Behind Kyle Hendricks' 12-strikeout performance and five homers, the Cubs cruised to a 10-5 win over the Pirates on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, capping off a convincing sweep and further distancing themselves from the rest of the National League Central.
"[Hendricks] was really, really good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Great location, great movement, kept repeating his delivery, nice plays defensively."
The Cubs have won 10 of their last 11 meetings with the Pirates, including last year's NL Wild Card Game, and outscored the Bucs by 46 runs during that stretch. Overall, Chicago is now a season-high 27 games over .500, with its 47-20 start tied for the best mark by a Cubs team since the 1907 squad went 51-16.
When the Pirates left Wrigley Field in May, right-hander Gerrit Cole said he didn't think the Cubs were the best team in baseball. Sunday, Hendricks was asked what he thought on the matter.
"At this point, I don't think much needs to be said about it," Hendricks said. "I think we are [the best team in baseball] right now. There's a lot of season left, so we hope to get better. A lot of other teams are coming for us."
Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon gave up four runs on eight hits and three homers, unable to repeat his outstanding performance on Tuesday, when he fired eight shutout innings against the Mets. The Bucs have lost five in a row for the second time this month, 10 of their last 11 games and 17 of 22, falling three games below .500 and 15 games behind the division-leading Cubs. Over their last 11 games, the Pirates have been outscored, 76-34.
"We've got to find some answers off the mound," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Collectively, they're going to roll up their sleeves and keep going to work. As far as shaking it up, we need to play a complete game. That would shake things up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Grand entrance: Contreras homered on the first pitch of his first Major League at-bat, crushing A.J. Schugel's changeup to dead center field for a two-run shot that put the Cubs up, 6-1, in the sixth. Contreras, Chicago's top catching prospect, made his debut when he caught the ninth inning Friday and is scheduled to make his first start Monday, but he already received a curtain call from the Wrigley Field crowd that went nuts after his storybook homer.More >
"It's an amazing feeling," Contreras said. "It's incredible. I don't have the words to explain how happy I am to be here."
Welcome to The Show: Called up before the game, Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings made his Major League debut on a national stage. Stallings went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but he made an athletic play in the third, reeling in a strong but off-line throw from Gregory Polancoand leaping to tag out Miguel Montero for the last out of the inning.
Bryzzo again: For the second consecutive night, Bryant and Rizzo both homered to help power the Cubs to victory. Sunday, their home runs came in the form of back-to-back blasts in the third inning. Bryant swung away on a 3-0 fastball and crushed a line drive into the left-field basket. Rizzo took a 1-0 fastball for an opposite field shot. Both players have 17 homers this season. More >
Star power: Seemingly the only player unaffected by the Pirates' recent rough stretch,Starling Marte returned to the lineup and didn't miss a beat. Marte hadn't started since Wednesday, when he took a one-hopper off his face while diving for a ball in left field. He went 3-for-5 with a two-run triple, his ninth three-hit game, and stole his 20th base of the year -- his fourth straight season reaching that mark. Marte is batting .481 over his last eight games and hitting .385 in June, one of three Pirates hitting over .250.
"I told the trainer: 'Whatever you did to Marte, do it to everybody,'" Hurdle said, laughing.
QUOTABLE "I felt calm and stuff, but if you had a heartbeat monitor on me, I was probably pretty quick there in the first. It's something I'll learn from and get better at." --Taillon on his outing
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Cubs starters have made 22 straight starts with three or fewer earned runs allowed. Their rotation is 14-4 with a 1.76 ERA over that stretch.
Hendricks became the first Cubs starter with 12 strikeouts and no walks in a game sinceMatt Garza on April 3, 2011, also against the Pirates.
This was the Cubs' 500th all-time win over the Pirates at Wrigley Field, their second-most wins (504, Cardinals) against any opponent inside the Friendly Confines.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Left-hander Jeff Locke will start for the Pirates as they begin a four-game series against the Giants at PNC Park on Monday night. Locke will be going up against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner, who shut out Pittsburgh in the 2014 Wild Card Game. Bumgarner is 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA over his last 10 starts since April 25. Locke has given up 18 runs in 8 2/3 innings over his last two starts.
Cubs: Right-hander John Lackey will start to open a three-game series against the Cardinals on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Lackey, who left the Cardinals for the Cubs this offseason, is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts in two starts against St. Louis this season.