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Cubs 5, Pirates 0: Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber lead the way

That’s more like it.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe David Ross should bench more of his slumping players.

One day after Kyle Schwarber was removed from a game for apparent lollygagging, he blasted two doubles (hustling all the way). Schwarber’s good offensive game plus another solid Jon Lester outing gave the Cubs a 5-0 triumph over the Pirates, their seventh shutout win of the abbreviated 2020 season. That’s a lot of shutouts in just 54 games. The Cubs had 10 in the 162-game 2019 season. The seven blankings are tied for the MLB lead with the Indians.

After the first of Schwarber’s doubles (he had advanced to third on a groundout), Javier Baez jumpstarted the Cubs run-scoring with this perfectly placed bunt [VIDEO].

(NOTE: That’s the only video of this play available to me, from the Pirates TV feed.)

Anyway, Baez placed that bunt perfectly, on the first pitch, and it was a totally unexpected time to do it, with two out in the inning. Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was playing back and their defense had no chance to record an out as Schwarber scored easily. About that run:

Hopefully, this game is the start of a good offensive run for the Cubs.

In the fourth inning, Kris Bryant batted with two out and no one on base and... something happened:

As noted in Jordan Bastian’s tweet, Bryant was clearly in obvious discomfort after that swing. He did complete the at-bat, but then left the game an inning later. Here’s what happened:

Well, that’s not good. After the game Bryant was officially reported as “day-to-day” and the team said they’d have more information Tuesday. But as you likely know, oblique injuries are notoriously tough to return from — sometimes taking weeks or even months. I don’t want to be a doomsayer but it seems likely to me that this ends KB’s season, and maybe that’s just as well. He’s not hitting, he’s had multiple injuries dragging him down — why not just shut him down and have him get ready for 2021? David Bote, who replaced Bryant in the field in the fifth, is no Bryant, but he’s certainly a capable major league player.

The Cubs made it 2-0 in the fifth. With two out and no one on base, Jason Kipnis was hit by a pitch. Victor Caratini drove him in [VIDEO].

At first, that looked like a perfectly-placed single, but it split two Pirates outfielders and Kipnis scored easily.

Lester threw six innings. He no longer throws with great velocity, topping out at a Kyle Hendricks-like 89 miles per hour, but the man knows how to pitch. He walked one, struck out one and allowed four hits, all singles. Also like The Professor, Lester appears to be getting better at inducing weak contact. Of his 18 outs recorded, nine were on ground balls.

For those keeping track of such things, that’s 193 career wins for Lester and as a Cub, he now has 999 innings. He’ll have one more start (likely Saturday) and will pass the 1,000-inning mark at that time and become the 47th pitcher in Cubs franchise history to get to that milestone.

The Cubs blew the game open in the eighth, again beginning with two out and no one on base. Anthony Rizzo singled and Willson Contreras walked and then Schwarber came to the plate [VIDEO].

That ball was smacked pretty good:

At 385 feet, it didn’t miss being a home run by much, but the PNC Park outfield eats up a lot of fly balls to that area. Now it’s 4-0 Cubs and they weren’t done in the inning. Bote made it 5-0 and broke his bat on the hit [VIDEO].

You see Billy Hamilton scoring on the play. Hamilton had run for Schwarber, and Kyle returned to the dugout and he and his manager had hugs!

Hamilton remained in the game in center field and in the bottom of the eighth, that proved important. Jeremy Jeffress threw that inning, and Pirates hitters hit two long fly balls into gaps in left-center and right-center. Hamilton ran them both down. Here’s one of those catches:

Hamilton’s going to be an important part of this team in the postseason. Even though he really can’t hit much at all anymore, his baserunning and defensive skills are still top-notch and you saw here that matters.

Kyle Ryan, Jeffress and Dan Winkler threw three innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one baserunner (a walk) and striking out four. Winkler has had rough outings at times this year and it would be useful if he could pitch himself back into Ross’ “circle of trust.”

The Reds defeated the Brewers Monday and the Royals helped out the Cubs by beating the Cardinals, so the Cubs’ lead over both Cincinnati and St. Louis stands at 4½ games. Milwaukee is now 5½ behind. Cubs magic numbers are as follows as of Tuesday morning:

That Twitter account also helpfully lays out scenarios for Tuesday’s games (it says “tomorrow,” but that means today (Tuesday):

One more scenario not mentioned above: The Braves defeated the Marlins Monday. The teams have identical 32-22 records and also identical 22-15 records within their divisions. MLB’s postseason seeding standings have the Cubs as the No. 2 seed, so they must currently have the third tiebreaker, which is the record over the most recent 20 intradivisional games. I’ll take their word for it. The better ways for the Cubs to clinch the No. 2 seed are:

  • Finish with a better record than the Braves, or
  • If the teams finish tied after Sunday, win one more game than the Braves do over the next three days, the end of intradivisional play for both teams. That would give the Cubs the “better record within the division” tiebreaker.

The Cubs and Pirates will face each other again Tuesday evening at PNC Park. Jose Quintana will be activated from the injured list to start. On Monday’s broadcast, Len Kasper hinted that Adbert Alzolay might back him up.

Alzolay has already been recalled:

Steven Brault will pitch Tuesday’s game for the Pirates. Game time is again 6:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.