The Cubs hadn’t scored in 17 innings. Cubs pitching hadn’t been terrible beginning this game, but it was just shaky enough to give the Reds a 3-0 lead, which by the time the game reached the fifth inning seemed almost insurmountable.
And then, suddenly, the bats woke up and produced a five-run inning, matching the Cubs’ biggest of 2020. They put up three more runs later on and a Wrigley season-high 13 hits, on their way to a badly-needed 8-5 win over the Reds.
The game was delayed an hour and 15 minutes by a persistent, cool, fall-like rain, and it continued to rain lightly off and on for the first few innings.
Adbert Alzolay got touched up for two runs in the first and another in the second and departed before finishing the fourth inning. Meanwhile, Sonny Gray was doing Sonny Gray things to the Cubs offense, allowing three hits and a walk through three innings, but also striking out four.
Admit it. Like me, you were sitting around thinking sad thoughts about whether the Cubs would ever score again when they began to do just that.
Willson Contreras led off the fourth with a walk. One out later, Cameron Maybin singled and David Bote walked to load the bases.
Well, you know how well the Cubs have hit this year with the bases loaded. More sad thoughts ensued.
But not this time! Nico Hoerner brought the Cubs back within one run [VIDEO].
You can see how hard it was raining at that point, but Nico’s well-struck double made it 3-2.
Ian Happ was the next hitter, and his hustle and Nico’s gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead [VIDEO].
Outstanding baserunning there by both Happ and Hoerner. Nico never stopped and slid in safely at the plate:
Nico Hoerner says "all the credit" goes to 3B coach Will Venable for the send in the 4th inning. Hoerner scored from second, but didn't know the ball didn't get through the infield until seeing the replay later.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 11, 2020
But the Cubs were not done! Kris Bryant walked and a wild pitch moved the runners up to second and third, where Happ scored on a groundout by Anthony Rizzo.
Well! The Cubs have a two-run lead. Can they hold it?
Kyle Ryan, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam and Rowan Wick threw 3⅓ scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks and striking out six. While this was going on, the Cubs tacked two more runs on in the fifth. Contreras led off with a double, and after a groundout advanced him to third, Cameron Maybin came through on an 0-2 pitch [VIDEO].
Maybin’s triple made it 6-3 Cubs, and after Bote walked, Hoerner hit into a force play, scoring Maybin for the seventh run. Nico’s night: 2-for-4 with three RBI.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well... it got to be nervous time in the eighth. Dan Winkler, who’s been generally effective this year, allowed a leadoff single. Then Javier Baez dropped a potential double-play ball and both runners were safe. Two singles made it 7-5.
But the Cubs put an insurance run on the board in the bottom of the eighth. Kris Bryant led off with a single, and after Rizzo flied to left and Baez struck out, Contreras smacked his fourth hit of the game [VIDEO].
Check out the exit velocity on that double:
Willson Contreras (12) off RHP Nate Jones - 113.0 mph, 13 degrees (365 ft Double)— MLBBarrelAlert (@MLBBarrelAlert) September 11, 2020
95.8 mph Sinker#Reds @ #Cubs (B8)
After a terrible start to this season, Contreras is a hot hitter in September: .457/.537/.629 (16-for-35) with three doubles, a home run and 10 runs. Willson was 4-for-4 Thursday with two runs scored.
Jeremy Jeffress entered to throw the ninth inning, and though he allowed a one-out single to Nick Castellanos, he ended the game on the next pitch by inducing Curt Casali to hit into a game-ending double play. It was the seventh save for Jeffress, posted using just nine pitches.
Incidentally, for those of you who like to complain about the way Theo Epstein puts together a bullpen, the Jeffress signing has to be one of the best of the year by anyone. He’s been lights-out in nearly every appearance (allowed runs in only two of his 16 games this year) and his pre-prorated salary for this year is $850,000 (prorated to $314,815). If the Cubs want to keep him beyond 2020 — and they should — it’ll cost more, but for this year Jeffress is an outstanding bargain. He’s posted 1.2 bWAR — that’s really good for a relief pitcher, and tied for second on the team with Kyle Hendricks.
The eight runs the Cubs put across the plate on this cool, wet evening were the most they had scored in a home game since July 26 — the third game of this season. It matched their total run output in their previous three games combined. Hopefully, this offensive breakout will continue in Milwaukee this weekend.
Now let me open the complaint department door just a bit about the length of this game: Four hours and seven minutes, the final out recorded at 12:37 a.m. Yikes, especially after that 75-minute rain delay. It was the 13th nine-inning game in Cubs history to run four hours or longer (this one ranks tied for eighth on that list), all of which have occurred since 1999.
Reds pitchers threw 189 pitches — in only eight innings. Cubs pitchers threw 177. On the broadcast, Len Kasper and Ryan Dempster sang praises for the three-batter-minimum rule for pitchers, instituted this year. But that rule didn’t help the pace of this game. There were a lot of long counts and, by my count, 87 foul balls out of the 366 pitches. Now, I haven’t done any extensive research on this, but that seems like a lot of pitches and fouls for a game that didn’t have a bottom of the ninth.
All right, now the complaint department is closed. The Cubs won the game and the series and finished 6-4 vs. the Reds in 2020. Further, with the Cardinals’ splitting a doubleheader with the Tigers Thursday, the Cubs now lead the NL Central by three games. The Brewers trail by five and the Reds by 6½, and here are the Cubs’ relevant magic numbers for various postseason positions:
DIV1: 17— Cubs Magic Number (@CubsMagicNumbr) September 11, 2020
The Cubs begin a quick one-series, three-game trip to Milwaukee Friday evening. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs and Brandon Woodruff will go for the Brewers. Game time is 7:10 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.