This Cubs team is coming together offensively and pitching-wise exactly at the right time, as they get closer to clinching another N.L. Central title and preparing for October baseball.
Kyle Hendricks had his sixth straight outing allowing two runs or fewer and the Cubs blasted Carlos Rodon for nine hits in the first three innings on their way to a 6-1 win over the White Sox, taking the series and reducing their division-clinching magic number to five (and three over the Cardinals). The Cubs also returned to a season-high 27 games over .500 with seven games to play.
The Cubs piled on Rodon in the first inning. Daniel Murphy and Ben Zobrist led off with well-struck singles, and one out later, it was Anthony Rizzo’s turn at bat [VIDEO].
Rizzo’s double into the right-field corner scored Murphy and sent Zobrist to third. Ben would come home on an infield out, and Rizzo took third, which didn’t seem important at the time, but when David Bote legged out a dribbler down the third-base line, Anthony scored to make it 3-0.
Everyone could have gone home right then because of the dominance of Kyle Hendricks. Once again, Hendricks induced weak contact (10 ground ball outs) and got strikeouts on his changeup. Some of the White Sox did hit fly balls to center field, where Albert Almora Jr. put them away (six putouts).
Just about the only Sox hitter who could solve Hendricks was his former teammate Welington Castillo, who singled and doubled and scored the only Sox run on a fifth-inning double by Tim Anderson. Castillo and Hendricks were Cubs teammates for the last half of 2014 and early 2015; perhaps Welington knew how to solve Kyle’s delivery and stuff. Hendricks again was peaking at 88 miles per hour on the video board, and that’s a good sign, that his best velocity of the year is coming in September. The better his fastball, the better the difference between that and his changeup.
Of course, if you had left after the first inning, you would have missed this [VIDEO].
That was Kyle Schwarber’s first home run off a lefthander all year, after 25 off righthanders. In fact, Kyle had hit 29 straight homers off righthanders dating back to September 12, 2017, when he hit one off lefty Tommy Milone, who was then with the Mets. That’s a good sign, too, especially since that ball was crushed:
Barrel: Kyle Schwarber (35) [CHC] off Carlos Rodón [CWS]: 109.7 mph, 25 degrees (Home Run - 444 ft)— MLBExitVelocity (@MLBExitVelocity) September 23, 2018
The Cubs made it 6-0 in the third. Almora singled and Bote was hit by a pitch. Schwarber nearly did it again off Rodon [VIDEO].
The ball hit the base of the wall, scoring Almora and sending Bote to third, where he scored on an infield grounder by Ian Happ, who got Schwarber hung up in a rundown long enough for the run to score.
The Cubs had plenty of other chances to score more runs, as they had six hits and four walks off four White Sox relievers, but couldn’t score, even with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. Give the Sox credit for coming up with a lot of young guys who can throw really hard, including Ryan Burr, who tops out at 97-98. The Cubs could use more guys like that who can throw strikes.
But the story of the day really is Hendricks, who has just been outstanding and looks like the Kyle of 2016, who led the National League in ERA and had some wonderful outings in the postseason. He was lifted with two out and a runner on base in the eighth to a warm ovation from the Cubs fans in attendance, and Jorge De La Rosa finished up efficiently, striking out three of the four hitters he faced. De La Rosa, in my view, has earned a spot on the postseason roster — he’s been really good since the Cubs rescued him from the scrap heap and he can throw multiple innings and retire both left- and right-handed hitters.
Hendricks, for his part, understands exactly what needs to be done:
And he’s taken care of business for sure:
Kyle Hendricks last 7 starts:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 23, 2018
1.55 ERA, 46.1 IP, 36 Hits, 6 BB, 36 K, 0.906 WHIP#Cubs
And a note about Kris Bryant, who did not play Sunday:
#Cubs Bryant update: "I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great. I just have to stay on top of my shoulder program, which we are doing."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 23, 2018
Sounds like they’re just being proactive in giving KB some days off down the stretch.
As for the rest of the team, Zobrist had three hits and is now hitting .314 and Javier Baez had a double in five trips, resulting in this:
81 extra-base hits by Javier Báez this season.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 23, 2018
Most by a #Cubs player since Derrek Lee (99) in 2005
Fine work by all the Cubs Sunday afternoon.
Now, before I go over the current postseason permutations, a few more words about the lack of security at the Sox ballpark. I heard from some people who attend Sox games regularly that they didn’t have any more gameday staff or security than they have for your average Sox home game, which draws about half of what this weekend’s games drew. I realize it’s September and it’s hard to find more staff on occasion, but this was not good planning. There were more fights in the stands Sunday, including one right in front of me, fueled by too much drinking, where the perpetrators were fighting with Sox security staff before finally being hauled off.
As I noted in my recap to Saturday’s game, the first solution is to not have Saturday night games when the Cubs visit the South Side. (Hint: Saturday, July 6, 2019 needs to be a day game there.) Second, they’ve probably got to cut off alcohol sales earlier when the Cubs are visiting. There could have been some really bad scenes. It says something when I tell you that I felt the same way Sunday afternoon as I often feel when leaving the South Side ballpark: two or three days a year is enough. (Note: This isn’t a slam at Sox fans, because there were Cubs fans involved in some of the fights I saw. It’s more a plea for Sox management to get more crowd control.)
Now, back to the good stuff. With the Cubs’ magic number down to five over the Brewers and three over the Cardinals (and currently two over the Rockies to clinch a postseason spot), the best-case scenario for the Cubs while they face the Pirates at Wrigley Field would be for the Cardinals to take the first two games against Milwaukee. If the Cubs defeat the Pirates twice while that’s happening, the Cubs’ magic number against both the Brewers and Cardinals would drop to one, and the Cubs could then clinch the division title with a win Wednesday.
Or — how about this. “Win series.” If the Cubs do that — take three of four from the Pirates and two of three from the Cardinals, they win the division no matter what anyone else does.
One more completely unrelated note, since we’ve discussed this previously. Final road record in various jerseys for 2018:
Road gray: 28-19
Blue alt: 16-18
It all starts up Monday evening at Wrigley Field at 7:05 p.m. CT. Cole Hamels will start for the Cubs and Jameson Taillon goes for the Pirates. TV coverage Monday is on NBC Sports Chicago.