Cubs

Quick takes: Cardinals close in on Cubs in NL Central

Cubs
USA TODAY

The Cubs had a chance to all but put the Cardinals away in the NL Central race this weekend at Wrigley Field.

That didn’t happen, and suddenly their division lead over St. Louis is down to 1 1/2 games, following the Cardinals’ 7-3 win on Sunday night.

"No one here will say we’re clicking on all cylinders or playing our best baseball," second baseman Jason Kipnis said postgame. "We’re hoping our best baseball is still in front of us."

Jon Lester pitched just 3 1/3 innings, and while St. Louis’ bats were loud on Sunday, the Cubs, outside of a pair of home runs, didn’t produce much. 

Some quick takes from the game:

Loud off Lester

The Cardinals bats made noise early, recording four extra-base hits off Lester, including two home runs — a solo blast by Tommy Edman (first inning) and a three-run shot by Paul Goldschmidt in the third.

Lester got off to a great start this season, holding a 1.06 ERA through his first three starts (two earned runs, seven hits, 17 innings). But in his last five starts, he’s allowed 24 runs in 23 1/3 innings — a 9.26 ERA.

"Yeah, I’m giving up too many runs, too many hits, too many base runners, too many of everything," said Lester when asked if there's a common thread in his recent starts.

RELATED: Jon Lester: Confidence takes hit as struggles persist

Bats quiet after early action

The Cubs offense, which scored three runs in 14 innings in Saturday’s doubleheader, got off to a promising start Sunday. Anthony Rizzo hit a game-tying home run in the first inning, and Kipnis put the Cubs ahead 3-1 on a two-run blast in the second.

 

That was the extent of their damage.

After Kipnis’ home run, the Cubs went 4-for-26 at the dish, three of those hits being singles. Kris Bryant was responsible for their last two hits — a single in the fifth and double in the eighth.

“We're having good at-bats. We’re just not finishing the rallies as of late,” Kipnis said. "Over the past two weeks, even times where we're not putting up runs, you'll see a lot of good at-bats and runners and traffic on base.

“We really aren't coming up with those big hits with guys in scoring position."

The Cubs went 2-for-12 with runners on base Sunday and 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Under-good

The Cubs have found a reliable bullpen arm in right-hander Duane Underwood Jr.

Underwood pitched a scoreless eighth on Sunday, allowing a hit while striking out one. It was his sixth straight scoreless outing, dating back to Aug. 25 in Detroit. Over that span, he’s struck out eight batters compared to zero walks in 5 2/3 innings.

Home stretch

“It’s very unique, very different. It doesn’t feel like September to me.” –David Ross on how this September compares to previous seasons’ 

On Deck

The Cubs and Cardinals wrap up their season series on Monday. Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.78 ERA) and Johan Oviedo (0-1, 4.30 ERA) are the probable starters. 

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