Raise your hands. How many of you are now on board with me for the universal DH?
Pedro Strop, who was left in to bat in the 10th inning because Joe Maddon wanted him to finish the game after Javier Baez had bunted in the lead run, appeared to injure his left hamstring trying to beat a relay throw to first base.
The Cubs won the game 4-3 in 10 hard-fought innings over the Nationals, but the happy flight home will be tempered a bit by the possible injury to Strop, who’s done an excellent job as closer.
Randy Rosario closed out the Nationals 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 10th for his first big-league save, striking out Ryan Zimmerman to end it, and that shows the talent level of this team is very, very deep. That said, I don’t think you want Rosario closing games down the stretch or in the postseason. That was his first big-league save. More on all this later, now let’s unpack this long, ultimately satisfying win.
Mike Montgomery was sharp over the first couple of innings and so was Joe Ross for the Nats. Washington broke through on the board first on a solo homer by Spencer Kieboom, his second in as many days.
But the Cubs took the lead in the fourth. Kris Bryant led off with a single, and one out later, Baez stepped to the plate [VIDEO].
Victor Caratini followed with an RBI single to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
Montgomery nursed this lead into the fifth. After a leadoff single by Adrian Sanchez, Montgomery was lifted in favor of Jesse Chavez, who got an out before allowing another single that sent Sanchez to third, where he scored on a sac fly to tie the game. Montgomery’s pitching line doesn’t look great for this game, but:
4 innings, 2 ER for Montgomery today.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 13, 2018
Even so, from August 16 to present (27 games), the #Cubs 2.70 starter ERA is best in the Majors.
And that’s one reason the Cubs have held on to the division lead.
The Cubs got the lead right back in the sixth, thanks again to Javy [VIDEO].
Baez’s 31st of the year was nicely done to the opposite field. Also:
75+ Extra-base hits in a season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 13, 2018
age 25 or younger season, #Cubs history
77 Javier Báez (25), 2018 (2B, HR today)
77 Kris Bryant (24), 2016
76 Ron Santo (24), 1964
82 Ernie Banks (24), 1955
That’s pretty good company, I’d say.
Jorge De La Rosa and Steve Cishek held the lead through the sixth, but Carl Edwards Jr. couldn’t do so in the seventh. Again, a walk was CJ’s undoing, and after he had retired the first two hitters. The walk was followed by an RBI double by Trea Turner and the game was tied 3-3.
The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the eighth off Matt Grace, but Greg Holland entered and shut the Cubs down, first striking out pinch-hitter Willson Contreras. Joe decided he’d rather have Contreras face Holland than have Caratini bat righthanded vs. Grace, and it was probably the right call. Caratini entered the game hitting just .146/.250/.195 (6-for-41) with 14 strikeouts against lefthanders. Then Joe sent Ben Zobrist up to bat for David Bote, and Zobrist has been so good in these situations, but Holland struck him out, too. Holland was awful with the Cardinals, but has been lights-out with the Nats. He was released August 1 by St. Louis, available to anyone. The Cubs should have taken a chance on him. Oh, well.
Brian Duensing entered for the last of the eighth. Juan Soto hit a rope off him, but right at Kris Bryant.
That’s when Joe called on Strop, and you knew this could be a long outing for him and he’d likely not be available Friday.
Strop got Zimmerman, then gave up a single, but struck out pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds, and on we went to the ninth.
Albert Almora Jr. reached off Sean Doolittle on an error by Turner, which brought up Terrance Gore, who had moved to left field instead of the Cubs leaving Zobrist in the game. Gore attempted to bunt, and it was popped into a double play.
Tense enough yet? Here comes the bottom of the ninth. Strop retired the first three hitters he faced... but that wasn’t the end of the inning, because strike three to Turner was a wild pitch allowing him to reach. Fortunately, Pedro got Bryce Harper to fly to left to send the game to extras.
Bryant, who now has five hits in his last two games, hit a one-out double. Daniel Murphy beat out an infield hit, with Bryant taking third.
Man, when that play works it’s a thing of beauty. Javy’s bunt was perfectly placed, Bryant scored, and the Cubs still had two men on base with one out. Contreras walked to load the bases.
And now, comes the play that could define the rest of the season. Joe could have sent Tommy La Stella up to bat for Strop — TLS was, in fact, on deck. But Strop took the bat and went to the plate, Joe clearly wanting him to finish the game.
Pedro was, long ago, an infielder, converted to pitching because, well, he couldn’t hit. He’s 0-for-3 lifetime as a hitter.
The best choices here would either be to try another bunt, or just stand there and let Koda Glover throw three strikes past Pedro. But instead, on a 1-1 pitch, Strop grounded to third [VIDEO].
The play was close, Pedro almost beat it, but hurt himself just before he stepped on the bag. The Cubs sent the play to review, but the double play stood. And now, here’s the bad news:
Joe confirms Pedro Strop left hamstring soreness and probably out a while.— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) September 14, 2018
Can’t sugarcoat it — that’s not good, not at all.
Give Rosario a lot of credit for getting through the bottom of the 10th for that save in a true pressure situation, and striking out a really good hitter (Zimmerman) who has a history of coming through in those situations in his home ballpark.
The Cubs won, and increased their lead to 1x games over the Brewers, reducing their magic number to 15. The Cardinals, at this writing, are losing early to the Dodgers. The Cubs’ current magic number over St. Louis is now 13, and if L.A. wins that game, it’ll be 12.
But now the Cubs have to figure out what to do at closer. I suppose they could try Jesse Chavez over the weekend vs. the Reds; Chavez has been really good so far and probably could handle it.
This likely accelerates Brandon Morrow’s return. If he feels good, maybe they should just activate him and take their chances.
This season has been full of occurrences like this... and yet, the Cubs still are in first place and have the best record in the National League. It’s a credit to every single one of those players that they’ve been able to accomplish this even through all the injuries and rainouts and bizarre happenstances. If they do eventually win the World Series... man, what an incredible accomplishment.
The flight home should be a happy one, but I’m guessing no one will want to sit too close to Rizzo:
Rizzo says he brought no clothes and will wear his uniform home as well. "That's all I got."— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) September 13, 2018
Friday, the Cubs open a home series against the Reds at Wrigley Field. The city of Chicago helped out by allowing a game time move to 7:05 p.m. (Imagine if they had to play a 1:20 game Friday — they’re not likely home until after midnight.) Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs Friday against the Reds’ Matt Harvey. TV coverage Friday is via WGN.
And please. No more pitchers hitting.