The Rundown: Cubs Bats Come Alive, Pitching Keeps Torrid Pace, Magic Number Down to 8

Good morning! If you went to bed last night before the completion of yesterday’s action, you should know that the Cubs won, the Brewers lost, and Chicago’s magic number sits at eight. Things are going exactly as we had planned this week, yes?

The bats broke out in a big way at Chase Field last night and the game was essentially over by the time the 2nd inning had ended. Though home runs by Javier Baez and Daniel Murphy helped stake the Cubs to a 5-0 lead against last-minute starter Matt Andriese, it was a 17-pitch at-bat by Anthony Rizzo that changed the course of events for both teams.

On an expected pitch count of 40-50, Andriese needed 33 attempts to make it through one frame. After Rizzo finally lined out, Baez got things started with his second home run in as many days and the 9-1 rout was on.

Mike Montgomery was exceptional as well, giving up just the lone run with eight strikeouts, continuing a string of  nine consecutive quality starts by the team’s rotation.

The Cubs’ grueling string of 30 days without a real day off is coming to an end after tonight’s game on a serious uptick. Chicago has already won the series in Arizona, has won five of their last six games, and goes into the Wednesday with a record of 18-10 during this impossible stretch. Meanwhile, here in Milwaukee, the Reds beat the Brewers 3-1 thanks to a lights-out Cincinnati bullpen that held the home team scoreless for five innings. As a result, the Cubs’ lead in the Central Division is now 3 1/2 games.

For what it’s worth, the Diamondbacks are not giving up on the season despite a 4-14 run since starting the month in first place in the NL West. If the Cubs had run into a similar wall, they’d be 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers right now and a half-game behind the Cardinals for the second wild card.

Cubs News & Notes

I don’t want to say I told you so, but Brandon Morrow is officially done for the season. If you are keeping track at home, the Cubs’ big offseason acquisitions have all been busts. Yu Darvish and Morrow are injured and done for the season and Tyler Chatwood is somewhere searching for his command.

Patrick Mooney of The Athletic suggests that Morrow’s workload in last season’s playoffs doomed him for this season (subscription required).

Cole Hamels, who closes out the series tonight, has been a godsend. In fact, the Cubs’ mid-season pickups have all contributed in big ways. That includes Jaime Garcia, who has had two excellent bullpen outings this week. Hamels has been so good in a Cubs uniform that it would be a stunning move if he does not return next season.

With 11 games to play, the Cubs have to like their chances to win the NL Central.

Allen Webster may be an arm the Cubs can use to provide bullpen help.

Imagine if the Cubs clinch before the final weekend of the season when the team hosts St. Louis. The Cubs would likely use that series to rest some of their best players for the postseason while the Brewers could be batting the Cardinals for home-field advantage in a one-game playoff.

Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald says that El Mago is the front-runner for this season’s NL MVP award. In the last 50 years, the only Cubs MVPs have been Ryne Sandberg (1984), Andre Dawson (1987), Sammy Sosa (1998) and Kris Bryant (2016).

The Cubs have really leaned on their rotation — which has been among the best in baseball since mid-August —  during this stretch of games. The offense has hit just .227/.291/.357 in September, yet the Cubs have still gone 9-7. In July, Cubs starters collectively posted a 5.36 ERA and 1.61 WHIP and a lot of the bad carried over in the first part of August.

How About That!

The Diamondbacks’ sudden descent has brought upon a host of questions that just a month ago seemed to be perhaps a full year away. The most prominent among them: Is Paul Goldschmidt’s time with the franchise nearing an end?

After winning seven straight series before this weekend, the Brewers have gone through a rough patch of late. They’ve lost three of their last four games, including a 3-1 loss to the Reds on Tuesday. Milwaukee OF Lorenzo Cain left last night’s game with an apparent ribcage injury.

The Cardinals handed the Braves their fourth straight loss last night, though Atlanta still leads the NL East by 5 1/2 games over the Phillies. St. Louis is now two games behind the Brewers for the top wild card seed. Paul DeJong has now driven in 42 runs since the All-Star break, fourth most in the National League.

The Dodgers beat division rival Colorado for the second straight night on Tuesday, riding the walk-off home run of utility infielder Chris Taylor to capture a 3-2 victory over the Rockies in 10 innings. Los Angeles now leads the NL West by a game and a half.

Blake Snell became baseball’s first 20-game winner of the season as the Rays blanked the Rangers 4-0 last night. Snell boasts a 20-5 record and has won eight straight starts.

The Orioles took their 108th loss of the season last night, a team record.

The Red Sox fell to the Yankees 3-2 last night at Yankee Stadium in their attempt to clinch the AL East Division. Boston’s magic number remains at two.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Jameson Taillon – The young Pirates starter struck out 11 and gave up four hits over seven shutout innings during Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Royals. He walked one batter but did not factor in the decision.
  2. Javier Baez – El Mago was 2-for-4 with a big 1st-inning home run to lead the Cubs over the Diamondbacks last night. Baez leads the NL with 107 RBI and has 33 home runs, 9 triples, 37 doubles, and 21 steals.
  3. Blake Snell – The Rays lefty became just the second Tampa pitcher to tally 20 wins in a season. Snell also became just the 12th pitcher this year to break the 200-strikeout threshold, doing so in only 169 innings pitched. The left-hander’s 1.97 ERA trails only Jacob deGrom (1.78) in the majors and his .179 batting average against leads all starting pitchers.

Extra Innings

I can’t even…

They Said It

  • “I’m not saying that we’ve been knocked out, but we’re getting jabbed pretty good. I feel like at times we withstood some of those tests, but as of late we have not. I know these guys are engaged and will fight.” – Torey Lovullo
  • “It’s been amazing. The warm reception from the fans has been outstanding. This clubhouse has been so much fun to be a part of, the way that they do things and the attitude that they have, the fight that they have to the bitter end. It’s just good to be around.” – Cole Hamels
  • “It’s been outstanding. It’s tough when you bring somebody into the room in the latter part of the year. The rest of the group has to know that it is beneficial, that these guys are good, that they do make us better. I think in every situation that’s been the case. Conversationally, they’ve all been first rate. They’re always engaged in involved conversations in a good way. It’s been kind of seamless. That’s a credit to them, but it’s also a credit to our guys, the way they welcomed and accepted these players as they walked in the door and made them feel like Cubs from the very first moment. That doesn’t happen everywhere.” – Joe Maddon

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Figure Eight courtesy of Schoolhouse Rock. I sense a theme coming for the next week or so.

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