The Rundown: Cubs Sweep Reds and Reach 94 Wins, A-Jax Stays Hot, Hammel Finishes Strong

With the Cubs finishing off the three-game sweep of the Reds yesterday, they picked up their 94th win. Never would have thought this team could be this successful, but it sure has been a fun ride. They have a chance to match the win total of 2008 (97) if they can win the final three games of the season. That just doesn’t seem possible, but here we are.

And while unlikely, the Cubs still have a shot at home-field advantage in the one-game Wild Card playoff against the Pirates. With Pittsburgh idle yesterday, the Cubs are now 2 games back. The Pirates will have to lose at least 2 out of 3 to the Reds for the Cubs to have a chance. After witnessing how awful the Reds are looking at the moment, that chance is pretty small.

The Cubs also have to beat the Brewers at least 2 out of 3, and keep in mind that the Cubs would hold the tiebreaker over the Pirates. Here’s hoping the Cubs can shorten that lead down to 1 game after today, and put the pressure on Pittsburgh going into the final couple days of the season.

Another fine game for Jackson

Austin Jackson is heating up at the right time. Yesterday he hit a three-run home run, walked once, and scored two runs. I expect to see him on the playoff roster, mostly because of his defense, but it would be great if he could continue this hot streak at the plate.

Yesterday, I wondered about who might start at second base in the Wild Card playoff. So what about the corner outfield spots? Joe Maddon has a lot of options. I think it’s safe to say Kyle Schwarber will be in left field, so that leaves Jackson, Chris Coghlan and Jorge Soler as possibilities for right field.

Here are the numbers for those outfielders against Pirates likely starter Gerrit Cole:

Coghlan: .154/.294/.154 with five strikeouts in 13 at-bats
Jackson: NA
Soler: .286/.286/.286 with two strikeouts in seven at-bats

I don’t think I’d be surprised if Joe Maddon goes with either Coghlan or Soler. Coghlan has been struggling a bit overall of late, however. Really, I’m not sure which way Maddon will go.

Hammel time

In his last start of the season, Jason Hammel pitched well, going 5 scoreless and not walking anybody. After a lot of inconsistency, the Cubs’ back end of the rotation all pitched well in their respective final outings. So who starts Game 2 of the NLDS?

It would make me nervous, but I’d probably go with Hammel over Hendricks and Haren. If this happens, Maddon will likely keep Hammel (or any of them, really) on a short leash — he has done so basically the entire second half of the season.

The Cubs obviously need to worry about winning the one-game playoff against Pittsburgh before figuring out the Game 2 starter. But it’s fun to speculate.

Other notes

* Patrick Mooney takes a look at what might have been had the Cubs pulled off a couple of rumored trade-deadline moves. The obvious one is Jonathan Papelbon. The Cubs ended up not pulling the trigger, and when trade rumors were surfacing, a lot of people questioned how Papelbon’s personality would mesh with this Cubs team. Well, Papelbon ended up with the Nationals, who underachieved and failed to make the postseason. And he infamously attacked Bryce Harper last week, choking the outfielder after telling him to run out a fly-out. So this non-move most likely worked out for the Cubs, although I don’t see Joe Maddon allowing something like that incident to occur on this team.

* Perhaps more interestingly, Mooney brings up Chase Utley. Around the trade deadline, Starlin Castro had been benched, Javier Baez was working his way back at Triple-A and Tommy La Stella was still injured. Utley seemed like a good player to take a chance on, as a veteran second baseman who could provide some leadership. But that non-move eventually kept the door open for Castro to win back a starting role. And boy did that pay off big time in this final month of the season. I don’t think many people were outraged that the Cubs mostly stayed pat at the deadline, although the couple of moves did seem a bit underwhelming at the time. But you can’t really argue with how well things ended up.

* ICYMI, Cubs rookies dressed up as princesses yesterday for some good-natured hazing.

* The Yankees and Rangers both clinched playoff spots last night, leaving the second AL Wild Card as the only open spot remaining. The Astros hold a 1-game lead over both the Angels and Twins.

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