Even while Cubs hitters have struggled as the team reaches the end of its 30-day slog through three time zones, Cubs pitchers have put together outstanding outings.
One of the best of those happened Monday night in Phoenix, as Kyle Hendricks held the Diamondbacks to one hit through eight innings before allowing a solo home run and single in the ninth. He was removed to a loud ovation from the large contingent of Cubs fans with two out in the ninth after his best start of 2018.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The Cubs beat the Diamondbacks 5-1 and lowered their division-clinching magic number to 10.
The game began scoreless through the early innings, just as have so many Cubs games over the last few weeks. Hendricks was inducing weak contact and getting swings-and-misses on his changeup, and when he does that you know he’s on his game. The best news is that Kyle’s fastball was consistently registering 88-89 miles per hour, occasionally touching 90. This is as hard as he’s thrown all year, and the extra couple of MPH on the fastball makes Kyle’s changeup even more effective.
The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn’t solve Patrick Corbin, either. Give Corbin credit, as he’s been one of the best pitchers in the National League this year. One thing they were doing, though, is running up long counts early on. Corbin threw 24 pitches in the first inning, and by the time he got to the sixth, he’d thrown 73.
That’s when Cubs hitters, at last, got to him.
Albert Almora Jr. led off with a single and Kris Bryant singled him to third. That brought up Anthony Rizzo [VIDEO].
A double play was called on the field. Almora scored, and Rizzo was called out at first, but as you can see by the replay, the play at first wasn’t really that close, and Rizzo was safe. It didn’t take long for the review crew to overturn the call and the Cubs still had a runner on first base with one out.
That ball: Crushed!
Javy’s 32nd of the season made it 3-0 Cubs. Right there, they had more runs than they’d scored in their previous two games.
And Hendricks kept mowing down D-backs hitters. Their only hit through seven innings was a one-out double by Eduardo Escobar in the fourth.
In the top of the eighth, Cubs TV announcer Jim Deshaies made the call of a lifetime [VIDEO].
“He’s going deep, right here, I’m calling it, this at-bat.”
And Bryant did it, hitting his first home run since his return from the disabled list September 1, with Almora on base, making it 5-0 Cubs. That’s as many runs as they scored in the entire Reds series over the weekend at Wrigley Field.
Then the only drama remaining was: Could Hendricks finish the game? The Cubs had just one complete game this year (Cole Hamels on August 23) and hadn’t thrown a complete-game shutout since Jose Quintana did it against the Brewers September 24, 2017 in Milwaukee.
The shutout was ruined leading off the ninth. A.J. Pollock homered, to nearly the same place Bryant’s blast went. Hendricks quickly recorded two more outs, though on hard-hit balls. You could tell he was running out of gas, and when Paul Goldschmidt singled, that was it for Kyle at 109 pitches (82 strikes).
Justin Wilson entered the game. He threw one pitch. What was Goldschmidt thinking? [VIDEO]
As is commonly the case in situations like that (runner on first, big lead, two out in the ninth), the Cubs were not holding Goldschmidt on first base. Runners often take a base in that situation to eliminate the possibility of a force play; it’s scored “defensive indifference.”
Clearly, Willson Contreras was not “indifferent” to Goldschmidt running, and threw him out to end the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game end quite like that before. And it also means that Wilson, who threw just that one pitch, should be available Tuesday.
The Cubs kept pace with the Brewers and Cardinals, leading them by 2½ and 5½ games respectively, and as noted above, the division-clinching magic number is 10. The elimination number for the Cardinals is 7. And, though this seems to change daily, as of Tuesday morning those two clubs inhabit the two wild-card spots in the National League.
And once again, it’s been outstanding starting pitching that has continued to keep the Cubs afloat:
#Cubs starting pitching: 2.53 ERA last 31 games (best in MLB)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 18, 2018
Hamels last 9 starts: 1.57 ERA
Lester last 6 starts: 1.73 ERA
Hendricks last 6 starts: 1.63 ERA
Quintana last 6 starts: 2.10 ERA
And with two games to go in the 30-day marathon, the Cubs are 17-10. Only the Brewers (17-8) have a better record among N.L. teams in that time frame. Over their last eight games, Cubs pitchers have allowed just 16 runs.
The Cubs will go for two in a row over the D-backs Tuesday evening, again at 8:40 p.m. CT. Mike Montgomery starts for the Cubs and Matt Andriese will go for the Diamondbacks. TV coverage Tuesday will again be via WGN.