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Cubs 9, Diamondbacks 1: At last, a laugher

The Cubs have now won six of eight, thanks to solid pitching and timely hitting.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Cubs crushed the Diamondbacks 9-1 Tuesday night. This was the biggest margin of victory for the Cubs since August 26, when they beat the Reds 9-0, and it all got going after this epic at-bat by Anthony Rizzo:

That was the longest at-bat of Rizzo’s career (previous high: 13 pitches, twice) and I don’t recall any Cubs at-bat in recent years going that long. Even though it resulted in an out, Rizzo hit the ball hard — a line drive snagged by Nick Ahmed.

It set the tone for the entire game, I think. As you can see, during Rizzo’s at-bat, Daniel Murphy, who had singled, went to third on an ill-advised pickoff attempt by D-backs catcher Jeff Mathis. The base advance didn’t really matter, because Javier Baez took a 2-0 hanging slider and launched it [VIDEO].

That ball: Crushed!

The Cubs had a 2-0 lead and never looked back. In the second inning, doubles by Jason Heyward (nice to see him back in the lineup and producing) and Ian Happ made it 3-0 and then Murphy sent one deep [VIDEO].

That made it 5-0, and you could hear the crowd at Chase Field sound nearly as loud as a home crowd at Wrigley Field would have sounded for a Cubs home run. Think about this; The Cubs just finished a six-game homestand and now are on a six-game trip likely to all have large contingents of Cubs fans, then wrap the regular season with a seven-game homestand. That’s 19 consecutive games in which they will play in front of crowds that all feel like a home game. That’s got to feel great for Cubs players.

While all this was going on, Mike Montgomery was continuing the Cubs’ great stretch of starting pitching. He made one mistake, a pitch that Ketel Marte smashed for a solo homer in the second inning, and otherwise was dominant. He allowed just three other hits and a walk and struck out eight, a season high and the most he’s had in a game as a Cub.

The Cubs broke the game open in the fifth, scoring four. After Murphy walked and Kris Bryant doubles, Rizzo singled them both in to make it 7-1. A single by Baez and walk to Ben Zobrist loaded the bases. Willson Contreras grounded out, scoring Rizzo, and Albert Almora Jr. hit a sacrifice fly to complete the inning and make it 9-1.

From there it was all a cruise; Montgomery was followed by Alec Mills, who threw two scoreless innings, mostly against D-backs bench players as manager Torey Lovullo pulled all his regulars. Joe Maddon did, too, giving Murphy, Rizzo, Baez, Zobrist and Heyward some time off in the late innings. Mills looked good and I could see him getting a start once the Cubs clinch the division title, to give the other starters a rest. Brandon Kintzler, who’s had a rough time since the Cubs acquired him, threw a scoreless ninth, likely a confidence-builder for him.

Oh, right. I said “once the Cubs clinch the division title.” With the Brewers losing Tuesday night to the Reds, the clinching magic number dropped to eight and the Cubs increased their lead to 3½ games, with 11 remaining (10 remaining for Milwaukee). The elimination number for the Cardinals is now six. Milwaukee and St. Louis hold the wild-card spots and those teams could be headed for a matchup in the wild-card game.

Of course, the division title isn’t a done deal until it’s a done deal, but things are looking very good. The Cubs have now won six of eight, and the Brewers have lost four of their last seven since the Cubs’ division lead shrunk to one game after the loss to Milwaukee September 10. The Cubs have risen to the occasion when they needed to most.

The earliest possible clinching date remains Sunday, but the Cubs would have to win all their games and the Brewers lose all theirs by Sunday, and that doesn’t seem likely. More likely is a Wrigley clincher during the Pirates series next week.

Fun Javier Baez fact:

It is, of course, no lock that Baez will win the N.L. MVP award, though he’s certainly in the conversation. He’s had a magnificent season and currently leads the N.L. in SLG and total bases, and he’s on a bit of a hot streak again. Last six games: .381/.409/.857 (8-for-21) with a double and three home runs. His 319 total bases marks just the second time since 2007 that any Cub has that many (Kris Bryant, 334 in 2016), and he’s still got 11 more games to add to that total.

The Cubs are stepping up when they need to most. At last, the 30-consecutive-day slog will end Wednesday night in Phoenix. The Cubs are now 18-10 (.643) since they last had a day off. They had a 3½-game lead when it began, and have the same lead now. They’ve done remarkably well under very difficult travel conditions, weather woes, etc. It’s a credit to Joe Maddon and every single player on this team that they’ve held up so well with this schedule.

They’ll go for the series sweep Wednesday night with Cole Hamels on the mound, and so I like their chances. Robbie Ray starts for the D-backs. Game time again is 8:40 p.m. CT and TV coverage Wednesday will be via NBC Sports Chicago.