PITTSBURGH — Back-to-back 1-0 victories over the Pirates on Thursday and Friday nights made Cubs history and pushed the team’s lead in the National League Central to 4½ games with 41 to play.
Whatever those two wins might say about the Cubs’ chances in October, they resonated with even more significance given the way Jon Lester and Cole Hamels handled the Pirates. The veteran left-handers with postseason pedigree and nine All-Star selections between them combined for 13 scoreless innings Thursday and Friday at a time when the bigger news for a beleaguered rotation involved injury updates.
The rotation after Lester and Hamels looks like a crap shoot down the stretch at this point, as Yu Darvish starts a minor-league rehab assignment Sunday and Mike Montgomery heads to the disabled list with a sore shoulder.
But on two stormy nights in Pittsburgh, the two front-line lefties offered a reminder of how the Cubs might piece together another deep October run despite their flaws.
Hamels, who had nine-strikeout performances in two of his first three starts since being acquired from the Rangers in a trade last month, relied on guile and five double plays to get through seven innings Friday night.
“To be able to have [Lester] go out and be able to do what he did [Thursday] night, and for me to be able to match that, it’s just a good feeling, because I think we’re going to feed off of each other,” said Hamels, who improved to 3-0. “That’s what we need. I love having that situation.”
After trading for the slumping Hamels last month, Cubs president Theo Epstein said he was banking on Hamels’ competitiveness and the invigorating powers of a change of scenery and a pennant race. But it’s hard to imagine even Epstein and Hamels envisioning a 0.72 ERA four starts into his Cubs career.
“I know I’m capable of having great games and capable of putting up a lot of zeroes,” said the MVP of both the 2008 NLCS and that year’s World Series for the Phillies. “Obviously, for what it’s worth, it’s been four great games, but I’m here to try to win every possible game, no matter the circumstances.
“If it’s 10 or if it’s 15 starts, those are going to be the best starts that I possibly can put out there, and the results will come when you’re able to stay within yourself and execute.”
The seven double plays the Cubs turned in total Friday matched the major-league record for a nine-inning game. And the back-to-back 1-0 victories were the first such pair since Fergie Jenkins and Ray Burris beat the Mets in April 1973. This was the first time in franchise history that consecutive 1-0 games were won on solo homers (Ian Happ on Thursday and Kyle Schwarber on Friday).
Notes: Third baseman Kris Bryant (shoulder) took swings Friday in the batting cage off pitched balls for the first time since going on the DL. He’s looking toward facing live pitching on the field — the last step before an anticipated minor-league rehab assignment.
— Closer Brandon Morrow (biceps) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday, his first work from a mound since he last pitched in a game July 15.
— One night after Pittsburgh-area native Ian Happ’s solo homer in a 1-0 win, he was leading off for the first time since July 1 and only the third time since April. “The closer you get him to Mount Lebanon, [Pennsylvania], the better he plays,” manager Joe Maddon said.