Another day, another win. Another series, another sweep. The Cubs continued their tremendous second half form with a ninth win in a row, putting them 30 games above .500.
Speaking of the second half, Jason Hammel is looking just fine, thanks. The right-hander pitched seven scoreless frames Wednesday night, striking out six and walking two while restricting the Angels to mostly soft contact, including 11 ground ball outs. Hammel also contributed with his bat, notching a single on his way to scoring the Cubs’ second run of the night. Hammel has allowed only one run in his last three starts, and as the conversation around a possible Cubs postseason rotation grows louder, so it also grows more complex. It’s a fine problem to have.
Top Play (WPA): The star tandem of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo got it done again against a battery of former Cubs in Ricky Nolasco and Geovany Soto. After striking out in his first at-bat, Bryant doubled off the ivy with two outs in the third. Rizzo’s single, which followed, just barely made it past the glove of Gregorio Petit at second base, breaking through to the outfield and sending Bryant home safely (+0.114).
Bottom Play (WPA): After Hammel’s seven innings of quiet dominance, things got a bit prickly for the Cubs in the eighth. Pedro Strop led things off, giving up a single to Yunel Escobar, an infield ball which Strop attempted to field before pulling up in pain. Strop was helped off the field, hopping to avoid putting any weight on his left leg. With Hector Rondon already dealing with a triceps injury, it’s pretty bad timing to lose another bullpen arm. With Travis Wood taking over, Kole Calhoun then doubled to left field, advancing Escobar to third (-0.191). By the numbers and by feel alone, it was the Angels’ best chance of the night to break the game open, down only two runs with no one out.
Key Moment: This brings us to Carl Edwards, Jr., who’s been in sterling form since his late-June call-up. Any one of the three essential outs the 24-year-old induced in the eighth inning would merit being named a key moment, as each presented its own particular hazards. There was certainly a gravity to Edwards striking out Mike Trout with a runner on third—it’s Mike Trout, after all. Then there was Albert Pujols to contend with, and after carefully giving the slugger nothing in the zone to crush but winding up in a full count, Edwards was able to get himself a grounder straight to Ben Zobrist in exchange for a single run. Andrelton Simmons then also grounded out, bringing the inning to a close. Edwards escaped with just a minor scratch, accomplishing as much as anyone could hope for. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching this guy deeper into autumn.
Trend to Watch: Addison Russell’s fate-sealing solo homer in the bottom of the eighth may have been the Cubs’ only dinger this evening, but it was pretty shocking it took that long for a ball to end up over the fence. The Angels’ outfielders spent plenty of time on the warning track, just short of the fence, as batter after pinstriped batter looked ready to go deep. The multitude of fly-outs doesn’t look like anything of consequence in a box score, but that kind of contact is promising and unsurprising, given the roll the Cubs are on. After hammering the Oakland A’s, and after Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras’ shots Tuesday night, don’t think this team will stop mashing anytime soon.
Coming Next: After that quick two-game set, the Cubs start a new series at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, who now lag 12 games behind their NL Central rivals. Jon Lester will take the mound against the Cards for the first time this season, and he’ll be opposed by Carlos Martinez, who is looking to regain form, coming off a seven-run outing against the Braves. First pitch will be at 7:05 CST, with the broadcast available on CSN and 670 The Score.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports