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2017 Cubs victories revisited, September 13: Cubs 17, Mets 5

The Cubs’ offense exploded over the hapless Mets.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs scored 17 runs for the third time in three weeks, raising their record to 79-66. They increased their lead over the second-place Brewers to 2½ games and cut their magic number to 15.

When the Mets came to town, it was noted that their roster had been decimated by trades and disabled-list placements and they resembled a Triple-A squad more than anything else.

The Cubs took advantage of that big-time Wednesday night, pounding out 16 hits and drawing 11 walks in a 17-5 dismantling of the visitors from New York.

It did not start out well. Jose Reyes sent Jon Lester’s seventh pitch of the game into the bleachers for a 1-0 Mets lead. And Lester struggled that entire inning, eventually throwing 28 pitches.

The Cubs didn’t waste any time getting the lead, though. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant singled and Anthony Rizzo walked to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first. Two infield outs scored two runs, and the Cubs had the lead.

Lester, though, struggled for the first three innings. Two singles and a squeeze bunt executed by Mets starter Matt Harvey tied the game 2-2, and Lester threw 24 more pitches in the second inning. I think you can tell that pace isn’t going to get Lester even to the fifth inning if he keeps it up. Fortunately, Willson Contreras picked Reyes off first base to end the inning. We’ve missed that kind of defense behind the plate.

The Cubs ran themselves out of a run in the third. With two out and runners on first and second, Jason Heyward singled past a diving Reyes. It looked like Contreras would score easily, and Ian Happ tried to take third. But Mets center fielder Juan Lagares made a perfect throw to third to get Happ, who didn’t slide, and here you can see [VIDEO] Contreras looking back, watching the play, and sort of slowing down as he tried to score.

Well, that’s not good.

Suddenly, Lester turned things around. He did walk the leadoff hitter in the fourth, but immediately got out of that with a double play, and that seemed to energize him. From the first to the third innings: 78 pitches for Lester. From the fourth through the sixth: 36 pitches, and no Mets runner got past first base in those innings. Lester turned what looked like a slog of a start into a reasonably good outing (six innings, six hits, two runs, five strikeouts).

The Cubs, meanwhile, were getting the bats going. Three runs scored in the fourth, two of them on this single by Contreras:

Harvey departed during that three-run inning, but the Cubs had a 5-2 lead and then started teeing off on a parade of Mets relievers. Kris Bryant doubled in the sixth and after a pair of walks (one intentional) loaded the bases, Ian Happ grounded to third. It could have been a double play, but:

That happened too fast to even play that clip to the “Benny Hill” theme. It was 6-2.

Javier Baez made it 7-2 leading off the seventh [VIDEO].

Javy’s 22nd was part of a four-hit night, but the Cubs weren’t done scoring in that inning. Albert Almora Jr., who’d entered the game at the beginning of the inning, came up with two men on base [VIDEO].

That made it 10-2 and the rout was on. Or should have been on, but Justin Grimm entered to pitch the eighth inning and served up a three-run homer to Dominic Smith. Well, check off another postseason box, anyway: there’s no way Grimm makes a postseason roster, and I’m reasonably certain we are seeing his last three weeks in a Cubs uniform. Except for a 14-appearance streak after his first demotion to Iowa when he was lights-out, Grimm has been largely awful this year. He turned 29 last month and will almost certainly be non-tendered this offseason.

What is it with pitchers named “Justin” in the Cubs bullpen?

The game went 10-5 into the bottom of the eighth, and even though that seemed a reasonably safe lead, the Cubs went on to torment two more Mets relievers. A walk to Heyward and single by Baez preceded a double by Rene Rivera, who had replaced Contreras earlier in an effort to not overtax Willson on his return from the DL. Two runs scored on that Rivera double, his second of the game. A walk to Zobrist and single by Bryant loaded the bases, and Rizzo walked to make it 13-5.

That brought up Almora again [VIDEO].

For just a moment it appeared Almora might have a chance at an inside-the-park grand slam, but the throw came back into the infield quickly enough and Almora stopped at third, content with a six-RBI game. That’s six RBI from a player who didn’t even enter the game until the seventh inning, and it established a new career high for him. His previous high? Three, twice.

Jon Jay grounded out as a pinch hitter, scoring Almora with the final run of the game.

Felix Pena had a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth. That was the only 1-2-3 inning for either team all night.

The Cubs’ 11 walks were a season high. That increased the season total to 555, or 3.83 per game. That’s an increase in the per-game rate of 0.05 — since Tuesday. Entering this game the Cubs were on pace for 612 walks. Now they’re on pace for 620. That’s a huge increase in “pace” this late in the year.

That was all great fun, and this is the way good teams should take advantage of bad teams like the Mets. It’s the third time the Cubs have scored 17 runs in their last 18 games. (!) The first time (17-2 over the Phillies August 26) they followed up with an ugly defeat. The second one, a 17-3 win over the Pirates August 30, was followed by a pair of victories over the Braves. Also:

The 1936 Cubs were in first place as late as August 2, but faded down the stretch and finished second, five games out of first.

This year’s Cubs team seems to at last have righted the ship after a rough series over the weekend against the Brewers. Yes, these wins come against a depleted Mets team, but wins are wins. The Cubs picked up a full game in the N.L. Central over the Cardinals, who lost to the Reds. The Brewers, who defeated the Pirates, moved into second place, but remained 2½ games behind. St. Louis and Milwaukee both have 69 losses to the Cubs’ 66, so the elimination number for both clubs was reduced to 15.

One last note: The big win increased the Cubs’ season run differential to +88. They have a pretty good shot at making that +100 or more, which would all be from the second half — they were exactly even at 399 runs scored, 399 allowed at the All-Star break.

Jen-Ho Tseng, who was recently named Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was surprised by management Wednesday when he came to Wrigley Field to be honored for that achievement. Tseng doesn’t just get a ceremony and recognition, he’ll start Thursday night against the Mets, making his major-league debut. Seth Lugo will go for the Mets.

Meanwhile, the Brewers have Thursday off and the Cardinals and Reds play an afternoon game in St. Louis, before the Cards come to Wrigley for an important three-game series beginning Friday afternoon.

Hang in there. This Cubs team looks pretty good right now.