hits and two walks and seems to be hitting better. Heyward’s last six games: .444/.476/.667 (8-for-18) with a double and a home run. Having him contribute to the offense that way is a big deal, and hopefully he’s primed for a good September... and October.
The Giants defeated the Cardinals in 10 innings Saturday afternoon, so the Cubs increase their lead over St. Louis to seven games. For now, the Cubs lead the Brewers by four games, as Milwaukee is facing the Nationals this evening with Max Scherzer going for the Nats.
Sunday, the Cubs go for the four-game sweep over the Braves, which would also sweep the season series from them as well as the entire homestand. Mike Montgomery will go for the Cubs against Braves rookie lefthander Max Fried.