For the third time in five seasons, the Cubs are NL Central champions.
The Cubs needed a win over the White Sox or a Cardinals loss to the Brewers Saturday to clinch, and they got the latter. Milwaukee wrapped up a 3-0 win as the Cubs-Sox game neared the seventh inning.
On the South Side, Jon Lester pitched well early in his final regular season start before walks and defensive mistakes caught up to the Cubs in the fourth. But the Cubs did get a big performance from Kris Bryant in his return to the lineup from an oblique ailment.
Some quick takes from the 9-5 Sox win:
Bryant has been the subject of criticism this season for his low numbers posted while dealing with several injuries. Saturday was his first game since Monday, when he left the game in Pittsburgh with lower right oblique tightness.
He made quite the impression in his return. After singling for the Cubs’ first hit in the second inning, the 2016 NL MVP launched a first-pitch grand slam in the third, giving the Cubs a temporary 5-2 lead.
Bryant finished the night 2-for-4, a positive sign entering October. The Cubs offense has scored 15 runs the past two games (after scoring 10 total in their previous seven), but their lineup is much better with Bryant in it. They need him performing to succeed in the postseason.
Lester pitched well through three innings, allowing two runs on three hits — a solo home run and a pair of singles. But the Sox broke through in the fourth after several walks and defensive misplays that hurt his final line.
James McCann reached on a leadoff single, a catchable pop up that dropped between Jason Heyward and Jason Kipnis in shallow right field. Lester loaded the bases with one out on two walks before getting a ground ball to Javier Báez.
Báez reared up to throw home for a force out but opted to throw to first and was late. A run scored to make it 5-3, and Lester’s night ended after a two-out, bases-loaded walk two batters later, which made it 5-4.
Ryan Tepera replaced Lester, and José Abreu cleared the bases with a double. Each run was charged to Lester.
The walks hurt the left-hander, but the defense gave the Sox’ bats extra outs, despite not being charged for any errors in the fourth. All said, Lester allowed seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and three walks.
Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel got an inning of work in the eighth after David Ross pulled several Cubs regulars. The right-hander continued his impressive turnaround after early-season struggles, striking out Yoan Moncada and José Abreu in a 1-2-3 eighth.
He threw his four-seam fastball 10 times, averaging 98.6 mph with it.
Kimbrel worked through his early struggles and looks like a trustworthy option at the back-end of Ross' postseason bullpen. He allowed no earned runs in 7 1/3 September innings, striking out 13 while walking none.
Not done yet
“What this group has done is really taken the narrative of the organization and turned it upside down. “And really, that started with the top, Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) and the front office, and their plan and vision and getting the right guys.” – David Ross pregame on the Cubs’ core.
The Cubs play their final regular season game on Sunday against the White Sox. Adbert Alzolay (0-1, 3.31 ERA) and Reynaldo López (1-2, 4.68 ERA) are the probable starters.