If there’s such a thing as better than no-hit stuff, Cubs starter Alec Mills apparently had it Saturday night in his start against the Twins.
Of course, as Mills said, “baseball’s funny.” So, naturally, the Cubs lost 8-1 in his first start since Sunday’s no-hitter in Milwaukee.
“I actually think my stuff was probably better than I had last time, to be honest with you,” said Mills, who gave up just two runs on four hits until a mammoth home run by Miguel Sano leading off the seventh, followed by a Max Kepler double.
“You may think I’m crazy for saying that,” he said. “I made a couple mistakes, and they made it hurt. That’s why the Twins are a good baseball team. That’s what they do.”
The Twins, who set a major league record for home runs last year, clinched a playoff berth with their victory.
The Cubs’ magic number for clinching the National League Central remains at six with eight games to play after the Cardinals beat the Pirates Saturday.
But the most important development on a night the Cubs’ five-game winning streak was snapped might have been the way Mills bounced back physically from the longest start of his professional career and how sharp he looked.
“He was moving the ball around well and mixing in all his stuff,” manager David Ross said. “I thought he was pitching really well.”
That’s potentially huge for a team with pitching depth issues less than two weeks from a date with a Sept. 30 playoff opener — with starter Tyler Chatwood (elbow) and as of Saturday reliever Rowan Wick (oblique) likely sidelined the rest of the way, regardless of how far the Cubs advance.
“I felt good,” said Mills, who struck out four of the first six he faced and seven overall Saturday. “I was just excited to get back out there and pitch. Obviously, what happened last time was special, but for me it was a matter of just getting back out and getting back to work. So I was ready. I felt good and didn’t feel any ill effects from the last outing.”
Kepler was Mills’ final batter of the game. And after Kepler scored during what became a five-run seventh, Mills lost what otherwise would have been a third consecutive quality start.
The four he allowed Saturday are the only runs in those three starts (1.71 ERA), which offers at least the suggestion of starting depth behind Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and maybe Jon Lester — as the Cubs await the status of rehabbing José Quintana (lat).
Darvish, who is back in the Cy Young race after hiccups in recent days by contenders Jacob deGrom and Trevor Bauer, faces the Twins’ José Berríos in a matchup of potential Game 1 starters.
“We still have a chance to win a series tomorrow,” right fielder Jason Heyward said. “That’s huge. We just won I don’t know how many games in a row. Now we have a chance to start another streak tomorrow. More importantly, on everyone’s mind is to win a series. That’s how it’s going to be in the postseason.”