PHILADELPHIA – When the Cubs swept the Phillies in a doubleheader Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, they officially clinched a winning record and crossed the over/under line for wins (81.5) set by Las Vegas odds-makers before the season.
They have the fourth-best record in baseball, 24 games over .500 for the first time this season – on pace for 95 wins. And they trail the Cardinals by six games for the NL Central lead with three games left against the Cards; the Pirates by two for home field in the wild-card game with seven meetings left.
“I think about October every day,” said Jake Arrieta (19-6), who pitched eight innings to win Friday’s opener 5-1
“Everybody’s thinking about October around here,” said Kyle Hendricks (7-6), who pitched 6 2/3 innings to beat the Phillies 7-3 in the nightcap and earn his first win in six starts. “We’re that close. We can smell it. You never want to take anything for granted of course, but we’re in a good spot.”
What can the Cubs do with the 22 games they have left, starting with two more in Philadelphia before a big series in Pittsburgh?
“You never know,” said Hendricks, who faced the minimum the first time through the Phils’ order.
“We’re trying to get the wild-card at our place, or try to catch the Cardinals,” said rookie Kyle Schwarber, who homered on the first two pitches he saw from Alec Asher in the nightcap for an early 3-0 lead.
It would take an almost impossible collapse for the Cubs to fall out of playoff position – leading their closest rival for the final berth by 10 games when they finished Friday’s pair of wins.
Behind the scenes, they’re making pitching plans and talking about roster decisions for October scenarios all the way into November.
On the ground, “We’re just trying to come to the ballpark every day and win,” Hendricks said. “And that’s it. Let the other teams take care of their business, whatever they do. But at the end of the day we just want to keep the momentum and go into October with that.”
If the Cubs advance beyond a one-game wild-card playoff, Hendricks is in the Cubs’ four-man playoff rotation – making it even more significant that he made adjustments since previous starts that allowed him to pitch into the seventh Friday for the first time since Aug. 1.
He has pitched to a 3.09 ERA in his first two starts of September, including a no-decision that turned into a Cubs’ win five days earlier. The Cubs have won six of his last eight starts – one of the reasons the Cubs “smell” October.
“Obviously, we would love to get the wild-card game at home,” Hendricks said of the potential within those final 22 games. “We’d love to catch the Cardinals. But even if we play on the road in that game, it’s not going to matter to us.”