Cubs Record: 98-55 (1st Place NL Central)
W: Jake Arrieta (18-7, 2.85)
L: Mike Leake (9-11, 4.72)
MVP: Jake Arrieta: 7 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 10 K, 1 BB
These last 11 regular season games have very little meaning for the Cubs. The NL Central has been clinched and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs is all but certain. As for Chicago’s opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday’s game could not have been more important. The Evil Empire came in sitting a half game out of the final Wild Card spot with just three series left.
Cards starter Mike Leake had a very rough beginning to his day on the mound. Dexter Fowler walked, Kris Bryant singled, and Fowler moved to third. After a wild pitch scored Dex, Anthony Rizzo doubled on a ball botched by left fielder Kolten Wong. A Ben Zobrist single and a Chris Coghlan double plated two more to make it 4-0 after the 1st.
Jake Arrieta has been the cause of much consternation among Cubs Nation of late. From the first batter Friday, it appeared dominant 2015 Jake was on the bump. Arrieta struck out the side in the top of the 1st on a total of 11 pitches and the Cy Young winner ended up going 7 shutout innings with very little drama Friday.
After failing to score with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 3rd, the Cubs tacked on in the 4th. Arrieta, Bryant, and Rizzo singled to load the bases with one out. Zobrist grounded into a potential double play but beat the throw for an RBI to make it a 5-0 lead for the North Siders.
Pedro Strop returned to pitch the top of the 8th and used a double play to erase a leadoff walk in a scoreless frame. Travis Wood and CJ Edwards handled the 9th to close out a 5-0 Cubs victory.
Friday was a big start for those who had concerns about Jake Arrieta going into postseason. The Bearded One did not disappoint against a desperate Cardinals team. The most important development was the command displayed by the former Horned Frog. Arrieta has been having issues putting the ball where he wanted it, but that wasn’t the case this time as Miguel Montero’s glove barely had to move on many of the pitches he caught. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Don’t look now, but Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are heating up again. Chicago’s corner men got on base six times with 2 runs and an RBI. The Cubs’ minor downturn earlier in the season seemed coincide with Bryant and Rizzo’s slumps, so it would be nice to see them get back on a roll in the lead up to October.
The best news on Friday for the Cubs had to be on the health front. Jorge Soler, who had been out for a week with right side stiffness, was able to pinch hit. Even more importantly, Pedro Strop came back from knee and groin issues to pitch in the top of the 8th. The results the two injured Cubs produced in the game did not matter as much as the fact that they are back.
There were not many things to criticize about the Cubs on Friday. The only bugaboo that still reared its head a bit was the continued issues when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position. Chicago left 10 runners on base Friday, though I’m still not concerned about this. This is a team that gets lots of runners on base, and they simply aren’t going to come through every time. Even if the Cubs aren’t scoring every time, it puts lots of pressure on opponents’ pitching staffs to escape all these jams. Given their own pitching staff, 5 runs is more than enough for the Cubs to win many, many games.
Mike Leake had a very rough 1st inning at Wrigley on Friday. The Cards righty needed 30 pitches in all to escape the grind. The damage included a walk, a pair of wild pitches, 4 hits, and 4 runs for the Cubs. It’s safe to say the signing of Leake has not paid off the way St. Louis had expected it to.
The Cubs have surpassed their win total from 2015 and seem almost assured of 100 wins on the season. Jason Hammel (15-9, 3.56 ERA) is trying to get a spot in the postseason bullpen and he’ll face Alex Reyes (3-1, 1.03 ERA), who has given the Cubs fits the only two games he’s faced them. The 12 PM CST game is absolutely critical for the Cardinals to win. Here’s hoping the Cubs can mess it up.