Top Play (WPA): This wasn’t a particularly fun game to watch and, I imagine, it wasn’t a particularly fun game for the Cubs to play either. The Tigers led off their half of the first inning with a double by Rajai Davis (who would later make a tremendous, leaping, over-the-wall catch on a David Ross fly ball), and Davis didn’t take long to advance to third—on a cross-up by Ross and his pitcher, Jon Lester—and subsequently score on a single through the middle by the peerless Miguel Cabrera. From that point forward, the Cubs’ chances of winning the game never cleared 50 percent. Just that kind of day: death by a thousand singles through the hole.
In any event, the top play of the day, at least by WPA, came in the Tigers’ half of the fourth inning, with their team already up by three, one out, and men on second and third. Nick Castellanos, 2-for-5 against Lester coming into the game, improved his numbers by shooting a grounder through the left side, scoring both runners, and improving the Tigers’ chances in the process by 7.6 percent. Like I said, though, it didn’t matter much. The home team had an 84.2 percent chance of winning before the play, and a 91.8 percent chance afterwards. As it turned out, both resolved into 100 percent by the end of the night.
Bottom Play (WPA): That’s not to say that all went well for the Tigers: the worst play of the night came off the bat of Ian Kinsler in the same first-inning sequence described above. Just after the passed ball—which looked like it was a cutter that didn’t cut—Kinser hit a soft line drive up the middle that floated in the air just long enough for Addison Russell to grab it, recording the first out of the inning and reducing the Tigers’ chances by 4.4 percent. Again, this was not a game of wild swings in fortune.
Key Moment: There’s a case to be made here for the Rajai Davis catch, which would have given the Cubs the lead and taken some of the sting off of Lester’s shaky first inning, but I’ll give the “moment” here to Yoenis Cespedes’ throw to nab Junior Lake at the plate in the fifth inning. The Cubs were down three, Lake had just advanced to second on a steal that needed review to confirm, and Addison Russell grounded a ball slowly enough through the left side that Gary Jones felt comfortable sending Lake home on the play. Unfortunately, Cespedes’ beat him there by about ten feet.
I don’t know. It’s not exactly an Alex Gordon-in-the-World Series moment, but I still don’t love the send there. Holding Lake would have brought the top of the order to the plate with men on first and third and two out. I think I like those odds somewhat better than I do the odds of Lake scoring on that play.
Trends to Watch: If you’ve been reading my colleague Andrew Felper’s series, “The 2015 Ballad of Jon Lester”, you’re already sort of following this trend, but Lester really has to become more consistent if the Cubs have aspirations of remaining in the playoff hunt. The implicit deal in big contracts like the one Lester just signed is that the pitcher is really good, maybe even a value, for the first year or two of the contract, and the team overpays in the last few. Key in that being a good deal for the team is the pitcher being, well, really good in the first two years. So far this year, Lester has been fine but not the ace the Cubs’ bought. He’ll need to turn it around. As Luis Medina noted on Twitter this morning, a 58.3 percent quality start rate is not really acceptable. Still, you know nobody is going to be harder on Lester than Lester himself, and I remain hopeful that he’ll return to form.
Coming Next: The Cubs continue their series against the Tigers in Detroit with another 6:08 ct start. This time, it’s Jake Arrieta versus Detroit’s Shane Greene, who had a superb start to the season—allowing just one earned run over three starts, in which he combined for 23 innings pitched—but has struggled of late, carrying a 6.15 ERA over his last seven starts. On paper, at least, this looks like a matchup the Cubs should be favored in. Luckily for their playoff aspirations, both the Pirates and Cardinals lost last night, so no ground was lost, but as we start getting closer to the mid-point of the season, no ground gained becomes as good as ground lost. It’s time to compete.
Lead photo courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports