Cubs middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez produced multi-hit games, showed off some flashy defense, and reinforced the notion that not only is Chicago favored to win the World Series this season, but its future is remarkably bright.
Behind Russell and Baez, the Cubs claimed the rubber match of an interleague series against the Houston Astros with a 9-5 win Sunday night at Minute Maid Park.
Russell finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored plus his 20th home run, while Baez went 2-for-4 with an RBI in support of right-hander Jake Arrieta (17-6).]
"Just keep the process," Russell said. "Continue the process. To continue to work hard, work on the adjustments that I need to make, and I think things will be fine. It's pretty cool to hit 20 home runs and have 90 RBIs for sure."
The Cubs (91-51) finished 15-5 against the American League. With the St. Louis Cardinals' 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier Sunday, Chicago reduced its magic number to win the National League Central to five with a three-game series in St. Louis beginning Monday.
The Astros (75-68) fell 3 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, who are tied for the two AL wild-card slots.Houston rallied in the middle innings against Arrieta, starting with a solo home run by Jose Altuve, his 23rd, in the fourth, and a two-run uprising in the sixth that led to Arrieta departing with one out. Justin Grimm emerged from the bullpen to retire Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus with the bases loaded.
Arrieta allowed three runs on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings."It was just one of those things where I went out there and gave everything I had and then just really ran out of everything completely in the sixth to try to battle through it," said Arrieta, who battled the same bug that felled Grimm last week.
Third baseman Yulieski Gurriel and Gattis clubbed back-to-back home runs to open the bottom of the ninth off Cubs right-hander Trevor Cahill, one last-ditch effort to rally by an Astros offense that faced a deficit before it could get going.
The Cubs wasted little time doing damage against Astros right-hander Mike Fiers (10-7). Kris Bryant following a leadoff walk from Dexter Fowler with an RBI double down the third base line and into the left field corner. Fiers recovered to strand Bryant at third base and limit the carnage to one run, but the Cubs put the first two runners on base again in the second inning to cause Fiers additional misery.
After Russell and Baez singled in succession, with Russell going first to third on the Baez single to center field, David Ross delivered a sacrifice fly to right field. Baez then took third on an error by Gurriel and Fiers followed by uncorking his major-league-leading 17th wild pitch to usher Baez home for a 3-0 deficit.
Five batters and one out into the third, Fiers was gone having allowed a titanic blast to Jorge Soler, his 11th home run, and an RBI single to Baez that chased Fiers from the mound. Soler took Fiers 411 feet to left-center before Ben Zobrist followed with a walk and Russell hit his second single in as many at-bats. Both Russell and Baez scored when Albert Almora later dropped a two-run single into center field.
"Honestly I don't know what it was," Fiers said. "Made some good pitches, made some bad pitches. They hit both and ended up getting ahead pretty early."Fiers surrendered seven runs on seven hits and two walks while failing to record a strikeout for the first time this season. When Russell homered off Jandel Gustave in the fourth, Chicago led 9-0 and matched its scoring output from the previous four games. Still, the Astros mustered enough of a fight to chase Arrieta in the sixth.
"When you get behind seven, eight, nine runs, you're going to need a big bolt to make it interesting and get back into it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "So it's rare that you get that opportunity to hit a three- or four-run homer and get right back into it. We had a little bit of momentum there."
NOTES: With Cubs RF Jason Heyward 0-for-8 in his career against Astros RHP Mike Fiers, manager Joe Maddon opted to start rookie Albert Almora in right field in the series finale. Almora opened a game in right field for just the second time this season. ... Astros SS Carlos Correa rejoined the starting lineup after missing four games with left shoulder inflammation. ... Cubs LHPs Jon Lester and Mike Montgomery flipped upcoming turns in the rotation, with Lester moved up to Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals and Montgomery bumped back to Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers. ... Triple-A Fresno manager Tony DeFrancesco will join the Astros' coaching staff Monday in advance of the three-game series against the American League West-leading Texas Rangers.