The Cubs don't stay down for long.
After an ugly sweep at home at the hands of the Brewers over the weekend, the Cubs are quick to remind us of how good they are capable of being. Granted, it is against the Mets---who, as a team, should be optioned to the Pacific Coast League for a season or two---but as they have shown with regularity, the offense rarely stays quiet for very long. Tonight, they exploded for 17 runs on the way to securing the series win against New York.
It would be dizzying and laborious to detail how each run was scored, but the pivotal moment came in the fourth inning. After jumping to a 2-1 lead in the first, the Mets had tied the game in the top of the second, where it looked to stay tangled for a while. Especially after a baserunning blunder from Willson Contreras and Ian Happ, it looked like a night destined to send the Cubs to a Thursday night rubber match. Thankfully, they instead scored three runs in the fourth and never really gave the Mets a chance from there.
As good innings often do, it started with a leadoff hit, this one from Javy Baez, who reached on a single to second base. Jon Lester's sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position, and then Ben Zobrist singled to move Baez to third. Kris Bryant walked to load the bases, and then Anthony Rizzo drew his first of two bases loaded walks. Baez scored, and the Cubs had the lead again. Contreras atoned for his baserunning in the previous inning with a single to left that drove in two more runs, and that was really it.
The Cubs scored again in the sixth, thanks to a bases-loaded error by Asdrubal Cabrera. Happ had scorched the first pitch sinker to third, but Cabrera let it go right through his legs, and Bryant was able to score from third easily.
Four runs in the seventh, thanks to a Baez homer that landed in the left field basket reminiscent of his deciding longball in the first game of last year's NLDS and a double from Rene Rivera and a walk from Ben Zobrist that preceded Albert Almora, Jr. smoking a 2-2 slider over the fence in center.
The Mets added three dignity runs in the top of the eighth when rookie Dominic Smith took advantage of Justin Grimm being...Justin Grimm. His three-run blast made it a 10-5 game at the time, prompting me to wonder if the premium arms in the bullpen would be able to avoid spoiling a potential night off.
But the Cubs scored a touchdown in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Jason Heyward walked, Baez singled, Rene Rivera doubled again to score both. Then Zobrist walked, and Bryant singled to load the bases for Rizzo, who walked with the bases loaded again. Almora followed with a triple to right that cleared the bases, and then Jon Jay pinch hit for Grimm and drove in Almora on a dribbler to short.
17-5. Cubs win.
Shameless plug alert: I had something new on Sporting News on Monday. It's about the Brewers, so consider yourself properly warned.
Now that that is out of the way, I remain convinced that the Cubs are plenty good enough to win the division and do so somewhat easily, but I worry about a division series. This weekend against the Cardinals and then the four-game set in Milwaukee next weekend are going to make for some tense baseball, but the Cubs have put themselves in the position to take the division. The Brewers and Cardinals are in an uphill climb, and each day they don't gain ground in the standings, they leave with less opportunity to realize October baseball.
But what concerns me about the Cubs is their bullpen. A strength last season and for much of the early part of this one, I see a smaller set of reliable arms. If the starters can remain healthy, then perhaps Joe Maddon has the pieces he needs to circumvent this weakness, but I'll be biting my nails whenever the game goes to the 'pen in October.
It's not usually my way to find the negative, especially in a 17-5 win, but I have my sights set on the demands of the postseason.
Player of the Game:
How do I justify not picking Jon Lester, who pitched another quality start? Or Anthony Rizzo, who drew two bases-loaded walks tonight? Or Javy Baez, who got three hits---including a homer---and scored three times? Or even Rene Rivera, who came in the game as a substitution when Contreras was lifted for a pinch runner and nonchalantly hit two doubles?
But it's Albert Almora tonight. Almora, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement and still managed to hit a home run and a triple and drive in six runs. Six.