The Rundown: Magic Number Reduced to 11 Despite Loss, Offense Continues to Struggle, Rotation Trending Upward

The Cubs are in the home stretch now, up by 2 1/2 games over the Brewers for the Central Division title, magic number is 11, two weeks to go. Let’s get into it.

Despite this weekend’s uninspiring offensive effort against the Reds, the Cubs managed to pad their lead by a game because they won two ballgames while scoring just five runs in the three game set. The Cubs are on a bit of a fortuitous run right now where their pitching has been bailing out the team while the offense stagnates. A streaky team all season as far as batting is concerned, the Cubs are going to need to find a little more punch to close out the season and navigate the playoffs.

They could muster just six hits and were held in check by Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo and three relievers after winning three straight one-run games. One look at Anthony Rizzo throwing his helmet to the ground after striking out yesterday tells you all you need to know about the team’s offensive struggles.

It doesn’t get any easier as they travels west to play the Diamondbacks to kick off the final road trip of the season. The Cubs will face Patrick Corbin (13-5 3.05) tonight in Arizona. Kyle Hendricks (11-11, 3.71 ERA) has been solid lately and he takes the mound for Chicago. The right-hander has posted a 2.25 ERA in September and is 5-2 since the beginning of August.

“We have to do better than one run somehow,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The three games, we were fortunate to win two. I’ll take it. Whenever you win a series against a major league team, you’ll always take that.”

Still, the team is in great spirits. The second leg of the six-game trip will be played against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side.

Cubs News & Notes

Willson Contreras doubled off the wall in center in the middle of the Cubs’ 5th-inning rally, but drew Maddon’s ire for excessive pimping.

The Cubs have been limited to an average 2.1 runs per game across their last seven and have not scored more than four in a game since a 6-5 loss to Washington on Sept. 8.

Maddon said “it’s going to be wonderful” to write Jason Heyward’s name in the lineup again. The right fielder was activated from the 10-day DL yesterday but did not play.

Kyle Schwarber is still out and will not make the trip to Arizona.

Kris Bryant has not hit a home run since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 1, but Maddon said the third baseman is close. “He’s fouling his pitch off, the pitch that he can really drive,” Maddon said. “He’s just under it a little bit and it’s going straight back. Otherwise, he’s had some decent at-bats. … He’s keeping two hands on the bat more consistently and he’s just underneath (the ball) a little bit right at contact.”

The team’s starters have settled into a nice groove.

How About That!

Trevor Williams worked six scoreless and Corey Dickerson gathered three hits as the Pirates upended the Brewers 3-2 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. In the end, a 9th-inning rally came up just short and the Brew Crew dropped the key rubber match against Pittsburgh.

A vintage performance by starter Adam Wainwright vaulted the Cardinals into a tie with the Dodgers for the second wild card spot. St. Louis defeated Los Angels 5-0.

After yesterday’s loss, the Diamondbacks are now 4-11 this month and have seen their playoff hopes go on to life support.

Meanwhile, the Rockies held off  the Giants 3-2 to grab sole possession of first place in the NL West, just ahead of the Dodgers.

Tampa held off a 9th-inning A’s rally and pushed its record to a season-best 16 games over .500.

The Mets and Red Sox concluded their interleague series in Fenway Sunday, and uber-aces Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale were on the mound. How rare is such a duel? Both are favorites to win the Cy Young award in their respective leagues. Sale, who recently returned from the DL, was on a pitch count and limited to three innings of work.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Jacob deGrom – The Mets starter struck out eight of the first 11 batters he faced and finished with 12 K’s while giving up just three runs. That means deGrom hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since his outing against the Marlins on April 10. His ERA for the season now stands at 1.78 and he’s struck out 251 batters in 202 innings.
  2. Adam Wainwright – The Cardinals starter had taken the mound for just five starts this year, and then proceeded to handcuff the Dodgers. The winning line: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K
  3. Francisco Mejia – A walk-off grand slam gets you on this list. Just ask David Bote.

Extra Innings

I’m dead…

They Said It

  • “Offense is peaks and valleys and you just ride it out. There have been plenty of times this year when the offense is great, and plenty of times when it wasn’t. We just have to ride it out and hope that the next game is the one where we explode.” – Kris Bryant
  • “What I did was not good for baseball. A lot of people are watching me and they’ve been really hard on me. At first, I thought it was gone and I kinda walked and then I started running hard. That was bad on my side.” – Willson Contreras
  • “Horrible. I did not like that at all. That will be addressed. The whole team didn’t like it.” – Joe Maddon

Monday Walk Up Song

There is No Arizona by Jamie O’Neal. Better luck next season, D-Backs.

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