The Cubs won last night and the Cardinals lost, which means the Magic Number fell to 16, and their divisional lead grew to 15.0 games.
That’s a 15.0-game divisional lead before September even began. I can barely wrap my head around that level of domination in the division, but here we are. This Cubs team is that good, and, let’s be honest, the Cardinals and Pirates have been that underwhelming. The Cubs also now have a 7.5-game lead on the Nationals for the best record in the National League, which would ensure them home-field advantage until the World Series (when they would lose home-field advantage, because the American League won the All-Star Game, and that dictates home-field advantage in the World Series (which is profoundly stupid, but whatever)).
The Cubs also set a new franchise record for wins in August, with 22. Think about the guys the Cubs were missing for much of the month. Utterly incredible.
- Many of those guys will be back soon. The first among them (well second, I suppose, since Tommy La Stella returned yesterday, but that wasn’t an injury situation), Chris Coghlan is expected to rejoin the Cubs today (Cubs.com), as we’ve now reached the expanded rosters of September. There will be other additions and call-ups, too, though they might not necessarily all come today. For more on September call-ups, if you missed the discussion, see here.
- That was a really nice outing for Jason Hammel against a quality Pirates lineup, especially given his last two outings (the 10-run affair in Colorado, and the 2.1-inning, 39-pitch early yank in Los Angeles). He had a good fastball going, and sharp off-speed pitches. When he lost his command in the 5th inning and loaded the bases, he ended up cranking it up against Andrew McCutchen with some of his best stuff of the night. The outing included more changeups and curveballs than he usually throws – 7 and 13, respectively – which was very interesting, given the previous two outings. He obviously had a feel for them last night, which isn’t always the case, but when he can work with five pitches (those two, the slider, the four-seamer and the two-seamer), that’ll help.
- It’s been an interesting year for Hammel, whose ERA is a sparkling and pi-like 3.14, but whose peripherals are pretty much all worse than last year across the board. Much of that is a testament to the Cubs’ incredible defense, for sure, but one thing you do notice is that his groundball rate is WAY up this year (43.7%, from 38.3% last year), which plays to that very defense. He’s also allowing fewer line drives this year and less hard contact. So, then, there’s probably more to his success than solely a great defense and some good fortune.
- Of the outing and the early yank that preceded it, I liked hearing this from Hammel (Cubs.com): “That’s rear-view mirror now. Joe [Maddon] and I talked it out. There’s no room for off-the-field b.s. or disagreements or to hold a grudge. He told me how he felt. I told him how I felt. We’re grown men; we solved it. You have to respect each other’s views and opinions. To carry something like that would mess up something special.” That’s perfect.
- Nolan Arenado homered just a couple hours after Kris Bryant did last night, simply being incapable of letting Bryant have the NL homer lead to himself for a full day. Each player has 36, and it could be a fun side race down the stretch. (For the non-bitter record: if Kris Bryant played half his games at Coors Field, I reckon he’d have 75 by now. This has been a weird year at Wrigley, too, with the win almost never blowing out.)
- Of that homer into the teeth of the wind, by the way, Bryant joked after the game that lowering the launch angle was the plan all along (Cubs.com). Well, strictly speaking, he did make a concerted effort to reduce the steepness of his swing in the offseason, which had the twin effects of improving his contact rate and also lowering the average launch angle of his non-ground balls (I don’t even have to check, I know it’s true) … so, it kinda isn’t a joke.
- The Arizona Fall League rosters are out, and Luke this morning discussed the seven prospects the Cubs are sending.
- Mike freaking Trout. He just passed two legends for the highest WAR through his age 24 season, which means he’s still on a trajectory for all-time status.
- More on Tommy La Stella’s return, by the way, will come later today. We wanted to get into all of his, Joe Maddon’s, and Theo Epstein’s comments in one place so that it could just be left there, but there was too much for the Bullets.
- Hey, right up our alley: car and booster seats are on sale at Amazon today. (If you’re reading this, dear, should we get another booster seat?)