Photo courtesy of David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Top Play (WPA): With one out in the fourth, Bryan Price elected to intentionally walk Chris Coghlan to load the bases and set up a double-play scenario. Jake Arrieta followed Coghlan by striking out on three pitches, setting the stage for Addison Russell. Russell swung through two fastballs, quickly falling behind 0-2. Anthony DeSclafani then missed with a fastball, and Russell followed by fouling off a slider and fastball to stay alive. DeSclafani’s next delivery was an 87 mph slider left hanging over the middle of the plate, critically missing his low-and-away target. Russell made him pay, lacing a bases-clearing double off the right field wall, extending the Cubs lead to 5-0 (.164). It was the first defining moment of Russell’s young career, but certainly not the last.
Bottom Play (WPA): Arrieta found himself in trouble in the fifth, issuing two walks and allowing a hit to load the bases with nobody out. After trading a run for an out on Billy Hamilton’s ground out, Arrieta then walked Votto to again load the bases in front of the dangerous Todd Frazier. Arrieta retired Frazier on a popout (-.088), and Brandon Phillips on a ground out (-.085). It was the last time the Reds would seriously threaten.
Key Moment: Arrieta’s ability to work around three walks in the fifth and limit the damage to one run took the wind out of the Reds sails. Pitching out of jams is a defining trait of an ace, and it’s become a characteristic that Arrieta has shown repeatedly early on this season.
The aforementioned double by Russell was the eventual game winner, and had to be a major confidence boost for the struggling 21-year-old. A handful of clutch hits as such will force managers to think twice before intentionally walking a previous batter to reach Russell.
Trend to Watch: For the second consecutive day, the bullpen was flawless, allowing just two hits over three scoreless innings. Zac Rosscup continues to pitch excellently, allowing one hit and not walking anyone in his inning of work. Pedro Strop returned from a minor foot injury to post a scoreless, hitless frame, requiring just nine pitches to do so. Hector Rondon continued his brilliant early season dealing, striking out one and not allowing a baserunner while collecting his fourth save. The truncated series sweep showed quality resilience by the Cubs after leaving Pittsburgh with an unsatisfying four-game split.
Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant combined to go 0-for-11 in a game that the Cubs won with relative ease. This is a monumentally positive sign, as a hallmark of good teams is having a wide-variety of individuals playing hero on a given day. Today it was Arrieta, Russell, and Miguel Montero. Who will it be tomorrow?
Starlin Castro continues to play like a man on a mission, not only at the plate (.281 TAv, 122 OPS+), but in the field as well…
Castro has been heavily criticized by the national media for occasional defensive mental lapses, but it is high-time he starts receiving some laudatory accolades for plays like this. Castro will probably never win Gold Gloves, if even for the simple fact that his reputation precedes him, but his play thus far this year has proven he has what it takes to play shortstop at a high level.
Coming Next: Addison Russell makes his Wrigley Field debut, as the Cubs try to snap a five-game home skid against the Pirates. Jason Hammel (3.79 FIP, 16.00 SO/BB) takes on Vance Worley (3.43 FIP, 1.88 SO/BB) in game one, a rematch of last Wednesday’s 4-3 Bucs win. It’s been a bit of a strange start for Hammel, as he has allowed just one free pass on the season, but has already given up three home runs. He’ll look to improve upon his 1-1 record on Monday evening.