This afternoon started out weirdly when Marcus Stroman barely got through three innings and the Cubs went behind and looked pretty weak sauce against Chris Flexen, a guy who came into the game with an ERA north of 7.
But the persistent Cubs scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and put some key insurance runs on the board in the eighth. That, and an outstanding four innings of work by Javier Assad, led to a 6-3 win over the Rockies on yet another gorgeous late September afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs got on the board first, after Stroman had an easy 1-2-3 top of the first inning. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Nico Hoerner singled and Ian Happ doubled him in [VIDEO].
That ball didn’t miss being a two-run homer by much. Happ, though, was stranded.
As easy as the first inning was for Stroman, the second was a slog. He allowed a leadoff double, and one out later a pop fly RBI single by Elias Diaz tying the game. Another single moved Diaz to third, where he scored on a wild pitch, and then the Ezequiel Tovar, who had advanced to second on the wild pitch, scored on a double by Brenton Doyle.
Yikes. 3-1, and quickly.
After Stroman struggled through the third, he was lifted after 63 pitches. It wasn’t a terrible outing, but I’m sure David Ross would have liked him to go longer than just three innings.
Javier Assad was called on in relief, on three days’ rest, after throwing 84 pitches on Tuesday.
And Assad was outstanding. He threw four shutout innings, allowed three hits (should have been two — Happ and Mike Tauchman got signals crossed and a double dropped in between them, fortunately, no damage happened) and no walks and struck out six. He recorded 12 outs on just 49 pitches (36 strikes). That’s just nails.
While all this was going on, the Cubs were beginning a comeback. One run scored in the fifth to make it 3-2. Miles Mastrobuoni led off with a single and stole second. He advanced to third on a fly to right by Tauchman and scored on this sac fly by Hoerner [VIDEO].
The Cubs tied things up in the sixth. Seiya Suzuki led off with a single and one out later took second on a groundout by Christopher Morel.
There’s another ball that nearly was out of the yard.
In the top of the seventh with one out, Dansby Swanson dropped a popup into short left and one out later Assad hit Nolan Jones.
That brought up Kris Bryant. Assad struck him out on a nasty two-seamer [VIDEO].
Look at the movement on that pitch! It started in the other batter’s box and just nicked the outside corner.
I wondered what Bryant — who got another loud ovation on his first at-bat — had to be thinking, striking out with the crowd energized at Wrigley Field, something Cubs fans did for him so many times... but now, he’s on a team that’s going to lose 100 games.
The Cubs took the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Rockies reliever Nick Mears threw 13 pitches and only one of them was a strike. Tauchman, Hoerner and Happ all walked to load the bases with nobody out.
Pete Crow-Armstrong ran for Tauchman and nearly got himself picked off second base. PCA’s going to be a good player in this league but for now I think he needs to take fewer chances like this. MLB pitchers and catchers are a lot better than the Double-A and Triple-A players PCA has been stealing bases against.
Mears was lifted, and Cody Bellinger hit this sac fly off Justin Lawrence [VIDEO].
There’s yet another Cubs fly ball that might have left the yard on another day — there was a fairly brisk wind blowing off the lake today.
Julian Merryweather threw the eighth. I know he throws 100 miles per hour and has had success but man, this guy drives me nuts with not throwing strikes. He issued a leadoff walk, one out later a double, and then another walk to load the bases.
But he struck out Doyle and Charlie Blackmon to end the inning with no damage. Merryweather threw 23 pitches, only 12 for strikes. If the Cubs do get to the postseason this is going to have to improve.
The Cubs put two welcome insurance runs on the board in the bottom of the eighth. Christopher Morel led off the inning with his 25th home run [VIDEO].
That ball looked like it would land well into the bleachers off the bat. The wind knocked it down and it just barely made the basket. They all count the same, though.
One out later, Mastrobuoni walked and stole second, his second steal of the day.
That led to this fun fact from BCB’s JohnW53:
The Cubs now have 100 more stolen bases than caught stealings, 133-33.
The last season in which they had at least 100 more successes than failures on attempted steals was 1990, when they were +101 (151/50).
Their only greater differential since 1920, first year for which caught stealing data is available, was +133, in 1985: 182/49.
Give Mastrobuoni credit — he’s played very well this month since being enlisted to play third base more or less regularly after Jeimer Candelario hit the injured list. This month he is batting .471/.500/.588 (8-for-17) with two doubles, two steals and seven runs scored.
One of those runs occurred in that inning, on an RBI single by Hoerner [VIDEO].
That gave the Cubs a three-run cushion at 6-3, and this from BCB’s JohnW53:
Cubs have now outscored opponents in the eighth inning of games this season, 117-68.
That is +49.
They are +51 in all other innings combined.
With all the Cubs’ leverage relievers either down or already used, Jose Cuas was given the save opportunity. He issued a one-out walk, then calmly struck out Bryant.
It was Cuas’ first save as a Cub and second MLB save.
Really nice work by the Cubs coming back from the deficit, with production up and down the lineup. This is a really good sign; the team’s been winning when everyone contributes.
Here’s where the postseason competition stands.
The Cubs’ victory guaranteed they will stay at least one game ahead of the Marlins for the second wild card spot. At this writing the Marlins and Brewers are in the late innings in Miami tied 4-4. If the Brewers win they clinch the N.L. Central title, but more importantly for the Cubs, Miami would then trail by two games.
Also of interest for the Cubs: The Diamondbacks and Yankees were rained out in New York. The game was moved to Monday, and Arizona’s game vs. the White Sox in Chicago shifted to Thursday. It might rain again in NYC Sunday — in which case the teams would have to play a doubleheader Monday, and the D-backs would lose their off day and have to fly back to Phoenix for their regular season-ending series against the Astros after playing a day game in Chicago Thursday. (Sympathy level = zero.)
The Reds, the Cubs’ other competition for the last wild card spot, will face the Pirates again in Cincinnati this evening, the game about to get going as this recap posts.
Sunday, the Cubs will have their regular-season home finale and go for a series sweep over the Rockies. Jordan Wicks will start for the Cubs and Ty Blach will go for Colorado. Game time is again 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.