Third time is the charm after all. The Cubs are no longer stuck on 89 wins. They have now won 90 or more games in back to back seasons for the first times since the 1930 season. Milestones like this have been a frequent occurrence, and that is to be expected when watching the best Cubs team of any sub-octogenarian’s lifetime. I don’t think you can use sub as a prefix for octogenarian, but this team is requiring us to invent words to accurately describe its achievements.
Top Play (WPA): There was one run scoring play in the entire game, and so it should not be a surprised that it was the top play of the game. Kris Bryant’s fifth inning two-run blast was the lone tally. Joe Musgrove fell behind Bryant after walking Dexter Fowler with two outs in the inning. A 79 mph curve caught way too much of the plate as Bryant pulled the pitch into the Crawford Boxes. The homer puts Bryant back into a tie with Nolan Arenado for the NL home run lead.
The Cubs threatened to hit several more in the game. David Ross sent Colby Rasmus to the wall in left to start the inning. Addison Russell took Jake Marisnick to the wall in the sixth inning. Ben Zobrist hit a ball with home run distance just foul before striking out as well, but Bryant starting and ending the scoring was all the Cubs needed.
Bottom Play (WPA): The bottom of the seventh inning was the Astros’ best chance to score a run. Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-out single with Yulieski Gurriel at first base. The hit resulted in runners at the corner with Colby Rasmus facing Jon Lester nearing one hundred pitches. Gonzalez stole second as Lester worked a full count against Rasmus. Lester worked away throughout the at bat. Lester had two called strikes on the lower outside corner before trying to get Rasmus to chase way outside the zone. Rasmus fouled off a borderline outside strike before watching a perfectly placed inside fastball at the bottom of the zone. The Astros could not put another run on base against the Cubs two-headed bullpen monster.
Key Moment: The Rasmus strikeout was the key moment of the game, but it would be pretty boring to write anything beyond that strikeout was big at this point. Instead, the bottom of the fourth inning provided another big swing in the game. Alex Bregman led off the frame with a single. He took a huge lead and stole second with Altuve at the plate. David Ross nearly threw out Bregman, but the lead was just greater than the strong, accurate arm of Graybeard. Bregman then took off when Lester bounced a pitch in the dirt. Ross quickly pounced on the ball and threw a strike to Javier Baez at third base. Baez applied a now patented lightning quick tag to nab Bregman. The out killed the threat, but if Bregman had reached third base with no outs the Astros might have taken the early lead. Instead, the Cubs would grab the lead in the next inning.
Trend to Watch: The Cubs are going to the playoffs. The odds are only slightly lower that the Cubs will lose home-field advantage through the National League. The trends to watch at this point are the trends that affect the games that start October 7. Hector Rondon pitched in his second game since coming off the disabled list. He was throwing as hard this time out, but the command was dramatically better this time around. He looked like the crazy good Hector Rondon the Cubs have seen most of this season. The script for postseason success appears to be back in order now with a Cubs starter being able to turn the ball over to the Rondon-Chapman duo. Seeing Rondon pitch again tomorrow just as effectively is what to watch at this point of the year.
Coming Next: The Cubs will play the second game of the three-game set in Houston tomorrow at 12:05. John Lackey is pitching in his second postseason tuneup outing against the struggling right-hander Colin McHugh. The series concludes on Sunday night with Jake Arrieta facing former Milwaukee Brewer Mike Fiers. The Cubs then travel to St. Louis for a three-game set. Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel and Mike Montgomery will be tasked with getting the Cubs closer to the 100 win plateau this season. For those keeping track at home that would be the first time the Cubs have eclipsed 100 wins in a season since 1935.
Lead photo courtesy Troy Taormina—USA Today Sports