Cubs record: 8-1, 1st NL Central (2.5 games up)
W: Jason Hammel
L: Raisel Iglesias
MVP: Jason Hammel
The big blue train kept rumbling down the tracks tonight as the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds to go 8-1 for the first time since 1969. The game was a top-to-bottom complete team performance, but the pitching especially shined throughout as the combined efforts of Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm were able to hold the Reds to a single run. Despite the score, it was a pretty close game until the Cubs pounded J.J. Hoover and the Reds bullpen to put the finishing touches on an impressive sweep.
Outside of the stellar pitching, this was another exceptional offensive game for the Cubs. Where to begin? Kris Bryant extended his home run streak to two games, smacking the game-winning run in the second inning with a solo shot. Like last season, this could be a sign of Bryant officially breaking out of his early-season “slump.”
Dexter Fowler also stayed red hot with three hits, a walk, and two RBI. Jason Hammel flashed some wood in the fifth when he plated Addison Russell with a double over the head of Jay Bruce, and Ben Zobrist hit a sac fly in the same inning to score Hammel.
In the eighth, the insurance collectors got ahold of the Cubs as almost the entire team contributed to a monster inning to pad their lead. Bryant, Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur all walked in the inning (the latter two pinch hitting), Miguel Montero singled, as did Russell and Fowler, and the Reds committed a run-scoring error on a throw back to first after Jason Heyward flew out. Explosive barely begins to describe this league-leading offense.
Not to pick on the guy who won the game and pitched six innings of shutout ball, but Jason Hammel seemed to struggle with his command all night long, throwing 88 pitches and allowing four walks and four hits before being pulled. He pitched really well, but there were men on base every inning except for the third, and multiple men on base in half of his innings. Hammel could have gone another inning or two if he didn’t issue so many free passes.
Ugly might be a tad harsh (in an 8-1 win, is anything ugly?), but the Cubs’ baserunning wasn’t the best. Dexter Fowler appeared to forget how many outs there were in the bottom of the first when he took off on contact with Ben Zobrist at the plate — he was doubled-up to end the inning. Later, in the fourth, Bryant took off for second and was easily thrown out by Tucker Barnhart. Any other night and these would be ugly mistakes, but when the two guys who commit the blunders are hitting so well and the team wins, it’s hard to be upset.
The Cubs continue the current homestand as manic home run hitter Trevor Story and the Colorado Rockies come to town for a three-game set over the weekend. Tomorrow at 1:20, they’ll face off against Chad Bettis who has never started a game against the Cubs but pitched a scoreless 2/3 of an inning of relief versus the North Siders back in 2014. Bettis is 1-0 on the season with a 4.38 ERA and a 4.63 FIP over 12.1 innings. The Professor, Kyle Hendricks, will take the mound for Chicago in his second start of the season as he looks to build upon his 1-0 record and 2.70 ERA and 2.12 FIP after he shut down the Diamondbacks last Saturday.