When Thom Brennaman sat in the Reds broadcast booth in April and muttered “Enough already,” into the microphone, he had probably forgotten for a moment that he was on the air and his words would hang above the Cubs season for months to come. His private frustration was vocalized, and it’s captured the general sentiment of Cubs opponents ever since, though they might not express it the way that he did.
It’s not just the run differential that sits at 229, far above even the next best team, but it’s also the way the Cubs capture games that seem out of reach. A nearly four-week stretch of games in late June and early July caused some to question them, but the Cubs have steadily asserted themselves as the alpha team. At least in the regular season. Any student of even just a few years’ history in baseball will attest to the uncertainty of the playoffs and the complete non-guarantee that having the best regular season record is, but the caveats ring a little hollow sometimes. This team is just good.
The Brewers had the chance to play spoiler against the Pirates against the weekend and seized it, sweeping them in three games, but they didn’t look like the team that beat Pittsburgh 10-0 yesterday, and there’s no such opportunity while the Cubs are in town.
Today, Kyle Hendricks turned in another start that was nearly flawless. The kind of pitching he’s been doing for such a large part of this season that it’s almost become bland. If not for a second inning home run given up to Chris Carter, Hendricks would have not given up a run at all, but even with that, he spread five hits across six innings and struck out six.
Offensively, the Cubs waited until the last third of the game to really pounce, and it was the eighth inning that effectively put this game out of any sort of reasonable reach for the Brewers.
Top Play (WPA): This came in the seventh, an inning after the Cubs had tied the score at 1-1. Following back to back ground outs, Miguel Montero doubled on Zach Davies’ first pitch of the at bat, a change up. Chris Coghlan followed him to the plate and drew the count full before singling to right to score Montero (+.204). This put the lead in the Cubs hands, and they would not relinquish that lead, or even come close to it, for the rest of the afternoon.
Bottom Play (WPA): If Jason Heyward is allowed one fielding mistake on Sunday, then Hendricks is probably allowed one mistake this afternoon. The bottom play today came on a 1-1 sinker to Chris Carter, who homered to give the Brewers a one-run lead that they would hold on to until the sixth inning (-.106).
Key Moment: Together, the seventh and eighth innings shifted the tone of this afternoon’s game, and while Chris Coghlan’s single in the seventh gave the Cubs the lead, the tying run in the sixth inning felt key, for a couple of reasons. In that inning, Tommy La Stella drew a walk and the moved to second after a Kris Bryant strikeout and an Anthony Rizzo ground out. With two outs, Jorge Soler hit a 2-1 changeup for a soft liner to Ryan Braun in left field and score La Stella. It was a moment that felt key to this game, of course, but also key to the further growth of Soler as a hitter. He produced in a tight spot and did enough to score a much-needed tying run, and on an afternoon where Bryant and Rizzo aren’t producing on offense—both, almost symbolically, making outs just before his at bat, so timely hits from batters like Soler are essential.
Trend to Watch: The Soler hit also demonstrates a big part of what makes the Cubs so powerful, and that’s their unprecedented depth, especially on offense. Soler has essentially been relegated to fourth or fifth outfielder, but he’s still more than apt to punch in a key RBI single or carry the team on his shoulders for a few games.
Additionally, the Cubs bullpen should be disconcerting to potential playoff opponents, because if they can be this effective without Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop, then that’s a very demoralizing reality for opposing hitters when it’s October and both of those pitchers are presumably back in the bullpen. Yesterday the ‘pen threw eight scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and striking out eleven, and today it was a little simpler, but it’s who did it that makes things more interesting.
Felix Pena, Joe Smith, and Jake Buchanan (I’ll forgive you for asking, “Who?” with this last one) combined for three nearly perfect innings. Without Ryan Braun’s fluky home run in the ninth off of Buchanan, they did not allow a single Brewers baserunner in the last three innings of this afternoon’s game.
Coming Next: Tomorrow Jason Hammel shoots for his fifteenth win of the season against Wily Peralta of the Brewers. Hammel has defied second half expectations en route to a very successful season thus far, and there’s little indication that things will go south for him any time soon. Peralta has pitched relatively well (relative, at least, to his earlier starts this season) in his last seven starts, but he still struggles with keeping runners off of the basepaths, something he will assuredly get punished for against the Cubs offense.
First pitch comes at 7:10 tomorrow night, and the game can be found on CSN+ and 670 AM locally, and on FSWI and 620 AM in the Milwaukee area.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports