CHICAGO -- Despite injuries to key players, an inconsistent offense, the loss of their closer and a rotation that's been hot and cold, the Cubs notched their 91st win of the season on Sunday with a 6-1 victory over the White Sox."To look up at 91, you have to play
CHICAGO -- Despite injuries to key players, an inconsistent offense, the loss of their closer and a rotation that's been hot and cold, the Cubs notched their 91st win of the season on Sunday with a 6-1 victory over the White Sox.
"To look up at 91, you have to play the tape back -- how did that happen?" Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it happened because regardless of who's playing, we played the same type of game, regardless of who the eight or nine guys are on the field. You saw the baserunning, how we scored with outs today, we moved the ball, we had a couple base hits to the opposite field today, and that's why you saw the good result."
Kyle Schwarber smacked a solo homer and an RBI double to back Kyle Hendricks and lift the Cubs to victory at Guaranteed Rate Field. With the win, the Cubs' magic number to clinch the National League Central is five with seven games remaining.
"It's going to be a fun week for us, but it starts with tomorrow, Monday," Hendricks said. "Nothing is done yet. We have to play each and every game coming to the ballpark and focus on the task at hand. We have to focus on what we have in this clubhouse and take care of our business, and the rest will come."
The Cubs maintained a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Central over the Brewers, who romped, 13-6, over the Pirates.
"I saw the scoreboard -- you saw the big numbers early," Maddon said. "You just have to worry about yourself."
This was the Cubs' last regular-season road trip, even if they were only eight miles south of Wrigley Field. On Monday, they'll open their final homestand and hope to be popping champagne sometime this week when they secure their fourth consecutive trip to the postseason, which would be a first in franchise history.
"I've used the word 'proud' a lot," Maddon said about how his team has done. "We have not offensively clicked like we thought we would. I thought we'd see a lot of the younger hitters ascend to the point where you start seeing the realization of potential and it still hasn't occurred that way.
"In spite of not being the offensive team I thought we would be, we're still in a pretty good position," he said. "I think that just goes back to the culture and a winning attitude and you expect to win when you go play. The game is close and you expect to win it somehow. That's something you have to develop over time and it doesn't happen overnight."
The Cubs have figured out ways to win and boast the best record in the NL at 91-64. They are the only team in the Majors to win at least 90 games each of the past four seasons.
"A lot of good things have happened," Schwarber said. "We have to finish strong."
On Sunday, the Cubs hit just fine in the first inning, including an RBI double by Anthony Rizzo, to open a 3-0 lead and Schwarber led off the second with a 444-foot shot, according to Statcast™, into the right-field bleachers.
"That home run was classic Schwarber, and even his [double] was pretty good, too," Maddon said.
It helps to have good starting pitching, and Hendricks has done that in back-to-back outings. After pitching 8 2/3 innings in his last outing, he scattered four hits over 7 2/3 innings for his first career win vs. the White Sox, striking out five without issuing a walk. In his last seven starts, Hendricks has compiled a 1.55 ERA, striking out 36 over 46 1/3 innings.
"He set the tone for us once again," Maddon said of the right-hander. "I felt good that he was pitching. You could see he had the fastball and changeup. I know he normally gets better game in progress, which he did."
This season isn't a repeat of 2016 when the Cubs rolled to a 103-58 record, the best in baseball, and won their first World Series since 1908. It's been a bumpier ride.
"As an entire group, we've been off a little bit and we're still in a good position," Maddon said. "I think that speaks to you want to win. I know that's dumb and it sounds maybe trite because everybody wants to win. When you go out there and realize, 'I might not be at my best today but there are these other things I can do to help the team win,' and I think our guys are at that mental level."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Start me up:Daniel Murphy and Benjamin Zobrist each singled to open the first against Carlos Rodon. One out later, Murphy tallied on Rizzo's double for his 96th RBI and Zobrist scored when Albert Almora Jr. grounded out. Rizzo then scored on David Bote's infield single to open a 3-0 lead. Rodon needed 25 pitches to get through the first and would last 2 1/3 innings.
"Scoring that many runs early allowed me to find it and be aggressive in the zone," said Hendricks, who appreciated the cushion.
Welcome back: Schwarber was the designated hitter in the first two games of the series because the Cubs wanted to ease him back after having back problems. He looked healthy in the second when he launched his 26th home run of the season -- and first off a left-hander -- leading off the inning. Making his first start in the field since Sept. 8, Schwarber added an RBI double in the third.
Schwarber didn't think it was a big deal that he finally connected off a lefty.
"I'll take a homer and a double if it's off a sidearm right-hander or a switch-handed pitcher," Schwarber said. "It's always a good day when you get that done."
Maddon has felt that the back injury has actually helped Schwarber use his hands more.
"I guess," Schwarber said. "I think for me it's more about seeing the ball and slowing things down. I know that [Friday] I was sped up trying to get back into the swing of things. The last couple days, it's slow it down and take good quality swings and not force things to happen."
MVP candidate Javier Baez doubled in the sixth inning for his 81st extra-base hit of the season, most in the NL. It's the most by a Cubs player since Derrek Lee had 99 in 2005.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Both teams tipped their caps to retiring White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson on the field after the game. It was Harrelson's last broadcast after a 42-year career and 33 years with the White Sox. More >>
HE SAID IT
"It's always a fun part of the year. October is coming around the corner. It's a brand new season after the regular season is over. It's 0-0 and all about winning. That's what I love about it." -- Schwarber, on the postseason
Cole Hamels (4-1, 2.42 ERA) will make his 11th start for the Cubs on Monday night in the series opener vs. the Pirates, facing right-hander Jameson Taillon (13-9, 3.24). Hamels is coming off a loss to the D-backs in which he gave up seven runs over six innings. He's been charged with 14 earned runs over 24 1/3 innings over his last four starts. Hamels has beaten the Pirates twice this year, including a start of seven shutout innings Aug. 17 in Pittsburgh. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT from Wrigley Field.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.