The Cubs reached their peak over .500 for the year at 23 over, 92-69, and led the N.L. Central by seven games, also the biggest first-place margin of 2017.
It was, again, great fun to watch a September game at Wrigley Field that didn’t mean anything, but know that there is meaningful baseball to come in less than a week’s time.
The Cubs emptied their bench in spring-training fashion and plenty of them got a chance to hit and run around the bases. Kyle Schwarber and Rene Rivera homered in a 9-0 blowout of the Reds, who couldn’t throw strikes or, seemingly, catch balls hit into the tough late-afternoon autumn sun.
First, Schwarber, with Willson Contreras on base in the second inning:
Kyle Schwarber getting the Cubs' bullpen dancing early pic.twitter.com/5lmszUTZ30— Cubs Talk (@CSNCubs) September 30, 2017
The homer was Kyle’s 30th of the season. That accomplished this:
Anthony Rizzo & Kyle Schwarber:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 30, 2017
first time in #Cubs history they had multiple 30-HR lefties in a season
For one inning, Kyle had the lead in a category you don’t really want to lead: fewest RBI in a season for anyone who hit 30 or more home runs. That gave Kyle 57 RBI; the leaders in this oddball category are Curtis Granderson and Jedd Gyorko, both of whom hit 30 home runs with just 59 RBI last year.
It was a heck of a blast to the opposite field, too:
Schwarber's HR was 2R shut, 110.9 mph exit velo and it traveled 437 feet. #Cubs lead 2-0 in 2nd— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 30, 2017
Obviously, “shot,” not “shut.” And that was hit into a pretty strong wind blowing in; without the wind that might have wound up on Waveland.
Kyle then came up with the bases loaded and two out in the third. His two-run single made it 4-0, and tied him with Granderson and Gyorko in the above-mentioned stat. With one RBI Sunday, he’d push past those two with 60.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester looked very, very good in shutting out the Reds for five innings and 75 pitches. His velocity and location were both good and he wound up allowing four hits and no walks, with seven strikeouts. Just two Reds got past first base off Lester.
Then Joe Maddon started substituting for the starters who played the early innings of the game. Only Schwarber and Ian Happ played the full game, and Happ played the second half of the game at third base again, his second day in a row at the position. And you know what? He actually looked pretty good there, given the fact that he had played exactly one professional inning there (last month) before Friday. He made a nice stop in the seventh inning and started a double play, and handled another chance flawlessly. He’s got a pretty good arm and looks fairly natural at third base. This gives Joe another option there, and yes, I’d even do it in the postseason if needed.
The Cubs bullpen threw four innings and allowed four hits and struck out eight. Justin Wilson allowed a hit, but got out of it with the double play started by Happ. Carl Edwards Jr. issued a walk, but was otherwise untouched. Pedro Strop allowed a leadoff single to Zach Vincej (his first big-league hit, and that’s an accomplishment for a guy who was a 37th-round draft pick in 2012, the only selection from that round who’s ever played in the major leagues), then struck out the side. And Wade Davis, who hasn’t looked sharp lately, allowed two singles (both of which might have been stopped had Javier Baez or Addison Russell still been in the game), then also struck out the side to end it.
The Cubs piled on against two Reds relievers in the sixth; the inning included a pop-fly single by Rene Rivera that Reds right fielder Scott Schebler lost in the sun that scored two runs, and three straight walks issued by Ariel Hernandez, the third of which forced in a run in the four-run inning.
Good thing to see: Albert Almora Jr. back in center field, making good throws and hitting a double (on a weird bounce). He looks fine and should be ready for the postseason.
Other fun things in this game included a 17-pitch battle that Tommy La Stella had with Reds reliever Asher Wojiechowski, which included six consecutive foul balls after he ran the count full. Yes, fun, even though TLS struck out. I believe that’s the longest at-bat for any Cubs player this year. Here’s a graphical look:
Battle. pic.twitter.com/B7u9mGDGQM— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 30, 2017
Also fun, Rene Rivera’s solo homer in the seventh, which bounced up into our section, the second one that’s been hit there this month:
My friend Jeff got Rene Rivera's home run! #Cubs pic.twitter.com/Y0GyiK7TFH— Al Yellon (@bleedcubbieblue) September 30, 2017
It truly is entertaining to have games like this, played like the team would play early spring games with substitutions, only the guys coming in aren’t wearing numbers in the 90s, with the results meaning nothing, although it’s certainly good for the Cubs to keep tacking extra numbers onto the win column. They still lead the Yankees by one win, and that conceivably could be important if the Cubs and Yankees manage to meet in the World Series (certainly possible). The team with the better record gets home field; if the Cubs win Sunday they’d have home field in a Cubs/Yankees match. (The only other team they’d have home field over in the A.L. playoff field is the Twins.)
Fun fact: Cubs pitchers struck out Joey Votto three times (two by Lester, one by Strop). That’s just the second time this year Votto has K’d three times in one game. The other: August 18 vs. the Braves (two by R.A. Dickey, one by Arodys Vizcaino).
One last fun fact from this win:
#Cubs are now 292-192 under Maddon. He's 5th manager in team history to have a record at least 100 games over .500— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) October 1, 2017
The other four: Frank Chance, Joe McCarthy, Cap Anson and Charlie Grimm.
One more day of fun before the Cubs prepare for serious baseball starting again Friday. Sunday’s game begins at 2:20 p.m. CT, as all of MLB starts games in the hour beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Mike Montgomery will go for the Cubs and Deck McGuire for the Reds.