Hammel falters while Lester shines again, Ross Shows Old-Man Strength on ESPN Sunday Night Game

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Game 154
Every opportunity for Jason Hammel to pitch before the end of the regular season is an audition to make the playoff roster. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to provide a repeat performance of his last game and struggled significantly against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon in their 10-4 loss. Hammel gave up six runs on six hits while only making it through 2.1 innings. He gave up four runs in the first inning, which dug the team into a hole that they could not get out of despite a valiant effort by the offense.

The loss was his third against St. Louis in the second half of the season. Hammel really needed to have a good outing to earn a place in the playoff rotation. However, it is safe to say that if the Cubs faced the Cardinals in October Hammel wouldn’t see much action with the way they have hit him over these past three starts.

The Cubs offense showed some life as Ben Zobrist had a two-run triple and Willson Contreras hit his 11thhomer run on the season. Dexter Fowler also had a good day at the plate as he 3-5 with a single, double, and a triple in his first three at-bats. Fowler had two shots to complete the cycle, but fell short.

Game 155
The Cubs were looking for a series win against the Cardinals on ESPN’s Sunday Night Game to not only earn their 99th win of the season, but to win their 57th game at Wrigley Field which would be an organization record. Luckily for the Cubs they had Jon Lester going who happened to have a 9-0 record with a 1.46 ERA in the second half of the season. Lester once again stepped up and delivered another gem of a game. He ended up pitching six plus innings, limiting the Cardinals to three hits while striking out seven batters.

The win gave Lester a record of 19-4 and lowered his ERA to 2.28. He is now 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA since the All-Star break. Now Joe Maddon will have to make the difficult decision as to whether or not to give Lester an opportunity for win number 20.

David Ross was playing in his last regular season home game at Wrigley Field and the fans came out and showed their appreciation by giving him a standing ovation before his first at-bat. To show his appreciation, Ross delivered a goose-bump producing moment with a home run in the fifth inning. The home run brought the fans to their feet once again. Jon Lester showed why he is one of the classiest people in baseball by requesting Maddon to lift Ross in the middle of the seventh inning so the fans could show their appreciation one last time.

Addison Russell delivered an RBI double in the sixth inning, which was his 94th RBI on the season. Zobrist was also instrumental in the win by going 3-4 with two runs.

The bullpen also performed well. Carl Edwards, Jr. came in on the seventh with one on and two outs and got a much needed strikeout after walking a batter. Justin Grimm came in on the eighth and despite getting into a little trouble and giving up a run managed to induce a fly out to end the inning and not surrender the lead. Aroldis Chapman followed by entering the game in the ninth to record his 16th save as a Cub.

Outlook: The Cubs will conclude the 2016 regular season with a four game series in Pittsburgh to play the Pirates and then head to Cincinnati to play the final three games of the season against the Reds. Joe Maddon announced that he will have Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jake Arrieta pitch and then have the bullpen pitch the entire game on Thursday.

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Cubs Clinch NL Best Record with Nationals Loss, Surpass Last Year’s Win Total as Arrieta Rounds into Playoff Form

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

They always say that good things happen in threes and yesterday was a perfect example of that. First, Jake Arrieta looked like he righted himself in time for the playoffs; next, Cubs won their 98th game of the season, which surpassed last year’s total; and, last, the Washington Nationals lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates giving the Cubs the best record in the National League and, most importantly, home field advantage throughout the playoffs on the NL side of the playoff ledger. 

Game 153
Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the press the other day that in the spirit of the St. Louis Cardinals vying for a playoff spot that he’ll play this weekend of games straight-up before he starts to concentrate on preparing the team for the playoffs. This may mean resting guys or working guys into the game that may present a playoff type situation. However, one guy—to the detriment of the Cardinals— that showed today he is ready for the playoffs is Jake Arrieta.

To the relief of everyone in Cubs nation, Arrieta came back strong in this afternoon’s game after some shaky outings. Arrieta threw seven innings of shutout ball while only giving up five hits. Most impressively is that he struck out 10 Cardinals while only walking one batter. Arrieta showed that he still has the command to strike out batters while also avoid putting runners on base like he has tended to do throughout the season.

Miguel Montero got the start today behind the plate because not only has his offense improved, but also the fact that Arrieta seems to be more comfortable when he is catching. Montero took control of the game pitch selection and told Arrieta to throw what he put down. The success of this strategy is reflected in the score. Montero knows how to call a good game, which is why it is a distinct possibility that he will be behind the plate for Arrieta come playoff time. If that is indeed the case then it is quite possible Joe Maddon will be using three catchers for the playoffs—David Ross for Jon Lester, Willson Contreras for Kyle Hendricks, and Montero for Arrieta. Such a move is rare since each playoff roster spot is precious as they cannot be changed until the following series. The one thing that works in the Cubs favor is that Contreras can play a multitude of positions. Thus, he does not have to play catcher to get into the lineup and can also be used for a pinch runner.

Game 154
The middle game of this series will have Jason Hammel (15-9, 3.56 ERA) against reliever/starter in Alex Reyes (3-1, 1.03 ERA). Hammel will continue his push to make the playoff roster whether it be starting or in the bullpen. Hammel performed well in his last game on September 19 against the Cincinnati Reds. In that game he held the Reds to just two runs on four hits over seven innings. Hammel needed that performance to stay in line with Lackey for consideration for the fourth spot in the playoff rotation. He needs to follow win another strong performance. Lackey pitched a superb game his last time out, which puts the pressure back on Hammel.

Hammel has faced the Cardinals four times this season and the two times he faced them in the first half is completely different then how he did in the second half. In the first half of the season he made two starts against St. Louis and went 2-0 throwing a combined 13.1 innings while only giving up two earned runs and striking out ten. In the two starts against St. Louis in the second half, Hammel has gone 0-2 while pitching an identical 5.2 innings and surrendering an identical four earned runs per game. Hammel is going to need to pitch the Cardinals like he during the first half of the season if he wants to make the playoff roster.

Outlook: The win on Friday gave the Cubs a record of 98-55. The 98th win surpassed last year’s 97th win, which shows how much they have improved given that there are nine more games left. Moreover, that many of the experts predicted that the Cubs would win no more than 96 games this year. The Cubs don’t necessarily need a win on Saturday, but it would be nice to see the offense swing the bats a little more and for Hammel to give another strong showing. Reyes might be a little tough on the Cubs hitters as he was exceptional in his last game, giving up no runs on four hits while striking out six over seven innings against the San Francisco Giants. Something to keep an eye is Kris Bryant is sitting at 38 home runs and 99 RBIs. It would be nice to see Bryant lock up the National League MVP award by knocking in 40 or more home runs. Moreover, Bryant drove in 99 last year, so not only reaching the 100 RBI mark for the season is a big achievement, it will in fact be a new personal best—and he is only going to get better.

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Cubs take First Two from Reds, Lester Solidifies Resume for NL Cy Young

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs (96-55) took the first two games of their series with the Cincinnati Reds to reduce their magic number to three for the best record in the National League and home field advantage through the NL Championship series. Both wins were results of solid pitching and some big hits. Jason Hammel gave a much-needed solid start to make a case for a spot in the playoff bullpen while Jon Lester just about locked up the NL Cy Young with another impressive outing.

Game 150
Hammel has been the one question mark heading into the playoffs from the pitching side. He had a good first half, but has struggled in the second half of the season. Hammel was once a lock to be one of four starters in the playoff rotation, but it is not clear now whether or not he’ll make the playoff roster. If he does, it would be as a reliever. Still, he needed to pitch well in Monday’s game to keep himself in the conversation for a roster spot.

Hammel was certainly up to the task as he gave the Cubs seven strong innings while limiting the Reds to two runs on four hits while striking out six. The result was a 5-2 Cubs win and Hammel’s 15th win on the season. If anything, the strong performance will make it that much tougher for Joe Maddon to keep him off the roster. Hammel could become a major asset coming out of the bullpen to give the team multiple innings of relief if they need it.

On the offense side, Jason Heyward has shown as of late that his offenses is picking up. He smacked his seventh home run of the season, a two-run shot, to put the game out of reach.

Addison Russell and Willson Contreras continue to shine as they both hit solo shots to tie the game at two. Russell is on his way to an 100 RBI season, which would be remarkable for his first full season to go along with hitting over 20 home runs. Over the second half of the season he has only reinforced why he was selected as the starting shortstop for the NL All-Star team.

Contreras will be an important part of the Cubs lineup come playoff time. He’ll be getting the majority of starts at catcher, so he’ll get plenty of at-bats. If Contreras can keep his bat hot in the playoffs then he’ll lengthen the Cubs lineup and help extend innings, which will translate into more runs.

Game 151
After Tuesday night’s game there isn’t much left for Lester to do to capture the NL Cy Young award. Lester led the Cubs to a 6-1 victory by throwing seven innings and giving up only one run. The win moved Lester to 18-4 on the season–one shy of his career-high. Moreover, he moved his record in the second-half of the season to 9-0.

Lester is now the front runner for the award as he is leading the NL in wins and remains second in MLB ERA, behind teammate Kyle Hendricks, with a 2.36 average. He also has 25 quality starts on the season, which leads MLB. If the voters of the award need any further proof that he earned the Cy Young then, at the very least, they simply need to see that he is the best pitcher on the best team in baseball.

The Cubs on offensive were led by their stars at the top of the order. Anthony Rizzo had a big game by going 2-5 with three runs batted in, which brought his season RBI total to 104. Kris Bryant hit an RBI double moving his total to 97 and inched him closer to the 100 RBI mark. Dexter Fowler also chipped in with an RBI single. Surprisingly, the Cubs scoring opened with Lester doubling home David Ross in the second inning.

Game 152
Tonight’s game will have John Lackey (9-8, 3.42 ERA) facing right-hander Robert Stephenson (2-1, 4.97 ERA). With an eight game lead over the Nationals Joe Maddon will likely go back to playing his bench and resting his starters. The overall game might not have much on the line, but Lackey will have his spot in the playoff rotation on the line. As long as he gives a steady performance then his previous playoff experience should make him a lock for the spot. However, if Lackey falters in his final two starts it will open the door for Hammel to earn that fourth spot in the rotation. Watching how Lackey performs and its playoff implications is enough to keep eyes glued to the game regardless of the final outcome.

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Cubs Drop Series to Brewers as they Prep for Playoffs, Three things they Need to Know in Remaining Games

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

After clinching the National League Central Division, manager Joe Maddon began the process of resting his starters. As a result, the Cubs, after winning an exciting Friday game on a walk-off, ended up dropping two more games to the Brewers over the weekend to lose the series 3-1. Despite the losses a few things, both good and bad, can be gleaned from the games:

Game 147
On Friday, a few hours after clinching the division, the Cubs beat the Brewers 5-4 in 10 innings thanks to a walk-off home run by pinch hitter Miguel Montero. The win not only kept the good feelings going, but it was also a game in which Joe Maddon got all his bench players playing time. Probably the most important of them is Albert Almora, Jr. who might serve as a late inning defensive replacement in a close playoff game.

Almora had been away from the top club since July, so getting him playing time and some at-bats is important during these last two weeks. Almora responded going 2-4 with 2 runs batted in.

Another positive was that Felix Pena came out of the bullpen and performed well. The young right-handed came into the game in a high pressure situation and shut down the Brewers for two innings. Pena only gave up one hit while striking out two. Pena has an outside chance of making the playoff roster, so this performance only helps his resume.

Game 148
Saturday’s loss of 11-3 is a game they would like to soon forget. However, the playoff implications lingered throughout the game with Jake Arrieta on the mound. Normally, being staked with a 3-0 in the first would be plenty for Arrieta to ride to a victory. However, that was not the case as Arrieta gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits over six innings. Both he and Maddon agreed after the game that he needs to get better command of his pitches. Another concern was the bullpen, which gave up seven runs in two innings. Carl Edwards, Jr. surrendered three while Spencer Patton gave up a Chris Carter grand slam off the video board in the ninth.

A couple positives from the game were that Kris Bryant, trying to break out of a slump, had an RBI triple. Also, Chris Coghlan hit his first home run of the season. Still, this was another game in which Maddon decided to give more of his starters rest.

Game 149
The final game of the series saw Kyle Hendricks lose despite only giving up two runs over six innings and recording two hits of his own. Hendricks lost for the first time since July 26, but at the same time he extended his streak of games of three earned runs or under to 21 straight.

The game showed just how far Hendricks has come, because although he struck out nine and limited the Brewers to just two runs it looked like an off game. The run that he has been on has shot him up to the upper echelon of pitchers. As a result, it is now expected for Hendricks to shut down an offense completely. The outing is not a cause for concern, but more of an indicator that the Cubs have an unexpected dominant pitcher to add to the playoff rotation of Lester and Arrieta.

As the Cubs head into the playoffs with the best rotation, best defense, one of the top offenses and bullpen, and arguably the best manager in baseball there are a few they need to answer by the time the regular season ends:

How to get Arrieta Right?
Arrieta has been a fine pitcher this season, but he is nowhere near the pitcher he was last year. Normally he would still be the ace of the majority of rotation in MLB. However, he is currently the third best pitcher in the Cubs rotation behind Jon Lester and Hendricks. Both of them are pitching out of this world so it isn’t like Arrieta is pitching terrible. He has had his struggles, though, and they showed up again on Saturday.

Besides his command there is a growing concern that Arrieta’s velocity has dropped. In Saturday’s game Arrieta’s fastball rarely hit 95 mph on the gun. The Cubs are hoping that I. his next outing Arrieta can show better command and bring some heat, because as of now he is extremely vulnerable to allowing base runners on and giving up home runs.

What to do about Heyward?
Jason Heyward was the big acquisition in the off-season who was supposed to take a playoff team to the next level. The team certainly went to the next level, but did so with very little production from Heyward. Everyone-from front office, to coaches, to teammates, and fans-has waited patiently for Heyward to get going. A beginning of the season slump in April turned into a prolonged slump that has lasted all season.

Heyward’s offensive numbers have been unexpected for a player with his contract. His six home runs, .230 batting average, and .621 OPS are all lowest of his MLB. Moreover, his 53 runs batted in are the lowest since he only knocked in 50 in 2011. These are numbers that don’t inspire confidence. If Heyward is unable to show Maddon s spark in his bat then it is most likely he will platoon and only hit against righties, although he has hit them only at a .236 clip. However, that’s better than his .215 average against left-handers. Heyward’s offense has been disappointing and the Cubs have come too far to roll the dice and hope that he’ll get it going. In the playoffs look for Javier Baez to play second base and Ben Zobrist to play right field against a left-hander.

Who Will Earn Last Bullpen Spots? It appears that the Cubs will carry 12 pitchers on the playoff roster. If that’s the case then Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, and John Lackey will take four of those spots as starters. This will leave eight spots left for the bullpen.

The locks right now for the bullpen are: Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, Carl Edward, Jr., Pedro Strop, and Justin Grim. That leaves three spots remaining. The remaining pitchers for those three spots are: Mike Montgomery, Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Rob Zastryzny, Felix Pena, and Joe Smith. The next two weeks will determine who Maddon goes to fill out the final spots. Montgomery has to be a favorite as a left-handed specialist. Hammel being a starter can work for or against him. If Maddon wants a starter in the bullpen for emergency long relief then he would be the guy. If Maddon thinks that may not be necessary then Hammel may be the odd man out.

Overall, these are three things that Cubs fans should keep an eye on as the team plays out the rest of the regular season. Once they gain the best record in the National League the only thing they need to worry about is staying healthy, set their lineups, and getting final answers to these questions.

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Despite Loss Cubs Capture 2016 NL Central Division

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

It wasn’t the way they wanted, but they’ll take it just the same. The fans were buzzing with excitement at Wrigley Field waiting for a Cubs victory over the Milwaukee Brewers to touch off a National League Central Division crowning celebration of epic proportions. Unfortunately, the Brewers decided to play party spoilers and fought off the Cubs to gain a 5-4 victory. Still, the Cubs had one more chance to win the division Thursday night as another St. Louis Cardinals loss would clinch the Cubs first division title since 2008. So as the fans trickled out to the streets of Waveland and Addison, the Cubs stayed in the clubhouse to watch the Cardinals finish their game against the San Francisco Giants.

When Matt Adams made the final out in the Cardinals 6-2 loss, the Cubs reached goal one of this highly anticipated season–2016 NL Central Champions. There was celebration in the clubhouse and out in the streets of Wrigleyville. However, the feel good moment was only fleeting not for just the team but the fans as well. The success of this season will ultimately be defined on one simplistic moment–whether or not a Cub will record the final out of the 2016 World Series.

There is guarded optimism throughout the North Side as this team has proven all year that they are the team to beat. They have been the front runner all year and never shied away from the expectations that most teams crumble to when crowned preseason favorites. Every Cubs fan is well within his or her right to approach these playoffs with some skepticism. They may be afraid to peak around the curtain to see how this plays out. Do the Cubs indeed break the 108 year old curse or is it more heartache?

A lot is weighing on this team because of how good they’ve proven to be. Falling short of winning the World Series would be more devastating than past playoff shortfalls. However, this team is different than all the other teams this year and the majority of Cubs teams from previous years. They have three pitchers vying for the NL Cy Young, they have two of the top favorites to win the NL MVP, they have seven All-Stars, and they have a flamethrower for a closer. These are all facts. And no matter what team it is, a team consisting of such players is the favorite to win the World Series.

As a result, there has been a different level of excitement for the Cubs fan base this year and there will be a different level of excitement for the fans come playoff time. Everyone will be turned up to 11 so to speak to watch every game, every out, every pitch. This is the Cubs and their fans’-all across the city, state, country, heck, even world-time. October baseball is coming and so are the Cubs. History be damned!

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Cubs Clinch Playoff Spot off the Bat of Rizzo and Arm of Lester, Seek to Capture NL Central Crown Tonight at Wrigley

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs went into St. Louis and took care of business. They took two games of their series with the Cardinals and in the process clinched at least a playoff spot and lowered their magic number for their first division crown since 2008 to one.

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo led the Cubs (93-52) to a 7-0 victory in the series finale. Lester continued to turn the dial up on pitching performances as he threw eight shutout innings this time while limiting the Cardinals to just four base runners. Remarkably, the Cardinals runner never made it to second base thanks to catcher David Ross throwing out two runners.

Lester moved his record to 17-4 and is now 8-0 in the second half of the season with a 1.47 ERA. He is now second in MLB behind teammate Kyle Hendricks with a 2.40 ERA. The three teammates of Lester, Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta are fighting neck-and-neck for the National League Cy Young. All three of them have stepped up their game with each turn of the rotation.

Rizzo led the charge on offense by hitting two home runs, which gave him totals of 31 home runs and 101 runs batted in on the season. This was the second consecutive year that Rizzo has surpassed the 30 home run and 100 RBI plateaus. Hall of Famer Billy Williams is the only other Cubs left-hander to achieve the feat over multiple seasons. David Ross added a home run to go along with his defense. The home run was his first since August 18.

Game 146
The Cubs fans will be out in full force tonight to watch their beloved team capture the National League Central division against the Milwaukee Brewers (65-81) at Wrigley Field. The Cubs will have reliever/starter Mike Montgomery (1-1, 3.67 ERA) going against the Brewers Jimmy Nelson (7-14, 4.42 ERA). The Cubs have seen plenty of Nelson this season as he has had made 4 starts this season against the Cubs. He has pitched decent despite having a 0-3 record. Nelson has pitched a total of 22 innings against the Cubs and has only given up 9 runs.

Although Montgomery will be headed to the bullpen come playoff time, he’ll get a few more starts this season while Manager Joe Maddon decides to rest some starters. Montgomery has pitched well in his spot starts. He faced the Brewers last Wednesday and held them to one run on two hits over five innings while striking out six.

Outlook: The Cubs had all the pressure of the baseball world on them since Spring Training and yet here they are getting ready to clinch the NL Central with an astounding 16 games to go. They have surpassed all expectations and fought through the adversary that all teams face throughout a long season. Tonight or within this home stand the Cubs will clinch the division and the only thing left will be to gain the best record in the National League. They are currently 6 1/2 games ahead of the Washington Nationals so they can basically cruise to the best record while setting up their playoff lineups and getting their starters some rest. The Cubs are in the best position possible going into October baseball as they earned it by playing hard day-in and day-out.

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Last Pass through Rotation Has Shown Cubs Starters are more than Ready for Playoffs

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs (92-52) missed out on an opportunity to clinch at least a tie for the National League Central with Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the St. Louis. Still, despite the loss, this last turn through the Cubs rotation has shown that their momentum is at all-time season high. Over the course of five games each starter, in their own way, has put on display what they can bring to the playoffs no matter when or where. Here is a closer look at this recent pass through the rotation and what the playoff rotation and pitching staff may look like:

 

Game 140

Jon Lester was absolutely brilliant in Friday’s 2-0 win against the Houston Astros. He continued his dominance in the second half of the season by shutting out the Astros over seven innings and extending his win streak to seven games. He is now second in the National League in wins and third in MLB in ERA. Lester’s confidence is growing with every game. In fact, since the All-Star break he has only given more than two runs once and has given up zero runs three times. It is extremely difficult to determine who is the Cubs hottest pitcher between Lester and Kyle Hendricks, but that is a great debate for a team to have heading into the playoffs.

 

Game 141

Although John Lackey took the loss in Saturday night’s game against the Astros, he has continued a string of solid starts going back to mid-July. Specifically, since his start on July 23 in Milwaukee, Lackey has not given up more than three runs in a game, which spans seven games. Yes, he had to spend two weeks on the disabled list, but he looks healthy and is pitching like he has not missed anytime. Since returning from the disabled list, Lackey has made two starts and has only surrendered a total of three earned runs over 11 innings while striking out nine batters. It remains to be seen if he has earned the fourth spot in the rotation come playoff time. However, if he does, the Cubs will have one of the toughest pitchers in baseball rounding out their four-man rotation.

 

Game 142

Jake Arrieta was able to earn his National League–leading 17th win of the season despite feeling ill before Sunday’s start against the Houston Astros. He certainly did not have his best stuff, but luckily he was given a significant cushion of nine runs by the fourth inning. The run support allowed Arrieta to cruise into the sixth inning before he ran into some trouble. Still, even though he was ill, Arrieta was able to keep the Astros to three runs on four hits. Ultimately, the Cubs were able to hold on for a 9-5 win, but the performance by Arrieta showed once again that he has the fire and ability to tough out a win even when not at his best. That is the exact type of fortitude it takes to win a playoff game.

 

Game 143

On Monday night, Kyle Hendricks was three outs away from throwing a no-hitter before Cardinals’ Jeremy Hazelbaker hit a change-up into the seats to lead-off the ninth inning. Although Hendricks did not get the no-hitter he did lead the Cubs to a 4-1 victory. Hendricks was able to strike out seven Cardinals despite being known as a contact pitcher. The win moved his record to 15-7 as he lowered his MLB-leading earned run average to 2.03. Hendricks had his ERA below 2.00 entering the ninth inning. Still, even more impressive is the fact that Hendricks extended his streak of three or less runs to 20 straight games. With each game Hendricks is inching closer and closer to a Cy Young and, yet, even if he does eventually win the award, at best he would still only be third in the playoff rotation. This, above anything, shows just how dominant the Cubs starting pitchers have been this season.

 

Game 144

Jason Hammel wasn’t able to get out of the sixth inning after giving up a two-run home run to Brandon Moss last night. Hammel was cruising along in the game despite a 2-2 tie. However, he looked a lot better than his last outing. By the sixth inning he had struck out nine and held the Cardinals in check. Most teams would be sweating heading into the playoffs with their third starter struggling like Hammel has recently. However, if Joe Maddon opts to use Lackey as the fourth starter in a playoff series then Hammel coming in for an inning or two as a reliever would make the Cubs bullpen that much more formidable. Theoretically, if a starter gets into trouble and can’t make it out of the fifth inning then a fresh Hammel can come in and give the team two strong innings to bridge the gap until handing it over to Carl Edwards, Jr., Hector Rondon, or possibly Pedro Strop, before the ball goes to Aroldis Chapman.

 

Outlook: With the playoffs only three weeks away it is now within reason to speculate how Maddon will put together his pitching staff for a World Series run. There are two big questions to the starting rotation: (1) Will Arrieta or Lester be the number one starter and (2) will Lackey or Hammel be sent to the bullpen? Each player has an argument for and against them, but in the end the rotation will likely be:

 

  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. Jon Lester
  3. Kyle Hendricks
  4. John Lackey

 

Bullpen:

  • Jason Hammel
  • Mike Montgomery
  • Trevor Cahill
  • Carl Edwards, Jr.
  • Pedro Strop (if healthy)
  • Hector Rondon
  • Aroldis Chapman

 

Arrieta will most likely get the nod to open a series given his track record over the last two years. Lester has arguably been the better pitcher this season, but Arrieta has still been able to over-power lineups at times. The opposition seeing Lester as the number two starter is no consolation. That makes a tough one-two punch, especially at Wrigley Field in October. There is no argument with Hendricks being the number three starter. If this happens then he should have an advantage over any other number three starter in the playoffs. Finally, Maddon will give Lackey the number four spot in the rotation because of experience above anything else. Having already been through the battles and coming away with two World Series titles Lackey has shown that he can rise to the occasion. Moreover, Hammel would serve the Cubs better coming out of the bullpen than Lackey. Hammel doesn’t take long to get going, so he can come out of the bullpen and start throwing heat. Altogether, the Cubs are in an excellent spot with their overall pitching staff to blaze their way to the World Series.

 

Game 145

Jon Lester heads back on the mound to make another bid for the National League Cy Young award. He’ll also try to move the Cubs closer to the playoffs as a win will at least give the Cubs a tie for the National League Central crown. The Cubs have not won a division since 2008. Although they may not leave St. Louis with the division title crown outright, it will still be satisfying to know that they will leave their bitter division rivals with little to no hope of catching them this year. Moreover, every win against the Cardinals is also another step towards keeping them out of the playoffs as they fight for a Wild Card spot. With any luck Lester will maintain his success and move to 8-0 since the All-Star break.

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Cubs First to Reach 90 Wins as Lester Makes His Own Cy Young Statement, Lackey Goes for Win Number 10

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs (90-40) are running out of statements to make as the regular season comes to an end. Anyone that pays the least bit of attention to the game knows that the Cubs pitch and hit well, play exceptional defense, and make every game count. They look playoff ready and everyone knows it. Still, despite the team overall having nothing to prove, Jon Lester used Friday night’s game to make a statement of his own—don’t count him out for the National League Cy Young.

Lester moved his record to 16-4 by holding the Astros to seven hits and no runs in seven innings. He also moved his consecutive wins streak since the All-Star break to seven and lowered his ERA to 2.51. Overall, Lester is now tied with Jake Arrieta and Max Scherzer for the wins lead in the National League. He now stands third in all of MLB in earned run average and is 15th overall in strikeouts with 171. The experts and media have been silent about Lester and his candidacy for the Cy Young, but it is hard to ignore the numbers and, just as important, his leadership in the clubhouse. Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have received more attention as of late, but Lester has quietly snuck up everyone and could quite possibly be the Cub who comes away with the award.

Before the game a lot of talk was about Kris Bryant and the Astros passing up on drafting him number one overall in the 2013 amateur draft. The Astros instead decided to select pitcher Mark Appel who they have since traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Bryant, like always, made a statement with his bat instead of his words as he showed the Astros and the fans at Minute Maid Park just what they are missing after he launched a two-run shot in the fifth inning to left-field to give the Cubs and Lester all the runs they needed.

The bullpen once again looked solid as Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman came in on the eighth and ninth innings to shut down the Astros in order. Chapman earned the save, which was his 13th as a Cub. The victory gave the Cubs their 90th win of the season—the first in MLB to reach that mark. Moreover, the 90th win of the season gave the Cubs back-to-back 90 win seasons for the first time since 1928-30.

Game 141
John Lackey (9-7, 3.36 ERA) will be getting the start today against Collin McHugh (9-10, 4.96 ERA). Lackey will be making his second start since coming off of the disabled list. He gave a solid performance in his return going five innings and only giving up two runs (one earned) on just one hit in a no-decision against the San Francisco Giants.

McHugh is having a down year in comparison to last year when he went 19-7. His ERA is a full run above last year’s average of 3.89. He has won his last two decisions after previously losing four-in-a-row. McHugh got a no-decision in his last outing despite giving up five runs on seven hits over just four-plus innings against the Texas Rangers.

Outlook: McHugh’s splits are very favorable for the Cubs as he gives up averages of .305 and .295 from the left and right sides of the plate respectively. As a result, Manager Joe Maddon can put his best hitting lineup forward without needing to factor in how they matchup against the right-hander. Even more promising for the Cubs is that McHugh has surrendered 24 home runs this season and with Minute Maid Park being an easy place to hit home runs in both left and right field, it is probable that a few balls off of Cubs bats should find the seats. The Cubs as a team have scored a total of 699 runs, which is good for third in all of MLB behind the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. The Cubs also have 664 runs batted in, which is good for fourth in MLB. Not to be out done, Cubs pitchers lead MLB in earned run average at 3.09 and WHIP at 1.11.

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Cubs Drop Series to the Brewers, Road Trip Continues to Houston for Match-up with Astros

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

The Cubs entered Wednesday night’s game coming off of a forgettable 12-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. It was one of those games where it just wasn’t their night. Jason Hammel had a nightmare of a game for which the Cubs could never overcome. Hammel gave up five runs in the first inning after Anthony Rizzo had given the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. They never got any closer as Hammel would go on to surrender eight earned runs on 13 hits in just five-plus innings.

Game 139
Wednesday’s game proved to be just as challenging as the Cubs could only muster one run on another Anthony Rizzo home run in their 2-1 loss to the Brewers. Mike Montgomery pitched a strong game only giving up one run on just two hits in five innings. The one run was off of a Jonathan Villar home run in the 4th inning. Rizzo tied it in the 6th with his 29th home run, but Villar struck again with another solo shot in the 8th off of Joe Smith to make it a 2-1 game. Rizzo made a play for his second home run of the game in the 9th inning when he hit a shot to deep center. However, Keon Broxton reached out above the wall and nabbed Rizzo’s attempt to tie the game with a remarkable catch.

It’s reasonable to believe that the Cubs might have been a little fatigued as this was their 13th game in 13 days. The team was due for a break and it showed as they only collected three hits all day—two from Rizzo and one from Kris Bryant. The two losses do not necessarily ring any alarms except for Hammel’s performance. Luckily he will have a few more starts before the end of the regular season to readjust before the playoffs. The bullpen overall pitched adequately well throughout the series after some strong pitching in the previous series against the San Francisco Giants. The hitting will be fine and are cruising along into the playoffs. The only real issue is for Manager Joe Maddon to strike the right balance between keeping the starters fresh while providing them with some rest.

Game 140
The Cubs (89-50) will look to lower their magic number of 8 when they head to Houston to face the Astros (74-66) who are fighting for a Wild Card spot in the American League. The Cubs will have Jon Lester (15-4, 2.61 ERA) going who is 6-0 since the All-Star break. He is coming off of an impressive win in which he threw a complete game against the Giants giving up one run while striking out four. Lester is playoff ready, which is why Maddon decided to push his start back a few days to give him extra rest. If the Lester is able to maintain pitching at this level then the Cubs will be in good shape with a three-man rotation of Kyle Hendricks who leads MLB in ERA and Jake Arrieta, all of whom will garner votes for the National League Cy Young award.

The Astros will send out rookie Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06 ERA) who made his MLB debut on August 2 against the Toronto Blue Jays—who originally drafted him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The 6’5” right-hander breezed through three levels of the minors last season going 12-1. This season he started out at AA and after 5-3 at AAA he was recalled after the Astros suffered a few injuries in the rotation. Musgrove is known for having good command around the strike zone while throwing his fastball between 88-95 mph. He also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup. In his last game he threw four-plus innings in a loss to the Texas Rangers, giving up five earned runs and striking out three.

Outlook: The Astros are currently two games out of the second AL Wild Card spot occupied by the Baltimore Orioles after dropping the final two games in their series to the Cleveland Indians. The Astros are ten games over .500 at Minute Maid Park at 39-29 while the Cubs are 38-30 on the road. Musgrove’s splits are not favorable to the Astros as right-handers are hitting .271 while left-handers are hitting him hard at a .302 average. In just 37-plus innings, Musgrove has already given up seven home runs. These numbers bode well for the Cubs, especially in a hitters-friendly park like Minute Maid. The Cubs certainly don’t need to win this game or series, but they would like to lower that magic number even more and Lester would certainly make his push to garner some Cy Young attention.

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Hendricks Once Again Shines as Strong Pitching and Late Inning Runs Lead to 7-2 Win over Brewers

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Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.

Kyle Hendricks put in another Cy Young worthy performance as he held the Milwaukee Brewers (60-77) to just one run on five hits over six innings in the Cubs (89-48) 7-2 win on Monday afternoon. The Cubs needed a strong performance from Hendricks after using seven relievers in Sunday’s game extra-innings game and Joe Maddon got just that. The only blemish of Hendricks’ day was surrendering a solo shot to Chris Carter in the second inning to give the Brewers a 1-0 lead.

The Cubs were able to tie it in the sixth inning after singling in Miguel Montero. Then came the big seventh and eighth innings when the Cubs scored a total of six runs. The two runs in the seventh gave them a little separation, but the four runs in the eighth provided just enough of a cushion to put the game out of reach for the Brewers. The win gave the Cubs their seventh win out of eight games and most importantly lowered the Cubs magic number down to ten.

Game 138
The Cubs will try for their 90th win of the season by sending Jason Hammel (14-7, 3.14 ERA) to the mound against Wily Peralta (5-9, 5.53 ERA). Hammel had a good bounce-back game in his last outing after losing his previous two games going only a five-plus innings combined and giving up a total of nine earned runs. In the last outing, Hammel showed much improvement by holding the Pittsburgh Pirates to one earned run on three hits over six innings in a win. Since the All-star break Hammel has gone 7-2 and in those seven wins he has only given up a total of five earned runs.

Peralta has played his entire career with the Brewers dating back to 2006. However, he has struggled the last two seasons after his breakout year in 2014. In that season he went 17-11 with a 3.53 earned run average. Peralta was ready to assume the role as the Brewers top pitcher but regressed in 2015 with a 5-10 season and a 4.72 earned run average. This season he has regressed even more and continues to struggle. Despite going 1-2 in August he got a no-decision in his last start throwing seven innings giving up only three hits and one earned run.

Outlook: Hammel has made two starts against Milwaukee this season going 1-1 while pitching nine innings and giving up six earned runs. Peralta has not made a start against the Cubs this year. Jason Heyward has made a small break through after he knocked in three runs on Sunday, including the game tying and game winning runs, he came back on Monday and knocked in another run. Kris Bryant, after going 0 for 5, failed to reach base on for the first time in 21 straight games, which is the second highest streak behind Anthony Rizzo’s streak of 26 games earlier in the season.

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