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After wild first inning, Cubs reach .500 by rolling past Cardinals

The Cubs’ improbable dream has come true.

With Thursday’s 10-3 victory in steaming St. Louis, they reached the .500 level at 51-51. The Cubs were 10 games under on June 8 after getting swept in Anaheim, but have now won six in a row.

So is the sell-off officially canceled yet? Can Marcus Stroman relax, Cody Bellinger start shopping for houses?

If anything, the Cubs should be on the hunt for another bullpen arm and a power bat, if any are available. It already seemed the chances of Bellinger getting traded had dropped to minuscule, now that he’s hit .415 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI in July.

“I think everybody in the locker room feels good with where we’re at,” winning pitcher Justin Steele said. “We’re clicking. What we’re doing right now, we feel like we can do this the entire season.”

At the moment, five teams are within one game of each other for the three National League wild card spots. With the win, the Cubs moved within 4 games behind Cincinnati for the third wild card berth. They’re also 4½ games out of the first wild card spot and 5½ games behind Milwaukee for the NL Central lead.

By all appearances, the Cubs are close enough to consider themselves playoff contenders.

This game got off to a crazy start in the top of the first inning. The third batter in, Ian Happ took a swing that hit former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras in the helmet on the backswing.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Contreras went to the ground, was bleeding and left the game, but not before giving Happ a friendly hug. When play resumed, St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas buzzed Happ with an inside pitch, then plunked him on the hip with what seemed to be a very intentional pitch.

As Happ walked to first without a fuss, umpires met and tossed Mikolas from the game. Cardinals manager Oli Marmol went with him. On his way off the field, Mikolas appeared to be jawing with the Cubs dugout.

Dakota Hudson was summoned from the bullpen and a single and two walks later, the Cubs had the game’s first run. Then Christopher Morel ripped a 2-run double to left and the Cubs led 3-0.

Not only did the Cardinals have to switch pitchers, Contreras has been their hottest hitter, with a .442 average in July. The Cubs could use him at designated hitter.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

“First of all, as a former catcher, than backswing stuff is just scary, it happens,” Ross said. “Obviously, Happ was not trying to do that. I thought he was fighting to stay in the game, you know how tough Willson is, being around here. I sent him a text, hope he’s all right. Obviously, Happer felt terrible how that happened and just part of the game, it stinks.”

It was a very hot day in St. Louis. The official temperature at game time was listed at 99 degrees.

Steele (11-3) should be comfortable in hot weather, since he grew up in Southern Mississippi, but his arms were shiny with sweat every inning. He did managed to complete 6 innings with 1 run allowed, dropping his season ERA to 2.87, second in the NL to San Diego’s Blake Snell. He’s 4-0 against St. Louis this season.

“He threw a lot of sliders tonight,” Ross said. “I felt the humidity or the heat and the sweat, it felt like he had a little more feel for that than the four-seam, talking to Yan (Gomes). I think he was having some grip issues.

“I thought he threw well, he was on the attack, he hung a couple of them, but to keep it at 1 was really impressive. For him to do a nice job of pitching out of jams was really good on a hot day where you can lose your legs, lose your focus. He just continued to make pitches.”

Gomes, Miles Mastrobuoni and Seiya Suzuki drove in runs during the third and fourth innings, then Mike Tauchman tacked on a solo home run to make it 7-1 in the sixth. Tauchman, Morel and Cody Bellinger had 3 hits each, while Gomes led with 3 RBI.

As of game time Thursday, the Cubs had yet to announce their starting pitcher for Friday’s game. It’s Drew Smyly’s day to pitch. The last time his turn in the order came up, Ross used Michael Fulmer as an opener.

Smyly has hit a slump, posting a 7.79 ERA in July. Last week at Wrigley Field, Fulmer worked the first 2 innings, then Smyly allowed 4 earned runs in 3⅔ innings in a game the Cubs won 8-6. Jordan Montgomery is slated to start for St. Louis.

“It’ll be a righty tomorrow,” Ross said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        



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