Photo courtesy of David Kohl/USA Today Sports Images
Top Play (WPA): Having expended Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, Bryan F-bomb Price tapped Burke Badenhop for the 11th. On-base machines Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant each singled, bringing up Jonathan Herrera, who Joe Maddon had inserted via a double switch. The third baseman ripped a single into right, scoring Rizzo and putting the Cubs ahead 4-3 (.332). Jay Bruce’s throw home was cut off, but Herrera never slowed down around first and took second just ahead of a throw. He subsequently scored on David Ross’s double off the right field wall (.069), extending the Cubs lead and firmly placing the pressure on the Reds’ offense.
Herrera likely won’t be around for much longer, with Tommy La Stella poised to return from the disabled list soon. Arismendy Alcantara’s struggles, Mike Olt’s worse-than-expected wrist injury, and Javier Baez’s leave due to his sister’s passing have created an infield crunch even in the wake of Bryant’s promotion. Ideally, Alcantara will find his stroke in Iowa and return to the team this summer to assume the super-sub role for which he is well suited. Maddon has been forced into some even more creative managing than we may have expected, given the bullpen and infield injuries.
Bottom Play (WPA): Chapman quelled a Cubs scoring threat in the ninth, following a Rizzo double (.176) and a Bryant walk (.024). Rizzo, with his new-found wheels—he now has four steals on the year, and has shown a proclivity for aggressive baserunning—stole third, and Bryant second (.142), bringing Starlin Castro to the plate. Chapman gave Castro four fastballs to grapple within an inning comprised entirely of 100-plus mph fastballs, and Castro went down swinging (-.208).
Key Moment: The bullpen returned to form, allowing no runs over five frames, even with Pedro Strop unavailable due to foot soreness. Our key moment came from Jason Motte, who loaded the bases in the tenth after good outings from Gonzales Germen and Zac Rosscup. Motte induced a Jay Bruce foul out (-.149), and the game’s win expectancy came back down to 50 percent, before the Cubs opened the floodgates in the bottom half of the inning.
Less obvious in its immediate impact was Addison Russell’s diving play to rob Billy Hamilton of a single to start the fifth (-.018). Jon Lester had failed to keep Hamilton off of the bases in his first two at-bats, leading off the first and third innings, and Hamilton came around to score both times on groundouts. Russell’s great stop, and even more impressive snap up to throw, prevented Hamilton from reaching base a third consecutive time, touching off Lester’s spotless final two innings. Russell later began a key 4-6-3 double play in the eighth to squash a nascent Reds rally, a slick turn that suggests a quick adjustment to the new angles he will face at second base. The Cubs’ defense is enigmatic, but Russell’s presence could help mitigate that possible weakness.
Trend to Watch: Lester turned in a much better start than his previous three, calming down after a shaky first. This didn’t appear to be a product of overall pitch usage, as evinced by the table below.
In his final two innings, Lester faced the minimum and delivered four of his strikeouts. Two of those came against the Reds’ duo of tough lefties, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, each player’s second K of the night. As Andrew Felper has noted in his stellar analysis of Lester’s three other starts, lefties have refused to give in to the pitcher’s game plan of going low-and-away. I suspect that Andrew will have much more for us to chew on very soon, and Lester’s improved performance against the Reds’ lefties could indicate that the ace has finally hit the “on” switch this season.
Once again, the Cubs’ middle of the order drove the night’s offense. Rizzo and Bryant reached base seven times. Rizzo deposited a 90 mph Mike Leake fastball in the right-field bleachers to tie the game in the fourth, notable because it did not seem like a mistake pitch (.181). Pitchers have consistently tried to bust Rizzo inside and prevent full extension, neutralizing his power, but the first baseman countered that attack with a compact swing. Rizzo has reached base in about half of his place appearances so far this season, an incredible rate aided by his crowding of the plate.
Coming Next: Twitter rock star Jake Arrieta (1.74 ERA/1.77 FIP) takes the bump against the Reds’ Anthony Desclafani (0.86/2.84) in a Saturday afternoon game at Great American Ballpark. Seven or more innings out of Arrieta would do well to alleviate the bullpen’s workload, and in this short season he’s shown more of the dominance that emerged last summer.
Dexter Fowler returned to the lineup Friday, and Pedro Strop should be available out of the ‘pen, so the team’s late-inning options should be less of a concern than in the past week. Look for the middle of the order to continue to strike fear into opposing pitchers, especially if Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro can improve upon their lackluster at-bats Friday.
— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) April 24, 2015