This recap is written by BP-Wrigleyville contributor David Blumberg.
Top Play (WPA): With the bases loaded and none out in the top of the ninth, Starlin Castro hit a hard grounder to third off Pirates closer Mark Melancon that bounced over the head of Josh Harrison (.399). Castro’s single would score Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler, tying the game at eight and advancing Kris Bryant to third. Welington Castillo followed with a high-hopping ground out over the pitcher (.152) that scored Bryant and put the Cubs ahead for good. These runs came after a series of events that saw Anthony Rizzo single to center (.072), Jorge Soler hit a line-drive double to center (.213), and Kris Bryant take a walk (.070). Cubs fans were able to watch the core of their offense—a unit that is expected to be the strength of this team for years to come—help deliver another ninth-inning comeback, something that’s happened already happened twice this year after they went 0-79 last season when trailing in the final frame.
Bottom Play (WPA): Chris Coghlan struck out on a Melancon fastball in the ninth with runners on first and third and no outs (-.128). While it could certainly be argued that a run was still likely to score, an out in this spot that did not advance any runners could have made it that much easier for the Pirates to take the game to the bottom of ninth with a tie game and a chance to walk off with a win.
The left field platoon partners that I lovingly refer to as “Coghlorfia” (Chris Coghlan/Chris Denorfia) went a combined 1-for-5 with three strikeouts on Tuesday and were more an offensive negative than a positive on the evening. Coghlan, however, was involved in what was easily the night’s most controversial call by home plate umpire “Country” Joe West, which brings me to…
Key Moment: With the Cubs having just tied the game at five on a Josh Harrison error, Coghlan stepped in to face righty Jared Hughes in the seventh with two outs and runners on first and second. Coghlan was taking Denorfia’s in order to play the platoon advantage in a crucial spot, as the Cubs had a chance to take the lead. Coghlan hit a liner to right and Bryant, who was on second, rounded third with a full head of steam, certain he could make it home before the throw from right fielder Gregory Polanco. As the throw came in to catcher Francisco Cervelli, Bryant went in to an awkward leg-bent slide into home, with multiple angles on the play appearing to show him touching the plate before Cervelli could apply a tag. Unfortunately, West did not see it this way and promptly called Bryant out which earning an immediate challenge from Joe Maddon. Upon review it was determined there was not enough evidence to overturn the call, despite what the Cubs and their fan believe they saw on their screens.
Trend to Watch: Starter Travis Wood seemed to get in a groove following the second inning after being up and down to start the game, much the same way Kyle Hendricks pitched well after the first on Saturday. This is more of a coincidence, but the unifying feature of the two starts appears to be Maddon pulling these two pitchers early despite pitch counts that suggested they could go deeper into the game, as Wood and Hendricks had thrown 84 and 81 pitches respectively when they were pulled. Much has been made of the current Cubs bullpen situation, as the team is already missing Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez, and few of the middle relief options are inspiring much confidence. This bullpen crunch and the exhaustion of the few trustworthy relievers left is seemingly being made all the worse by an unwillingness by Maddon to allow the back end of his rotation to go deeper into the game, even when they are on a roll. It’s obviously only two starts, but it’s certainly something to watch the next time either of these pitchers’ turn in the rotation (Hendricks is scheduled for Thursday) comes up.
Despite still getting a hard time from certain part of the fanbase, Castro continues to come up big for this team. He had three hits on the evening, including his second home run of the year, a towering shot to dead center. It was just his third extra-base hit on the season, and if he start to rack up more of those, it could be quite the season of the ever-maligned Cubs shortstop. As it stands now, his .352/.375/.481 slash line will do just fine. If the Cubs can get this kind of production from Castro, it’ll just be icing on the cake with the like of Rizzo, Soler, and Bryant around
Coming Next: The Cubs (8-5) will look to clinch a series victory against the division rival Pirates (6-8) and to possibly take back first place, depending on what the Cardinals do against the Nationals. Jason Hammel (5.11 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 11 K/BB) will take the mound for the Cubs, taking on everyone’s favorite pitcher named Vance, Vance Worley (5.84 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.67 K/BB).