Top Play (WPA): In yesterday’s recap, I noted that Anthony Rizzo was showing signs of breaking out of his mini-slump. Now that I have had the benefit of one additional day on this good, green earth (it was a lovely one, by the way, thanks for asking) let me amend that statement: Rizzo has broken out of his mini-slump. In his last 25 plate appearances, the fantastic Floridian put up a .381/.409/1.048 line, courtesy of four homers and a pair of doubles. That’ll play in any park. Rizzo’s fifth-inning home run today, which travelled well in excess of 400 feet to the deepest part of the ballpark, was also the most consequential play of the day (from a WPA perspective, at least), improving by 11.1 percent the Cubs’ chances of winning the game. Until the eighth inning, in fact, it constituted one-half of a slim 2-0 lead, the other half having come courtesy of a Starlin Castro third-inning sacrifice fly.
Bottom Play (WPA): There weren’t a lot of bad plays in this game, actually. The Cubs took the lead relatively early and never looked back. They didn’t have to, really, the way Jake Arrieta was pitching. But more on that later. For a second consecutive day, the worst play of the day by WPA belonged to Dexter Fowler, who actually later took steps towards busting out of a month-long slump with an eighth inning grand slam. In the second inning, however, with two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game, Fowler grounded weakly back to the pitcher, Kyle Gibson, who (somewhat cheerfully, one imagines) promptly tossed the ball to second base, forcing Kyle Schwarber out there and ending the inning. That single play reduced the Cubs’ chances of winning the game by 7.6 percent.
Key Moment: I mentioned earlier that the Cubs’ lead was relatively slim—just two runs—for much of the game, and that makes the key moment of this game (for me, at least) the Cubs’ offensive half of the eighth inning. Arrieta was dealing all day, but his pitch count was relatively high, and the eight-run cushion the Cubs provided courtesy of that six-run inning afforded Joe Maddon the breathing room to run Arrieta out for the bottom-half of the inning and, subsequently, the ninth. He ended the day throwing a four-hit complete game shutout on 122 pitches—a season high—but I’m not sure that would have been possible had the lead stayed at two runs going into the eighth. Arrieta’s performance was, of course, a big moment for the team, but I imagine it was also a big moment for him personally, as he was coming off one of the worst performances of his Cubs career against the Indians last week. The ace is back.
Trends to Watch: There’s a lot going on here, but it’s worth keeping a cautious weather-eye on Kris Bryant. In this Minnesota series, he went a fairly ugly 0-for-14, with four strikeouts and just a single walk. In the process, he snapped a Cubs season-high fourteen game hitting streak and lowered his batting average from .294 before the series to .277 today. I considered breaking out the zone profile here, but over just 14 plate appearances I’d hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from anything I might find there. Suffice to say that it’s something to keep an eye on—which is exactly what this section is all about—and that Bryant will find his offensive moxie sorely tested in the next week. That’s because …
Coming Next: … the Cubs are playing their next seven games against the Los Angeles Dodgers—they of the no. 3 staff ERA in the National League—and the St. Louis Cardinals—the league leaders, at 2.61. Pause for a moment and consider how outrageous that last number is. There are only seven qualified NL starters who boast a better ERA than the Cardinals do as a team. Freakin’
hacking ability voodoo magic. In any event, these two series will be key for the Cubs in a number of respects. For one thing, taking four out of seven games to close out the month would put the Cubs at 15-11 for June, a perfectly respectable position to be in. For another, the Cardinals have a seven game lead over the Cubs in the division, and while a Wild Card spot still gets you to the dance, it sure would be nice to take a healthy chunk out of that lead and enter July within striking distance of the division lead. It’ll be tough, though. Hack-neyed jokes aside, the Cardinals have been very good for a very long time, and whatever success the Cubs have against them will have to be well earned. And before they get to St. Louis, they’ll have to head out west to tangle with a certain Mr. Kershaw.
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