Top Play (WPA): With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, Miguel Montero singled into left field against Jared Hughes, which brought home Anthony Rizzo and cut the Pirates lead to 4-2 (.152). But the very next batter provided the second-worst WPA play of the game, as David Ross (batting for Chris Coghlan against lefty Tony Watson) grounded into a 6-5 force out (-.109). Though Kris Bryant scored on the play, the Cubs failed to get Montero home from second and entered the ninth still down 4-3.
Bottom Play (WPA): Addison Russell softly lined out to second baseman Neil Walker to end the rally in the eighth with runners at the corners and two outs (-.119). Russell did collect his first MLB hit tonight, however, singling to center in third inning. He finished the game 1-4 with a strikeout.
Bryant had some ups and downs Wednesday night. He juuuust missed a homer down the left field foul line in the first and then doubled and scored in the fourth to give the Cubs their first run of the night (.081). He came up with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the fifth, and worked a 3-0 count before flying out to right (-.097). He did get the green light on the 3-0 pitch and swung through what looked like a very hittable fastball.
Still, it’s promising to see that the Cubs already have that much trust in the 23-year-old slugger.
Key Moment: With two outs in the third inning and men on second and third, Anthony Rizzo stung a fly ball into left-center field that looked destined to be a game-tying double. Instead, Starling Marte was (barely) able to track it down, and the Pirates kept their 2-0 lead. The Cubs had a bit of bad BABIP luck early on in this one–before Francisco Cervelli’s go-ahead double in the second, the Pirates had collected three hits without hitting anything particularly hard. Jason Hammel did give up a line drive home run to Gregory Polanco in the fifth, but he pitched much better than his line on the night (5 IP, 6H, 4R, 3ER) will suggest. Hammel struck out five, and didn’t walk anyone (though he did hit a batter).
Another key to keeping Chicago in the game was the Cubs debut of Gonzalez Germen, who worked a scoreless sixth and seventh. Germen’s is known for his changeup, and it was particularly nasty tonight, producing ten strikes and six whiffs on twelve pitches.
|Pitch Type||Velo (Max)||H-Break||V-Break||Count||Strikes / %||Swings / %||Whiffs / %||BIP (No Out)||SNIPs / %||LWTS|
|FF (Four-seam Fastball)||94.3 (96.1)||-6.90||8.64||14||7 / 50.0%||4 / 28.6%||1 / 7.1%||2 (1)||5 / 41.7%||-0.03|
|CH (Changeup)||85.9 (86.7)||-9.58||4.13||12||10 / 83.3%||8 / 66.7%||6 / 50.0%||1 (0)||9 / 81.8%||-0.90|
|SL (Slider)||87.2 (88.4)||-2.07||3.37||3||2 / 66.7%||2 / 66.7%||1 / 33.3%||1 (0)||1 / 50.0%||-0.28|
German gave the middle of the Cubs bullpen some much-needed relief tonight, while Pedro Strop and Zac Rosscup pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth respectively.
Trend to Watch: Plate discipline. Entering tonight, the Cubs had seen 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, which puts them at ninth in the MLB (Baseball-Reference). Again tonight, the Cubs forced Vance Worley to throw 95 pitches through 5 innings, and they got into the Pirates bullpen in the sixth. The Cubs have not allowed an opposing starter to go more than six innings against them since facing Anthony DeSclafani last Tuesday. This is an exciting trend, especially for a team that is so young.
Another thing to watch is bench personnel. Dexter Fowler left tonight’s game with groin tightness, and it exposed how thin the Cubs’ bench really is right now. Chris Denorfia was forced to play centerfield for most of the game, and when Joe Maddon pinch hit Ross for Coghlan in the eighth (to pursue a platoon advantage against the left-handed Tony Watson) the Cubs were down to two outfielders. Denorfia slid over to left in the ninth, and Bryant was forced to play what will hopefully be his last MLB inning in center field (he made a catch, though!). So far, the Cubs haven’t been hurt too much by carrying three catchers, but the thin bench was apparent tonight. Denorfia and Herrera cannot continue to be the Cubs’ only position player bench options. If Fowler misses more than a day or two, some roster moves might be necessary. For what it’s worth, someone would have to be put on the DL if the Cubs want to recall Matt Szczur, as he was sent down to Iowa less than ten days ago.
Coming Next: Hopefully, the snow will have stopped by 11:35 AM CT in Pittsburgh today, which is when Kyle Hendricks will look to secure the series win against Jeff Locke. Locke has been stellar in his first two starts of the year (1.93 ERA/2.33 FIP), but this new-look Cubs order could change that in a hurry. Hendricks, for his part, will be looking to follow up on a good outing against the Padres his last time out: he gave up just two runs in six innings and had a career-high eight strikeouts to no walks. He’s thrown just 84 and 81 pitches in his first two starts on the season respectively, however, so it would be nice to see him go a bit deeper into this one to keep the bullpen fresh ahead of a weekend series in Cincinnati.