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Cubs' surprise sweep of Mets set team record

Going into their series at New York on Monday, the Cubs had 31 fewer wins than the Mets, with a record of 58-82 to New York's 89-52.

Yet the Cubs swept the 3 games, by scores of 5-2, 4-1 and 6-3.

When was the last time the Cubs swept a series from a team when they had that many fewer wins?

To quote the end of a caption of a famous cartoon published in The New Yorker:

"How about never -- is never good for you?"

.........

SEARCHING FOR SERIES

Broadcasters, writers and fans like to talk about series, usually along the lines of, "The team has won 4 of its last 5 series and 6 of its last 7."

But I know of no website that keeps track of how many series each team has won, lost and split in the course of a season.

So I spent about 4 hours, examining the Cubs' game-by-game results, 1 season at a time, at baseball-reference.com.

I slowly scrolled down the "W/L" column, looking for clusters of 3 or more W's in a row.

Whenever I found a cluster, I looked to see if it included 3 wins in a row against the same opponent. If so, I looked to see if there was an L against the same opponent before the first or after the last of the 3, meaning the Cubs did not sweep the series.

..........

18, THEN 21

I quickly found a 3-game sweep at home against the Orioles on Aug. 22-24, 2014, when the Cubs had 18 fewer wins at the start of the series, 55 to 73.

Next, I came across 3 straight wins at Pittsburgh on Sept. 7-9, 2012, when the Cubs had 21 fewer wins, 51 to 72.

But as I worked my way back through the earlier years, all the way to 1901, first of of the Modern Era, I found only 3 sweeps with greater differences of more than 21 -- all against the same opponent, all in the same season, 1957.

..........

EARLY TAILSPIN

The Cubs lost their season opener that year, 1-4, at home to the Braves.

They won their next 2 games, at St. Louis, a 10-2 laugher and a 5-3 win in 11 innings.

They lost 2 before winning at Milwaukee in 10 innings, making their record 3-3.

Then they lost 9 in a row, while being outscored 31-60, and dropped to last among the National League's 8 teams. They never were higher than seventh after any game the rest of the season.

From April through July, their winning percentages by month were .273, .360, .357 and .324. After a 3-12 drubbing at home by the Dodgers on Aug. 1, they were 33-66, in last place, 26.5 games out of first.

..........

SWEEP AFTER SWEEP

The next 3 days, the Cubs hosted the seventh-place Pirates, who arrived with a record of 36-66. The Cubs won all 3 games.

Then they journeyed to St. Louis to face the league-leading Cardinals, who had 27 more wins than the Cubs, 63 to 36. Miraculously, they swept that series, too: 8-2, 5-1 and 4-3.

The losses knocked the Cardinals out of the top spot in the standings.

The Cubs' next series was at Cincinnati, where they lost 3 in a row on Friday and Saturday. A doubleheader scheduled for Sunday was rained out.

The Cubs returned home with a record of 39-69.

...

After a day off, they welcomed the Cardinals, who had lost 3 at Milwaukee since hosting the Cubs and still had 63 wins, 24 more wins than their hosts.

And the Cubs swept them again: 6-2, 3-1 and 4-1. By dropping 9 in a row, the Cardinals fell 8 games behind the first-place Braves.

For good measure, the Cubs then swept a weekend series against the Reds, who arrived with 19 more wins than the Cubs' 42.

The third win over the Reds made the Cubs 12-3 in their last 15 games, having either won or lost each game of 5 straight series.

That odd pattern came to an end when they split 2 games at Philadelphia., then dropped 3 of 4 at New York.

...

The run of sweeps continued when the Cubs came back to Chicago at the end of the month -- and not in a good way.

They lost 3 in a row to the Cardinals, each by a lone run: 1-2, 2-3 and 2-3, the finale in 10 innings.

Then they dropped 3 to the Braves: 10-23 and 0-4 in a Labor Day doubleheader, followed by 0-8 the next day.

..........

LAST AGAIN

On Friday the 13th, the Cubs lost twice at home to the Pirates, 1-4 and 1-2. They lost the opener of another doubleheader on Saturday, 1-3, then won the second game, 7-3, to avoid a 4-game sweep.

The following weekend, they lost their final 3 home games to the Braves: 3-9, 2-6 and 7-9. The third loss, in 10 innings, dropped the Cubs to eighth place once more.

They dropped both ends of a doubleheader at Cincinnati on Tuesday, Sept 4, won on Wednesday, then headed for St. Louis to close out the season.

The Cardinals had closed to within 2.5 games of the Braves on Sept. 15, then went 3-2 and slipped 5 games behind. The Braves clinched the pennant on the 23rd by beating the Cards, 4-2, on Hank Aaron's 2-out, walk-off home run in the 11th inning.

St. Louis began the final series with a record of 87-64. The Cubs were 59-92 -- a difference of 28 wins.

.........

GAME 1

The starting pitcher for the Cardinals on Friday night was Lynn Lovenguth, a 34-year-old right hander making his first start in what would prove to be the last of his 16 big league games: 14 with Philadelphia in 1955 and 2 with St. Louis.

The Cubs loaded the bases against him in the first inning on an error, a walk, a groundout and another walk. A run scored on a grounder to first by Walt "Moose" Moryn.

Then Lovenguth struck out Bob Speake and proceeded to blank the Cubs for the next 6 innings.

The Cardinals tied the score in the second on a leadoff triple and single off Dick Drott, then took the lead in the fifth on a 2-out RBI double.

...

But Dale Long led off the Cubs' eighth with a single, went to second on a grounder by Moryn and stayed there when Lovenguth walked Speake.

Next up was Gordon Massa, a 22-year-old rookie catcher, who had made his debut at Cincinnati 3 days earlier. He had gone 4 for 8 in the 3 games against the Reds but was 0 for 2 so far against Lovenguth.

This time, he singled to right, driving home Long to tie the game and sending Speake to third.

Eddie Haas was sent up to pinch hit. The 22-year-old outfielder was 3 for 19, all singles, since his debut on Sept. 8. But he delivered a double that put the Cubs in front, 3-2.

Jim Brosnan had relieved Drott in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff walk in the eighth, then retired 6 in a row to preserve the Cubs' victory.

.........

GAME 2

On Saturday, the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead against Bob Rush in the first inning on 2 singles, a sacrifice fly, a single, an RBI double and back-to-back walks, the second forcing home a run.

Left hander Morrie Martin, age 34, shut out the Cubs for 6 innings.

In the seventh, Lloyd Merrit replace Martin. Merritt walked 2 batters, struck out a third, then walked another. Moryn pinch hit and grounded into a forceout on which a run scored. A pop fly ended the inning with the Cubs behind, 1-5.

...

The Cubs loaded the bases in the eighth with nobody out, on a single by Speake, a walk to Ernie Banks, and an infield hit by Massa off new reliever Willard Schmidt.

Bearing down, Schmidt induced a pair of popups. But then he issued a walk to pinch hitter Bobby Adams that brought the Cubs to within 2-3.

With the pitcher's spot up next, Bob Will pinch hit. He delivered a single that drove home 2 runs, that Moryn smacked a double that knocked in 2 more: Cubs 6, Cardinals 3.

The Cards got a run in their half of the eighth. They put runners at the corners with 1 out in the ninth before Don Elston notched a strikeout and coaxed a forceout to wrap up the win.

...

GAME 3

The Cubs didn't need an eighth-inning rally in the Sunday finale.

The Cardinals gave a start to righty Frank Barnes, 31, who had pitched an inning of scoreless relief in his debut a week earlier, then 6 shutout innings out of the bullpen 2 days later.

He walked a batter and gave up 2 singles in the first, but the Cubs failed to score, thanks to a double play after the walk.

...

But in the second, Haas singled and Massa walked. After a fly out, pitcher Moe Drabowsky walked, loading the bases.

Johnny Goryl followed with an RBI single. Goryl strayed too far from the bag after rounding first and was tagged out, leaving runners on second and third.

Chuck Tanner's triple scored both of them, then Banks doubled home Tanner, giving the Cubs a 4-0 lead.

Drabowsky singled in a run with 2 out in the third, Long homered with a man on in the sixth and Bobby Morgan made the score 8-0 with a solo shot in the seventh.

Drabowsky loaded the bases in the eighth on a walk, a single and a walk, then lost his shutout bid on a 2-run single and a forceout that produced another run.

But he got an inning-ending double play and set down 3 in a row to finish a 7-hit complete game -- and the Cubs' unlikeliest sweep until their 3 wins against the Mets this week, more than 65 years later!

The sweep enabled the Cubs to finish in a tie for seventh with the Pirates, at 62-92, 33 games behind the champion Braves (95-59) and 25 behind the runnerup Cardinals (87-67).

..........

SWEEPS BY DIFFERENCE IN WINS

I documented 37 times in all since 1901 that the Cubs swept a series of at least 3 games that began with the Cubs have at least 10 fewer wins than their opponent.

Here is the breakdown by difference in wins, from most to fewest:

31: 1

28: 1

27: 1

24: 1

21: 2

20: 2

19: 3

18: 4

17: 2

16: 2

15: 3

14: 2

13: 3

12: 1

11: 5

10: 4

...

Five of the the sweeps with a difference of at least 20 wins have been mentioned above: 31 games vs. the Mets this week; 28, 27 and 24 vs. the Cardinals in 1957; and 21 vs. the Pirates in 2012.

The other sweep with a 21-game difference was of 4 games, Aug. 5-8, 1955, at Brooklyn. The Cubs were 53-58; the Dodgers, 74-33.

The first 20-game difference was at home vs. the Braves on Sept. 23-25, 1921. The Cubs were 58-87; the Braves, 78-68.

The second was at home vs. the Pirates on Sept. 26-28, 1980. The Cubs were 60-92; the Pirates, 80-74.

..........

4-GAME SWEEPS

Besides the 1955 sweep at Brooklyn, only 2 more of the 37 with at least 10 fewer wins was a 4-game series.

The Cubs had 19 fewer wins, at 39-61 to the Cardinals' 58-42, when the teams met at Wrigley Field on July 27-30, 2006.

The Cubs had 11 fewer wins, at 43-65 to the Pirates' 54-52, when they played at Pittsburgh on Aug. 1-4, 2011.

..........

LOST OPPORTUNITY

Had the Cubs been able to complete a 4-game sweep at San Francisco in 1966, it would have been 1 win better than this week's sweep of the Mets.

The Cubs had 32 fewer wins, at 49-90 to 81-59, when the teams met at Candlestick Park on Sept. 9-12.

...

Ken Holtzman (7.2 innings) and Bill Hands (1.1) combined on a 4-hit shutout in the first game as the Cubs beat Juan Marichal, 6-0.

The next day, the Cubs pounded Gaylord Perry for 8 runs on 11 hits in 2.1 innings. Dick Ellsworth (7.0) and Cal Koonce (2.0) scattered 8 hits and the Cubs won, 12-3.

...

In the opener of a Sunday doubleheader, the Cubs erased an 0-2 deficit with 4 runs in the sixth, including a 2-run homer by Billy Williams that gave them the lead. Ferguson Jenkins gave up 7 hits in 7 innings, then Koonce (0.2) and Bob Hendley (1.1) held the Giants hitless to preserve a 4-3 victory.

...

In the rematch, Curt Simmons of the Cubs went the distance and allowed just 3 hits: back-to-back doubles to Willie Mays and Jim Ray Hart in the fourth, then a solo homer to rival pitcher Bobby Bolin in the eighth.

Bolin gave up only 3 hits, too: a leadoff double by Randy Hundley in the sixth, a leadoff single by Ernie Banks in the eighth and a 1-out single to Lee Thomas in the ninth.

None of the runners advanced after his hit, as the Cubs lost, 0-2, and were denied what would have been an historic 4-game sweep.

..........

CUBS' MOST LIKELY SWEEP

For what it's worth: the sweep in which the Cubs had the largest difference in wins over their opponent was a mind-boggling 52 games. They were 100-32 to the Cardinals' 48-84 when they won 4 straight at St. Louis on Sept. 13-16, 1906.

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