Willson Contreras’ bat flipped end over end, soaring.
There were no White Sox fans in the stands of Guaranteed Rate Field Friday to boo or gasp. But if the cardboard cutouts behind home could look past the somersaulting bat and the spot in the stands where Contreras’ home run had landed, they would have seen the right-field scoreboard flipping through scores around MLB.
Just a few hours earlier, it seemed the Cubs might have to rely on good news from the National League side of that board to clinch the division title. But at the end of a 10-0 win over the White Sox Friday, the Cubs stood just one win away from claiming the NL Central crown.
“We’re just thinking about winning one game at a time,” Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras said. “If we’re able to win the division, that’s great for us. If not, we’ve still got to go to the playoffs and win games.”
The expanded playoff format also changes what’s at stake in the regular season. Winning the division doesn’t mean a Wild Card bye this season, but it does mean homefield advantage for the best-of-three first-round series.
The Cardinals lost the first game of a doubleheader against the Brewers on Friday, shrinking the Cubs’ magic number to two. But then St. Louis won the second game, eliminating the possibility of the Cubs clinching the division on Friday.
The Cardinals (29-27), who only have 58 games on their schedule after a coronavirus outbreak earlier in the season, could play up to two if-necessary games against the Tigers after Sunday.
As far as postseason implications were concerned, the Cubs’ offensive resurgence Friday was just as important as the division standings. After a week-long team slump, the Cubs scored as many runs Friday as they did in their previous seven games combined.
“Guys brought it today,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Brought a little edge.”
The Cubs hit five home runs on Friday, three off White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease and two off the White Sox bullpen.
It was their first multi-home run game in almost two weeks – the last came in the Cubs’ ninth inning comeback at Milwaukee when Jason Heyward and Ildemaro Vargas hit back-to-back homers off Brewers closer Josh Hader.
For the first time this September, the Cubs hit more than two homers in a game. And for just the third time this season, the Cubs scored in double digits.
Kyle Schwarber started the trend with a solo shot in the second inning, ending his 0-for-10 streak. Javier Báez put the game out of reach in the fourth. Victor Caratini hit his first home run of the season in the sixth.
The spotlight shone brightest, however, on Contreras. In the third inning, he sent a 99-mph fastball over the fence for a three-run homer that he spiced up with a high-flying bat flip.
Then, in the eighth inning of the blowout, White Sox second baseman Yolmer Sánchez took the mound for the first time in his MLB career. Contreras sent his 66-mph first pitch out of the yard as well.
“Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Contreras said. “We just know that we’ve got to come here and play 100 percent, like we always play."