The health of Kris Bryant’s left shoulder was one of the only suspenseful matters this weekend at Guaranteed Rate Field, where all three games were decided by at least five runs, including the Cubs’ 6-1 win against the White Sox on Sunday afternoon.
While Bryant rested his fatigued shoulder, his teammates carried the freight as the Cubs cut their magic number for winning the National League Central title to five.
If the Cubs clinch, they will do so at Wrigley Field, where they play their final seven games of the regular season. It could come as soon as Wednesday. The Cubs (91-64) open a four-game series Monday night against the Pirates, while the second-place Brewers (89-67) visit the third-place Cardinals (87-69) in a three-game series between the teams currently in line to claim wild card berths and potentially face the Cubs in the NL Division Series.
In taking two of three from their city rivals, the Cubs moved closer to seizing home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. In the process, they’d gladly welcome a return from Bryant, who missed nearly six weeks with shoulder pain before returning Sept. 1.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he planned to talk to Bryant about another day of rest, but Bryant replied “I already told him I feel good.”
The Cubs felt even better after a 15-hit attack that featured six runs in the first three innings in an array of methods that pleased Maddon.
Ben Zobrist produced three hits from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, and Kyle Schwarber — who earned a rare start against a left-handed pitcher because of Bryant’s ailment — ripped a home run and RBI double off Carlos Rodon in his first two at-bats.
Kyle Hendricks thrived on the early cushion while pitching 7 2/3 innings of four-hit ball.
“It’s going to be a fun week for us, but it starts Monday,” Hendricks said. “Nothing is done yet. We got to focus at the task at hand.”
Manager Joe Maddon and players Kyle Hendricks, Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant discuss the Cubs’ win over the White Sox on Sept. 23, 2018, at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. (Mark Gonzales / Chicago Tribune)
Bryant admitted looking at the out-of-town scoreboard Saturday for one of the few times in his career to see how the Brewers were faring. They defeated the Pirates 13-6 in Pittsburgh to maintain their 2 ½ game division deficit.
“We still have some work left to do,” Bryant said. “The Brewers are a good team. We got to keep winning and playing hard. Hopefully we can go on a nice run of wins and hopefully (clinch) in front of our fans. But it’s one game at a time.”
White Sox relievers Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Jeanmar Gomez and Thyago Vieira blanked the Cubs in the final six innings, as all of the damage came against Rodon.
Rodon was visibly displeased when Sox manager Rick Renteria pulled him after Schwarber’s double expanded the Cubs’ lead to 6-0, and Renteria followed Rodon into the clubhouse.
“I was definitely frustrated,” Rodon said. “I just got a little the best of me, but Ricky being the good manager he is, he helped me calm down. It was good. I probably should work on harnessing the frustration and the emotion.”
Said Renteria: “One has to be the parent, one is the child. You have to understand it, you take into account everything that’s going on.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs seek to sustain Sunday’s method of hitting to all fields, putting the ball in play with two strikes and hitting in clutch situations.
“This always is a fun part of the year, especially once it comes down to the end and October is around the corner,” Schwarber said.
“It’s a brand new season after the season is over. It’s all about winning. That’s why I love it.”