Cubs Record: 99-56 (1st in NL Central)
W: Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28)
L: Carlos Martinez (15-9, 3.15)
S: Aroldis Chapman (36)
MVP: Jon Lester
This game had the look of a pitchers dual from the start and that turned out to be the case as the teams traded zeros through the first 4 1/2 innings. Then, in the bottom of the 5th, something awesome happened.
David Ross stepped up to the plate with the game knotted at 0 and, as was the case in his first at-bat, received a standing ovation from the fans at Wrigley. How did Ross respond to this moment? By crushing a pitch deep into the left-center field stands, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. As I said, awesome.
The Cubs tacked on another run in the bottom of the 6th. Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a hustle double and came around to score on an apparent Addison Russell double. Russell’s ball was called foul, however, prompting an official review. Replay showed the ball hit the chalk in left, allowing Zobrist to come home to give the Cubs a 2-0 advantage.
St. Louis finally got a run on the board against the Cubs’ bullpen in the top of the 8th. Jose Martinez coaxed a walk from Carl Edwards Jr. to lead off the inning and advanced to third when Matt Carpenter hit a one-out single off Justin Grimm. After a Stephen Piscotty strikeout, Jhonny Peralta singled to center to drive in Martinez, making it 2-1. Grimm induced a fly out to center to end the inning, keeping the Cubs out in front.
Chicago created some breathing room in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases with one out. Willson Contreras came through with a single to right to bring in Zobrist, giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
Aroldis Chapman worked a scoreless top of the 9th to pick up the save, as the Cubs won the rubber game of the three-game set.
I feel like I could just copy-paste this for every one of his starts of late, but Lester was outstanding yet again Sunday night. The veteran left-hander went 6 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just 3 hits and a walk while striking out seven. That makes it eight straight starts in which Lester has gone at least six innings while allowing 1 or no runs. If you adjust the requirement to 2 or fewer runs, that extends his streak to 11 consecutive starts.
Lester is quietly having himself an impressive second-half run. While his first half was great in its own right (9-4 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 18 starts), his post All-Star break run has been very Jake Arrieta, circa 2015. The stats may not quite match up with what Arrieta did last season (it would be almost impossible to match those otherworldly numbers), but they have been a bit ridiculous nonetheless.
In 13 post-break starts, Lester is 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. He has allowed just 13 runs on 56 hits and 21 walks while striking out 83 over 87 innings during this run, vaulting him to the top of the Cy Young discussion. It’s funny how the hot takes on his contract aren’t really a thing anymore, isn’t it?
While it didn’t end up hurting the Cubs, Contreras’ poor decision on the bases in the 8th inning may have cost Chicago additional runs. Instead of holding at first on his single, Contreras rounded the bag too far and when the ball came back in to first base, he was forced into a rundown. Although he eventually made it into second, it was only because Russell was thrown out while trying to come home on the play. So instead of bases loaded, one out, it was runners at second and third with two outs. Tommy La Stella struck out to end the threat.
This isn’t Cubs related, but the death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident early Sunday morning is an unfortunate and heartbreaking event. Disregarding the baseball aspect of it, it’s just such a tragedy to see a young man so full of joy and happiness have his life cut short the way it was. There have been articles written and comments made from those who were close to him that better sum up the kind of person he was, so I won’t expound too much on it. Suffice to say my thoughts are with his family and friends in this difficult time.
The Cubs will travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates Monday night. Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06) gets the ball for Chicago, while Pittsburgh will counter with righty Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73). First pitch is set for 6:05 p.m. (CST).