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2017 Cubs victories revisited, September 28: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1

The regulars all got the night off, but the Cubs won anyway in extras.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs won their 90th game of the year, improving to 90-69, and eliminated the Cardinals from the wild-card race.

The Cubs’ third baseman doubled down the line in the 11th inning Thursday evening, driving in what turned out to be the decisive run in a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.

Normally, if I write “the Cubs’ third baseman” I’m talking about Kris Bryant, but in this case the game-winner was driven in by Taylor Davis, who really isn’t a third baseman at all (he played a total of two innings there at Triple-A Iowa this year and was playing the position for the first time in the major leagues).

Good for the lineup of subs and minor leaguers who gave almost all of the N.L. Central champions’ starting players the night off.

After I tweeted out Thursday’s lineup, I got this as a reply:

“JustMike” was half right, anyway. Ian Happ began the scoring in this game with two out in the first inning with this solo home run [VIDEO], his 23rd of the season. With that homer, Happ tied Geovany Soto (2008) and Billy Williams (1961) for second-most home runs by a Cubs rookie. Bryant hit 26 in 2015 in his Rookie of the Year season.

Kyle Hendricks, in his final start before the postseason, looked sharp. His velocity was up a tick, which meant his changeup was working better. It resulted in five shutout innings, with just four hits and one walk allowed, and nine strikeouts. Hendricks, who has one of the slowest fastball velocities among big-league starting pitchers, still wound up his season with nearly eight (7.9) K’s per nine innings, with a walk rate that’s up slightly from last year but still good (2.6 per nine, compared to 2.1 per nine in 2016).

That left things up to mostly subs and kids from the Cubs bullpen. Unfortunately, Justin Grimm entered and immediately gave the Cardinals a run on a single by Tommy Pham, who then stole second, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a groundout by Dexter Fowler.

The rest of the Cubs’ pen, though, did quite well. Dillon Maples and Justin Wilson had identical innings in the seventh and eighth. They both walked the leadoff hitter, then struck out the side. Wilson has to be teetering on the edge of the postseason roster. This outing was good, and he struck out three pretty good hitters: Fowler, Jose Martinez and Paul DeJong. Was it good enough to get him postseason consideration? You can be sure that he’ll be getting more work over the weekend as Joe Maddon and the rest of the baseball operations staff evaluate all their options.

But the Cubs could not score in the late innings either, and after Jen-Ho Tseng threw a 1-2-3 ninth, the game went to extras. Just what the Cubs didn’t want, obviously, with a day game in Chicago Friday afternoon.

The Cardinals got a runner on with one out in the 10th on a walk to Matt Carpenter, who was replaced by pinch-runner Harrison Bader. Alex Avila immediately threw Bader out trying to steal (nice swipe tag by Tommy La Stella, incidentally) and on we went to the 11th.

Kyle Schwarber, who has bunted his way on base before, hit a ball down the third-base line that might as well have been a bunt, it was so well-placed. Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman probably should have just done nothing with hit, but instead he threw the ball down the right-field line and into the seats, so Schwarber advanced to second. That’s when Davis hit his double [VIDEO] just past a diving Jedd Gyorko to give the Cubs the lead. Davis on his hit:

Davis might be getting his only big-league cuppa coffee, so congratulations to him on this game-winning hit.

Tseng, in his third inning of relief, looked a lot better than he did in the start he made against the Mets September 14. His velocity and location were excellent.

Tseng clearly has talent, and we might see him again this weekend. He’ll definitely be in the mix for the 2018 rotation.

Carpenter’s walk was the only baserunner he allowed, although there was nearly another one... except Leonys Martin made one of the best catches you’ll ever see [VIDEO].

And a catch like that not only winning the game, but ending the Cardinals’ postseason chances? Delicious.

The win was the Cubs’ 90th of the season, giving the franchise three straight 90-win seasons for the first time since 1928-29-30. It completed their season away from Wrigley Field with a 44-37 record, the third straight year they’ve had a winning road season. Last time the Cubs franchise did that, before now: 1937-38-39.

And one more note about this year’s team, which struggled often early in the season and entered the All-Star break two games under .500 at 43-45.

Last year, the Cubs began the season 47-20, then had a 5-15 run, then went 50-23 after the All-Star break.

With Thursday’s win, the Cubs are 47-24 since the All-Star break. That’s very, very close to the two winning runs they had last year. Further, that 47-24 record is second-best in baseball, trailing only the Indians (53-19). In fact, the Cubs have played three games better since the break than their upcoming playoff opponent, the Nationals (44-27).

Seems like the Cubs are peaking at exactly the right time.

Before that postseason matchup, though, there are three more regular-season games to be played at Wrigley Field, against the Reds. The weather should be good and the atmosphere ought to be festive. Friday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CT, Jose Quintana will go for the Cubs and Robert Stephenson for the Reds.

Good times. #FlyTheW #LetsGo