Hendricks Throws another Gem to Lower ERA and Lower Magic Number to 18, Hammel Goes for Sweep on ESPN

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

For a fifth starter Kyle Hendricks is a pretty good number one pitcher. In the Cubs 3-0 win against the Pirates tonight Hendricks (13-7) showed once again he has taken his pitching to another level by shutting down the Pirates for seven innings. As a result, Hendricks lowered his MLB-leading ERA from 2.19 to 2.09. Hendricks was also able to extend his streak of games of allowing three runs or less to 18 straight.

Hendricks’ performance allowed for the offense to take the night off as he brought a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Pittsburgh got a hit. The only offense needed was a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo in the first and an RBI single by Miguel Montero in the second inning. Carl Edwards, Jr. pitched a scoreless eighth while Aroldis Chapman closed the game out in the ninth for his 31st save of the season and 11th as a Cub. The Cubs are now 21-6 for the month of August, but most importantly, the Cubs magic number to make the playoffs is 18. The win also moved their home record at Wrigley Field to an MLB-best 47-19.

Game 132
The Cubs (84-47) go for the series sweep on Thursday in a nationally televised game on ESPN. The Pirates (67-63) will send Ryan Vogelsong (3-3, 3.02 ERA) to the mound to prevent the sweep. Vogelsong is coming off of a win over Milwaukee in which he held the Brewers to one earned run over five-plus innings. Vogelsong has had a tough season. Earlier in the year, on May 23, he suffered a fracture in his orbital bone after he was struck in the eye by a pitch from Jordan Lyles of the Colorado Rockies. Vogelsong underwent facial surgery to repair the bones. He was on the disabled list for two months to heal until he was able to make his successful return on August 4 against the Atlanta Braves.

The Cubs will have Jason Hammel (13-7, 3.21 ERA) pitching who has been struggling as of late. Hammel has lost his last two starts after winning his six previous starts. Something has been a little off for Hammel as he has not made it to the 4th inning in both of those starts. In fact he has only been able to pitch 5.2 innings over two games and in the short time he has given up nine earned runs with three strikeouts. Hammel could use this game to right his mechanics in order to get back on the winning track. In his loss to the Colorado Rockies back on August 21st, Hammel gave up ten runs, six earned, in three-plus innings, which ended his 22-inning scoreless streak.

Outlook: Vogelsong has made two appearances against the Cubs this season. Altogether he has pitched 3.1 innings against Chicago and has only given up one run. Conversely, Hammel has made two starts against the Pirates this season and has gone 2-0. He has pitched a total of 11.2 innings and has only given up three earned runs. Both pitchers are right-handed, which could pose a problem for the offenses as the Cubs and Pirates are 18th and 20th respectively against right-handed pitchers with averages of .254 and .253. Overall, this game will be most important to see where Hammel’s pitching is at as it’s essential for him to work out of his funk heading into this last month before the playoffs.

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Cubs Bounce Back from Tough Road Trip to Beat the Pirates in Wild Walk-Off Comeback

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 130
The Cubs (83-47) came home Monday night after a 5-4 road trip to welcome the surging Pittsburgh Pirates (67-62) who find themselves in the thick of the National League Wild Card chase. Despite being tripped up in two one-run losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers to finish out a nine-game road trip, the Cubs had enough energy and fight in them to overcome a shaky performance by Jake Arrieta to earn a victory an 8-7 victory in the 13th innings.

Monday night’s game was a back-forth affair in which both teams overcame three-run deficits. The Cubs blazed out to a three nothing lead, but Arrieta gave it back and then some after he gave up six runs on five hits in six-plus innings, which put the Cubs down 6-3. However, the Cubs did not go quietly as Willson Contreras hit a two-run homer in the eighth and Jorge Soler hit a game-tying shot in the ninth.

The game headed into the 13th still tied when the Pirates scored the go ahead run on a sacrifice fly. The Cubs, like they have done all season, dug down deep and found that little bit of something extra that didn’t allow them to quit. Dexter Fowler led off of the inning with a single, only to be followed by Kris Bryant who also singled. Anthony Rizzo then followed with a single to tie the game at seven. Miguel Montero was then left to be the hero as he came in to pinch hit for the pitcher and delivered a game-winning single.

The win kept the Cubs lead in the National League Central to 14 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and 15.5 games ahead of the Pirates. The Cubs new magic number to secure a playoff spot is 19. They are coming up fast to becoming the first team in the 2016 playoffs.

Game 131
The Cubs are looking to start another streak tonight and, as of now, they probably wouldn’t want any other pitcher on the mound to break the streak than Kyle Hendricks (12-7, 2.19 ERA) who will face rookie Chad Kuhl (3-1, 3.50 ERA). Hendricks is coming off of another remarkable game where he limited the San Diego Padres to two runs on four hits while striking out eight over six innings in the Cubs 6-3 victory. He has not allowed more than three runs in a game in 17 straight starts. What has helped the Cubs most is that Hendricks has won eight out of his last nine decisions. The Cubs will need Hendricks to continue his winning ways to get them out of this mini slump.

Kuhl has lived up to the expectations this season as the Pirates top pitching prospect. He suffered his first loss of the season back on August 20 to the Miami Marlins despite only giving up two earned runs over six innings. In fact, Kuhl has only given up more than three earned runs in a game once, which happened to be against the Cubs. In that July 9 game, Kuhl only made it through two-plus innings after he surrendered four earned runs on seven hits. At that time his ERA was 6.08, which he has drastically dropped since.

Outlook: Hendricks’ success in leading all of MLB in ERA with a month to go in the season can be attributed to his high strikeouts and low batting average with balls in play. Hendricks is averaging just shy of eight strikeouts (7.99) per nine innings while batters are only hitting him at a .247 average when they actually get the bat on the ball. As a result, Hendricks has been able to keep runners off the base paths. Moreover, he has able to limit the opposition to 13 home runs and 38 walks over 152 innings. Kuhl, on the other hand, has a low strikeout rate per nine innings with a 5.56 average, while walking a high number of batters as well at 2.83. However, what has made Kuhl successful, especially as of late, is preventing the runners from scoring with 75.6% of the runners that have gotten on base have not scored. Still, with this Cubs offense Kuhl will be playing with fire if he allows them to get on base with consistency. If that happens then we could see a repeat of his short performance in his first game against the Cubs.

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Cubs Finish Sweep of Padres, Eye Weekend Showdown with the Dodgers

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs (81-45) did exactly what they needed to do in San Diego as they completed a series sweep on Wednesday with a 6-3 victory. Kyle Hendricks moved to 12-7 on the season as he held the Padres to two runs on four hits over six innings. More importantly, Hendricks maintained his MLB-lead in ERA even though his average went up from 2.16 to 2.19. Moreover, he also extended his streak of games in which he gave three earned runs or less to 17 straight starts.

Ben Zobrist had a big game, going 2-4 including a triple that scored two runs. Willson Contreras also contributed with an opposite-field home run, which was his eighth of the season. Kris Bryant added to his MVP-like numbers by also going 2-4 and raising his batting average to .301. The win was the Cubs 22nd in the last 27 games as they are now 36 games over .500 for the first time since 1945. Most importantly, win brought the Cubs magic number to return to the playoffs down to 24. It is now 23 after the St. Louis Cardinals lost to the New York Mets on Thursday night 10-6.

The Cubs now head to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers (71-55) who lead the National League West by three games over the San Francisco Giants. Most significantly, they have taken the lead in the NL West without the services of their ace Clayton Kershaw who has been sidelined since June 26 with a herniated disk. These teams played a four-game series at Wrigley May 30—June 2 in which the Cubs took three out of four. The Dodgers just made a move on Thursday sending back-up catcher A.J Ellis and minor league pitcher Tommy Bergjans to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Carlos Ruiz and cash considerations.

Game 127
Mike Montgomery (4-5, 2.41 ERA) will get the start in the series opener against Bud Norris (6-10, 4.69 ERA). Montgomery is coming off of his first start for the Cubs after seven relief appearances. He was filling in for the injured John Lackey. Montgomery’s spot-start was a resounding success as he took a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies into the fifth inning. Norris is a recent addition to the Dodgers rotation after he was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in a trade on June 30 in a deal that involved four minor leaguers. Norris, since the trade, has gone 3-3 with a 5.67 ERA.

Game 128
The Dodgers have yet to name a starter for Saturday night’s game, but the Cubs will be sending Jason Hammel (13-6, 3.07 ERA) to the mound. Hammel will be looking forward to this game as he had one of the worst games of his career on Sunday when the Colorado Rockies lit him up for 10 runs (six earned) on 10 hits in just three-plus innings. Hammel pitched two innings against the Dodgers on May 30 before coming out of the game due to injury.

Game 129
In the series finale Jon Lester (14-4, 2.81 ERA) will go up against rookie Kenta Maeda (13-7, 3.37 ERA). Maeda has had a sensational rookie season. The former Japanese League All-Star is currently on a five game win streak. In his last game, Maeda pitched five innings in a win against the Giants, giving up three runs on six hits while striking out four. Lester is undefeated since the All-Star break as he has won five games out of seven starts. He was impressive in his win on Monday limiting the Padres to one run on five hits and striking out eight over six innings.

Outlook: This series with the Dodgers will be a real test for the Cubs as it is on the back stretch of a long road-trip. They are 4-2 on the trip so far. One win will give them a winning road-trip. However, it is certain the Cubs would prefer to get a series win in this playoff preview. Look for the Cubs to take at least two games in the series and come back to Wrigley Field on Monday with their magic number reduced by a few more games.

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Arrieta Displays Top Form in Domination of Padres, Bryant and Russell Continue to Slug as Cubs Go for Series Sweep

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Jake Arrieta, after coming off of a career-high in walks, put to rest any concern over his control on Tuesday night by stifling the San Diego Padres offense in the Cubs 5-3 win. Arrieta gave up just two hits over eight innings—a single in the second and a double in the eighth. He kept the Padres off-balance with his ability to command the strike zone around the plate. The win put Arrieta’s record to 16-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.62. He is still in contention for the National League Cy Young award if he can finish strong.

The offense was once again led by Kris Bryant and Addison Russell who have become the hottest tandem in MLB over the last week. Bryant opened the scoring with his NL tying 33rd home run of the season. Bryant also collected another RBI with a sacrifice fly. His two runs batted in now brings his total to 86, which is one shy of Anthony Rizzo’s team lead. Russell hit his fifth home run in as many games with a two-run shot in the third inning. He now has 19 home runs and 82 RBI on the season.

Game 126
The Cubs will be going for the series sweep this afternoon as Kyle Hendricks (11-7, 2.16 ERA) will be facing Paul Clemens (2-2, 4.82 ERA).Hendricks is currently the MLB leader in ERA after Clayton Kershaw is no longer a qualifier. Hendricks has earned two no decisions in his last two starts despite only giving up three earned runs over 13 innings and striking out a combined 15 batters. The last time Hendricks has not given up more than three earned runs in a game was on May 17 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Padres claimed Clemens off of waivers on June 28 from the Miami Marlins. With the Marlins, Clemens went 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in two starts. Since being acquired by the Padres he has gone 1-2 with a 4.28 ERA in nine appearances. He has started five games for the Padres. In his last start, Clemens gave up three earned runs in five innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks, earning a no-decision.

Outlook: This is another one of those games that on paper looks like the Cubs should come away with a win and a series sweep. Clemens is not going to blow any Cubs hitters away as his fastball averages around 92 mph. His strikeout rate per nine innings is low as he has pitched a combined 37 innings and has only struck out 27 batters. Moreover, in just those 37 innings he has given up ten home runs. Altogether, this does not bode well for him, since the Cubs are a patient ballclub who can hit the long ball. Meanwhile, Hendricks is in a zone right now where few pitchers travel. Theoretically, he should have no trouble handling the Padres lowly offense. Lester and Arrieta were able to assert their will on the mound the previous two games and Hendricks should be able to do the same. Still, everything happening accordingly is a different story, but the Cubs should leave San Diego with a sweep of the Padres.

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Lester Holds Padres Offense in Check While Cubs 3 Home Runs Pace Offense in Win, Arrieta Looks to Bounce-Back from Previous Start

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs (79-45) got an all-around good effort from their pitching and offense to beat the San Diego Padres (53-72) 5-1 in their series opener on Monday night. Jon Lester moved to 14-4 on the season after limiting the Padres to five hits and one earned run over six innings pitched.  Lester also struck out eight in lowering his ERA to 2.81. The win also moved his record to 5-0 since the All-Star break. The bullpen gave the team three solid innings to secure the win, including Carl Edwards, Jr. striking out the side in the ninth.

The offense was led by the team’s two hottest hitters Addison Russell and Kris Bryant. Russell started the scoring by hitting a solo home run in the second inning and a sacrifice fly in the third. The home run was Russell’s fourth in four games giving him a total of 18 on the season. Moreover, his two RBI pushed him to the 80 RBI mark on the season. Russell has a realistic shot of hitting over 20 home runs and knocking in over 100 runs this year, which is impressive for a 22-year-old shortstop in his first full season.

Bryant hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, which makes him a tied again for the National League lead in home runs at 32 with the Colorado Rockies’ Nolan Arenado. The RBI also gave Bryant 84 runs batted in on the season. He is now three behind Anthony Rizzo for the team lead. Rizzo, not to be out done, went 4-5 on the night and raised his average to a season-high .301. Jason Heyward got into the action after getting four games of rest by hitting a two-run shot in the fifth inning, as well. The home run was just his sixth on the season. Hopefully it’s a sign that he is ready to break out of his season-long slump.

Monday night’s win was the Cubs’ 20th win in 25 games, which shows how good they have been in a shade under a month. They are now 12.5 games ahead of the second place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. If this pace continues, it is conceivable for the Cubs to clinch the NL Central crown in under three weeks.

Game 125
Jake Arrieta (15-5, 2.75 ERA) will get the start tonight and all eyes will be on his control after walking a career-high seven in his last game—a win versus the Milwaukee Brewers. In just five-plus innings, Arrieta gave up five earned runs and only struck out three. As a result, everyone will want to see whether those control issues was isolated to that game or if there is some carry over that is a cause for concern. Arrieta did not pitch in the series against the Padres in May.

The Padres will be sending the young left-hander Christian Friedrich (4-9, 4.69 ERA) to the mound. Friedrich was used as a reliever for the Rockies last season, but the Padres switched him to a starter soon after they acquired him in the off-season. Friedrich started the season in A+ ball, quickly moved to AAA El Paso, and was called up to the majors in mid-May where he has remained. Friedrich is on a seven-game losing streak and has not won a decision since June 23—a span of nine games. However, in his last outing he held the Tampa Bay Rays to just two earned runs over six-plus innings, but earned the loss as the Rays shutout the Padres 2-0.

Outlook: Again, the focus in tonight’s game is not so much a Cubs win as Arrieta’s control. Win or lose, if Arrieta continues the wildness from his previous game that there will be a growing concern going forward. However, if Arrieta throws his typical game, win or lose, then there will be collective sigh of relief throughout Cubs nation. As for Cubs offense, both sides of the plate hit Friedrich well. Left-handers hit him with a .281 average while right-handers hit him with a .262. As a result, he is not dominating one-side of the plate or the other. Friedrich has only given up ten home runs in just 94 innings this season. Given the spaciousness of PetCo Park and Friedrich’s stinginess of giving up the long-ball, the Cubs may not beat the Padres like they did Monday night with three home runs. Still, Friedrich has a 5.08 ERA at home and has a .304 batting average of balls in play. So the Cubs might not hit home runs off of Friedrich, but they should get plenty of runners on base, which should equal to a number of scoring opportunities.

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Cubs Lose Series Finale to Rockies as Hammel Falters, Road Trip Continues in San Diego Tonight

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Jason Hammel was on a pitching high entering Sunday’s series finale against the Colorado Rockies. He was riding a six-game win streak and a 22-inning scoreless streak. However, it all came crashing down quickly as Hammel surrender seven runs in the first inning and ten total (six earned) before he could make it out of the third inning in the Cubs 11-4 loss. It was a loss that he and the Cubs would like to quickly forget as it was a usual game played in the thin air of Denver as the teams combined for five home runs, 21 hits, and 15 runs.

That was easily Hammel’s worst outing of the season. However, his performance was not as bad as it appeared since the Cubs defense combined for three errors, which is atypical for one of the top defensive clubs in MLB. The defense was not able to help out Hammel and Hammel was not able to help out the defense. Both the pitching and defensive performances were very uncharacteristic and should be treated as an isolated incident and not something that is indicative of a larger concern. Hammel will readjust and the Cubs defense is still one of the tops in baseball. On the brighter-side, Addison Russell hit went 2-3 on the day, which included two solo home runs bringing his total to 17 on the season.

Game 124
The Cubs (78-45) now move on to San Diego (53-71) to face the Padres in a three-game series. Jon Lester (13-4, 2.86 ERA) will get the start for the Cubs against former Cub Edwin Jackson (3-3, 5.36 ERA). Jackson had started the season with the Miami Marlins going 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA. The Marlins released him on June 4 and was picked up by the Padres on June 16.

Jackson has enjoyed moderate success with the Padres as he has gone 3-2 with a 5.20 ERA. Impressively, he has taken no-hitters into the fifth inning in two out of his last six starts. The stark contrast of his last two outings is a good example of his inconsistent year and overall career. On August 10, Jackson pitched seven scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates while striking out seven. However, in his last outing, on August 16 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Jackson gave up eight earned runs in just four innings while only striking out three. Those two games show that you never know what type of pitching performance one is going to see out of Jackson. He can totally dominant in a game making it difficult for a lineup to score, or he might implode and get hit hard.

Lester, on the other hand, has been consistent all year. He is currently seventh in the National League in ERA and has won his last four decisions. Moreover, he has not lost since July 3rd to the New York Mets. Lester is having a very good month of August. In his three starts he has gone 2-0 and has only given up five earned runs over 19.2 innings to go along with 21 strike outs. Lester faced the Padres back on May 10 in which the Cubs won 8-7. In the win, Lester struggled a bit by allowing three earned runs on four hits over six innings.

Outlook: The Padres surprisingly took two-of-three from the Cubs back in May after they swept a doubleheader back on May 11. The Cubs were riding an eight-game win streak after they won the series opener, but the Padres were able to compete with the Cubs and beat them 1-0 and 7-4. Still, the differences between the clubs are almost night and day. Despite being 13th overall in team batting average with a .258 average, the Cubs are now third overall in runs with 631. San Diego is tied for last in MLB with a .239 average as well as in 20th place with 544 runs. The Cubs are still at the top of MLB in team ERA with a 3.15 earned run average, while the Padres are 23rd with a 4.52. These differences should show what type of advantage the Cubs should have over the Padres in this series. However, just like their first series in May proved, anything can happen on the field.

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Montgomery Shines in Spot-Start as Bryant Maintains Hot-Bat in Win, Hammel Seeks to Extend Scoreless Innings Streak

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D. 

The Cubs (78-44) were hoping that Mike Montgomery would pitch well enough in his spot-start against the Colorado Rockies (59-64) for the injured John Lackey to keep them in the game. Montgomery did more than keep the Cubs in the game as he limited the Rockies to one run on just one hit in four-plus innings in their 9-2 win on Saturday night.

Manager Joe Maddon placed a pitch limit of sixty pitches on Montgomery since he hadn’t started since July 17 when he pitched for the Seattle Mariners. Still, Montgomery looked like he could go 100 even though he gave up a solo home run on his 60th pitch to Nick Hundley. Maddon took him out of the game, but Montgomery did his part and may have shown that he could be a possible starter for the club in 2017.

Another game and another MVP-like statement as Kris Bryant continued his hitting tear as he collected two more hits, including a three-run home run off of Jack Hoffman, who was making his MLB debut. Bryant collected four more RBIs, which has given him a total of 10 hits and 10 RBIs over his last three games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant is the third player in Cubs history to have 10 hits and 10 RBIs in three games.

Game 123
The Cubs will go for another series win on Sunday when they send Jason Hammel (13-5, 2.75 ERA) to the mound to face Jorge De La Rosa (7-7, 5.29 ERA). Hammel has won six-straight decisions and is currently on 22-inning scoreless streak. Impressively, he has a 0.95 ERA since the All-Star break and has not lost since July 1st. Hammel was a former Rockie as he pitched in the organization from 2009-2010. De La Rosa’s season can be described as middling. He was able to put together a four-game win streak during the middle of the season, but followed that with a three-game losing streak. However, he also has been a reliable innings-eater for the Rockies. In his last start, he allowed four runs on six hits over six innings in a no-decision against the Washington Nationals.

Outlook: Hammel has dominated right-handers this season keeping them to a .201 average. He has also held left-handers in check with a .216 average. Hammel has given up 16 home runs on the season, split equally among the sides of the plate at eight apiece, which may be a concern pitching at Coors Field in the high altitude. De La Rosa’s splits have not been as positive compared to Hammel’s splits as right-handers hit .288 while left-handers hit him at a .290 clip. As a result, Cubs hitters should find success against the left-hander. On paper, this game should favor Hammel, as he should keep the Rockies lineup in check while the Cubs should continue to put runs on the board.

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Cubs lose to the Rockies on Wild Walk-off Play in Extras, Montgomery gets Spot-Start Today Against Rookie Hoffman

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The series opener between the Cubs (77-44) and the Colorado Rockies (59-63) started out imperfect with a two-hour rain delay and ended imperfectly when Ryan Raburn doubled off of Aroldis Chapman in the bottom f the 11th inning. The hit scored Nick Hundley to tie the game at six only for Raburn be awarded two more bases on a throwing error by second baseman Javier Baez, which resulted in the game winning run and a Rockies 7-6 win. The loss snapped the Cubs four-game win streak.

Even though they lost a lot of good came out of the game. Kyle Hendricks once again pitched a strong game. Hendricks’ performance dropped his ERA to 2.16, which is significant after Madison Baumgarner raised his to 2.25 and after tonight’s Los Angeles Dodgers’ game MLB ERA leader Clayton Kershaw and his 1.79 ERA will no longer be a qualifier since he has not pitched since June 30. As a result, Kyle Hendricks will be the new ERA leader for all of MLB, which is an outstanding accomplishment this late in the season.

Also, Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena both made their major league debuts in relief stints and both pitched well. Pena recorded one inning of work with two strike outs. Zastryzny also pitched a scoreless inning, but gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases before he got a groundout to first to end the inning. Kris Bryant had three more hits to follow-up his five-for-five game on Thursday. He has now raised his average to .299 on the season. Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler both hit home runs, which were their 15th and 10th home runs this year, respectively.

Game 122
The Cubs will have left-handed reliever Mike Montgomery on the mound today in a spot start. Montgomery is 1-1 with a 2.43 ERA. He has made seven appearances for the Cubs since his trade in July from the Seattle Mariners. Over those appearances he has pitched 8.2 innings and has surrendered three earned runs. The Rockies will counter with rookie right-hander Jeff Hoffman who will be making his major league debut. Hoffman was a key piece in the trade last season that sent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays. Hoffman was the ninth pick of the 2014 amateur draft. At AAA this season he is 6-9 with a 4.02 ERA in 22 starts. Impressively, Hoffman has struck out 124 batters in 118-plus innings.

Outlook: This game is a tough one to figure out as Montgomery started 16 games last year for the Mariners, but has been featured as a reliever all season. As a starter last season he went 4-6 with a 4.60 ERA. However, his previous record may not be indicative of how well he might perform today since he has not had the grind of pitching multiple innings and, therefore, should have a fresh arm to give the Cubs at least five innings. It is also tough to gauge how well Hoffman will do against the Cubs offense. He is a rookie so the pressure of making his MLB debut might have some affect on him. Still, the Cubs batters may have some initial difficulties hitting him due to a lack of familiarity. Hoffman is a top prospect, but it is not a guarantee that he will shine in his first big league start.

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Bryant Makes Major MVP Statement as Cubs Sweep Brewers, Ready for Weekend Series in Colorado

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

What was thought of as a pitchers’ duel turned into a slugfest that ended with Kris Bryant making a resounding case for National League MVP. Jake Arrieta and Zach Davies both struggled throughout their starts in the Cubs 9-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, but the story of the day was Bryant.

The All-Star third baseman had his second 5-for-5 game of the season. This time he hit two home runs, a double, and two singles to go along with five RBIs. Bryant accomplished several feats with his performance on Thursday:

  • Bryant hit his 30th HR of the season, which places him in a tie for the NL lead (Nolan Arenado)
  • Bryant is the 2nd player in MLB history to have two five-hit, five-RBI games in the same season (Phil Cavarretta, 1945) (source: ESPN)
  • Bryant is the 2nd player in MLB history to have two five-hit, two-HR games in the same season (Joe Carter, 1986) (source: ESPN)
  • Bryant became just the second Cubs player to hit 30 home runs in either his rookie or sophomore seasons (Ernie Banks, 1955) (source: Elias Sports Bureau)
  • Bryant with his 30th HR became just the 3rd third baseman in franchise history to reach that mark (Ron Santo and Aramis Ramirez) (source: ESPN Jesse Rogers)

It is apparent that Bryant is now the frontrunner for NL MVP ahead of teammate Anthony Rizzo. The race for the award should go down to the wire, but it’s these kinds of moments that may set Bryant apart from the rest of the field.

Despite sweeping the four-game series with the Brewers, one potential cause for concern is Arrieta’s performance. Even though he earned the win he gave up a career-high seven walks, which led to five earned runs. Even more concerning is that he only struck out three batters. Hopefully these control issue is only a little hiccup and not something prolonged, because it is definitely a performance that would cause concern heading into the playoffs.

In a roster update, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reports that both Hector Rondon and John Lackey will be placed on the disabled list for precautionary reasons to heal their minor injuries. Rookie pitchers Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena will be called up to take their spots. Zastryzny, a left-hander, made 15 appearances at AAA Iowa where he went 7-3 with a 4.33 ERA. He also made nine starts at AA Tennessee where he went 3-2 with a 4.28 ERA. Pena, a right-hander, has made 36 appearances at AAA Iowa going 3-4 with a 3.41 ERA. Both pitchers will be utilized as relievers.

Game 121
The Cubs (77-43) now head to Colorado to face the Rockies (58-63) who are on the outside looking in for the National League Wild Card. The Cubs will have Kyle Hendricks (11-7) on the mound going against Tyler Anderson (4-4, 3.42 ERA). Hendricks is currently third overall in ERA in all of MLB. Although Hendricks did not get the decision against the St. Louis Cardinals in his last outing, he did strike out a season-high 12 batters while only giving up two earned runs over seven innings. Hendricks is on a stretch where he is won seven out of his last eight decisions.

Anderson has been a bit of surprise to the Rockies as the rookie has the lowest ERA in the first 12 starts in the history of the Rockies (source: ESPN). He had an early exit in his last start, against the Philadelphia Phillies, when he was ejected in the third inning for intentionally hitting a batter. The ejection broke his string of eight straight starts in which he pitched at least six innings. Anderson began the season in AA making two starts before being promoted to AAA. There he made three starts going 1-1 before he was promoted to the majors.

Outlook: Cubs pitchers need to be at their best to stop the potent Rockies offense, which currently ranks second in MLB in total runs with 640. Even though the Rockies have had do without their superstar rookie shortstop Trevor Story, who is out for the season with a torn ligament in his thumb, they still have to contend with National League Home Run leader Nolan Arenado as well as Carlos Gonzalez. However, Gonzalez has been slowed with a minor ankle injury as of late. The Rockies have three of the top seven leaders in MLB batting average with D.J. LeMahieu batting .343, Charlie Blackmon batting .322, and Gonzalez batting .321. As for the Cubs offense, right-handers have had a distinct advantage against Anderson hitting .269, whereas, lefties only hit him with a .208 average, so look for the right-handers in the lineup to fare batter tonight against Anderson. Overall, it will be interesting to see how Hendricks does against the Rockies offense. If he can keep them in check then the Cubs offense should be able to come through with enough runs to win.

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Lester Leads Cubs to Third Straight Win over Brewers, Arrieta Aims to Finish Off Sweep

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

On Tuesday night, Jason Hammel moved his season record to 13-5, on Wednesday night Jon Lester followed suit and moved his record to 13-4 in a commanding fashion. Lester held the Brewers (52-67) to just three hits over six-plus innings while only allowing one earned run in the Cubs (76-43) 6-1 win. Moreover, he struck out seven batters, which is now given him 146 strikeouts on the season—10 away from the team lead.

Lester was gifted with a huge five-run cushion after the first inning thanks to some timely hitting and a huge three-run bomb off the bat of Jorge Soler. Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson has had no luck against the Cubs in his career and it continued. Heading into the game Nelson was 0-5 in ten appearances including eight starts. His record against the Cubs moved to 0-6 after Wednesday night’s game. Soler added to his previous success against Nelson when he launched a pitch to the back of the left-center field bleachers.

That was all Lester and the rest of the staff needed to get past the Brewers. They did manage to manufacture a run against Lester, but he kept himself out of trouble all night. David Ross hit his eighth home run of the season in the third inning. After that run the Cubs were pretty much on cruise control, gliding into their 76th win on the season.

A lot is going right for the Cubs this late in the season. First, the starters have reasserted the dominance they had earlier in the season. According to ESPN, the Cubs’ starters over the last 15 games have posted an ERA of 1.13, which hasn’t happened in 97 years. Second, Jorge Soler, since his return from the disabled list, has had a bit of a resurgence that hopefully will sustain through the playoffs. Upon his return, Soler has hit four home runs go along with ten RBIs in just seven starts. Moreover, his batting average has jumped from .224 when he returned from the DL August 5th to a season-high .252. Third, although the bullpen has suffered a rash of injuries and changes they are at least now stabilized on the backend thanks to the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman. If the Cubs can somehow shore up the middle relief situation then there will be little room for teams to score.

Game 120
The Cubs will have Jake Arrieta (14-5, 2.55 ERA) on the mound going for the four-game sweep of the Brewers. Milwaukee will counter with Zach Davies (9-5, 3.80 ERA) who has been their best pitcher this season. Arrieta has returned to his dominant form as he has won his last two starts pitching a total of 13.2 innings and only surrendering seven hits and one earned run. He has also struck out ten in those two games. Arrieta has faced the Brewers once this season back on April 28. He won the game going five innings and holding Milwaukee to just one earned run in the Cubs 7-2 win.

Davies has been the Brewers most-reliable starter. Prior to his loss in his last outing, Davies had strung together a four-game win streak. He has been able to drop his ERA from a season-high 4.22 on June 30 to 3.80 going into today’s game. Davies has faced the Cubs once this season, on July 23rd. He earned the win by holding the Cubs to just one run on three hits over six-plus innings.

Outlook: The Cubs have limited experience against Davies and what little experience they have it is with not much success. Anthony Rizzo is the only Cubs with an extra-base hit against Davies. Left-handers have had more success against Davies as they are hitting .276 while right-handers are only hitting .232. Davies does give up a high average of .291 with balls in play, so if the Cubs can actually get the bat on the ball they should find some holes in the defense. The Brewers do not have much career success against Arrieta, as well. Naturally, Ryan Braun is the only player that has hit Arrieta even moderately well as he is 4-12 with one home run and four RBI against Arietta. Scooter Gennett has the most at-bats against him as Gennett is 6-23 with two doubles and one RBI. Overall, today’s game should be a pitchers’ duel. Davies will present a formidable opposition to Arrieta and with runs being a premium today; this game will ultimately depend on which bullpen doesn’t break.

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