The reports of Jason Heyward’s demise as a big-league hitter might have been premature – yeah, all 5½ months of those reports.
Just as the Cubs start refocusing for their postseason, Heyward seems to be finding the success at the plate that has been missing most of the season.
After multi-hit performances in his previous three games, Heyward launched a two-run homer in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 5-2 victory over the Reds on Monday.
The opposite-field shot was his first homer since Aug. 22, just his second since July 29.
A good sign?
“It’s good that a fan caught it and not an opposing player,” said Heyward, who has seven home runs and countless shots to the all this year. “That’s what’s good about it.”
It made him 7-for-15 in his last four games
Monday’s victory – behind seven strong innings by Jason Hammel – came after manager Joe Maddon met with the hitters before the game to talk about the work he wants to see before the playoffs now that the Cubs have clinched.
Part of that work is closing out the Nationals for the best record in the league and home-field advantage through the NL playoffs. The Nationals lost Monday night.
The bigger part is continuing to play hard and try to stay sharp with the luxury of the games left on the schedule, with four idle days coming between the end of the season and the Oct. 7 playoff opener – and “to micro-focus on the next two weeks.”
Even guys who weren’t in the meeting, such as Hammel (15-9), didn’t have to be told.
Asked about reaching the 15-win milestone for the first time in his career, Hammel barely acknowledged the achievement.
“I try not to pay attention to that because, yeah, you look at the whole body of work and at the end of the year you can start looking at individual accolades, I guess,” he said. “But I’ve still got a couple more [starts].
“And we’re still not done yet. We’ve still got to wrap up home-field advantage. And continue to play good baseball. There’s really no reason to let up.
“I think guys might have been a little tired about the late festivities and whatever, having a fun time after the clinch [Friday]. But it’s time to get locked mentally back in.”
Hammel gave up just four hits but one of them was Brandon Phillips’ leadoff homer in the second. A one-out triple and a single in the sixth made it 2-0.
But Addison Russell spoiled an impressive start by Tim Adleman with a leadoff homer in the seventh. One out later, Willson Contreras tied it with another homer. And after a pitching change, Chris Coghlan doubled, then scored on Dexter Fowler’s RBI single.
“We’ve got goals to have home-field advantage and continue to earn what we want,” said Heyward – whose Cubs need five wins in the final 12 games for the franchise’s first 100-win season since 1935.
“Nobody’s going to hand you anything. We don’t feel like we’ve done anything yet,” he said. “This team’s been in [the playoffs] before. We want to go further and want to accomplish that [World Series] goal.”
Notes: Outfielder Jorge Soler, who left Friday’s game with tightness in his side is tentatively expected to be ready off the bench to pinch hit Tuesday. … The Cubs’ three home runs Monday gave the Reds the dubious major-league record for most allowed in a season (242). The 1996 Tigers allowed 241. … Setup man Pedro Strop, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 11 because of knee surgery (then a groin injury during rehab), fared well after a Sunday bullpen session and could be activated after a simulated game in the next day or two. … With Hammel’s 15th win, the Cubs have four pitchers with 15 wins for the first time since 1935 (Lon Warneke, Bill Lee, Larry French, Charlie Root) – seventh time in franchise history. Only the 1904 team, with five, had more 15-game winners.