Game 111 Recap: Cubs 5 Angels 1

70! After slogging through 30 calendar days to make it from 50 to 60 wins, the Cubs have now shot through their next 10 wins in just 14 days, and have won eight straight in the bargain. More fun stuff: They’re 9-1 in their last ten, and could end the night 12.0 (!) games up on the Cardinals in the NL Central, if the Reds’ lead in St. Louis holds. It’s a good time to be a Cubs fan.

Top Play (WPA): The game started off on a somewhat discordant note for the North Siders, as Kole Calhoun (of all people) homered off of John Lackey with one out in the top of the first to give the Halos a 1-0 lead. That was pretty much it for the Angels offense, though: they mustered just two hits thereafter, and Lackey’s eight-inning, six-strikeout performance was yet another in a long line of superb outings by Cubs starters in recent weeks. We didn’t know that in the first inning, though, or even in the second. This could have been one of those games. It wasn’t. Willson Contreras led off the third inning with a home-run halfway up the bleachers in left-center (+0.126) and the Cubs never really looked back.

Bottom Play (WPA): It was that homer I just told you about, by Kole Calhoun (-0.105). Who the hell makes up these recap formats, anyway?

Key Moment: In a game that never really got out of hand for the Cubs, there’s not a lot to point to as a “key” moment in this game, but three sort of weird things happened in the third inning.

The first happened with one out, with Dexter Fowler at the plate. Fowler popped the ball just over the tarp down the left-field line, about thirty feet short of the bullpen, and Yunel Escobar barely missed the ball, which a beefy-looking Cubs fan (wearing sunglasses! at night!) got a piece of instead. Now, Escobar probably should have been hustling a little more, but it didn’t take the umpires long to award the Angels an out on the grounds of fan interference. If they hadn’t, Fowler may have reached and Kris Bryant (who homered in the next at-bat) would have had another RBI.

Right after Bryant’s home run, Anthony Rizzo popped a ball not all that far from where Fowler’s had been, but this time in fair territory, and Ji-Man Choi fell all over himself, quite literally, to try to make the play, although it was weirdly credited as a hit past Andrelton Simmons. Anyway, neither Choi nor Simmons made the play, and Rizzo had a double. Not a good day for the folks on the left side of the Angels’ defense, which is unusual because one of them is called Andrelton Simmons.

And the last weird thing? Jorge Soler, right at the end of the inning, singled on a ground ball to first base, which Mookie Wilson’d its way into Albert Pujols’s glove, just a little too late for Pujols to underhand it to Jered Weaver at first. Soler was safe, and the Cubs scored their fifth run of the game (Rizzo). Just a little small ball, baby.

Trend to Watch: Two things. One, Soler’s return continues to be an item of interest, and I imagine it’ll stay that way until he proves that he’s well and truly back from the hamstring injury that’s already cost him so much time this season. Soler can be a tremendous presence in the Cubs’ lineup, when healthy, and his full rehabilitation (yes, I know he’s already back in the lineup—remember, we just talked about him?) will matter more than perhaps any other offensive player’s improvements, save perhaps Jason Heyward’s, down the stretch. Everyone else is pretty much where they need to be.

Secondly: the pitching. The pitching, the pitching, the pitching. It’s getting to the point where writers start writing very nice things about it in national publications. We all already knew that Jake Arrieta was good, and he has been—although not quite as good as he was last year. Jon Lester has been solidly excellent. Jason Hammel has forgotten that he’s meant to get worse in the second half. Kyle Hendricks has been a revelation (though many of us here in Chicago saw it coming). And John Lackey, well, he keeps doing what he does, which is spit, curse, and kick his way into solid performance after solid performance. This one was a bit better than that, and the offense kicked into high gear, but on a basic level this is the formula the Cubs hope will carry them through October. And you know what? It just might.

Coming Next: The Cubs finish up the set, looking for their fifth straight series win, with another 8:05 pm CT game tomorrow. Ricky Nolasco (5.23 ERA) will face of against Jason Hammel (3.07 ERA) in a game that’ll be televised on CSN+, and broadcast over the radio on 670 The Score.

Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports.

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