Top Play (WPA): The Cubs came into this game having scored two runs or fewer in eight straight games. You could be forgiven for thinking that with a lineup featuring Mike Baxter and Jonathan Herrera that the Cubs would be likely to extend such a streak to nine. The Cubs appeared to be well on their way to doing so, clinging to a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth. Following a Mike Baxter single (.036), Jonathan Herrera stepped to the plate with one out and one on to face Jacob deGrom. You may be aware that Jonathan Herrera is one of the players most likely to elicit a cacophony of groans from Cubs fans, and there’s certainly good reason for that, given his .185 TAv coming into this game. This is what made what happened next so improbable and unexpected, as Herrera hit a ball that barely cleared the fence, (.194) actually bouncing off the top wall before exiting the yard, putting the Cubs up 4-1 and snapping the two runs or less streak.
Bottom Play (WPA): Jake Arrieta provided yet another impressive showing from a Cubs starting pitcher today, going eight innings and allowing only five hits for one earned run, all while striking out seven. Even the best pitchers, though, sometimes need a bit of luck and some excellent defense to keep things at bay. After allowing a single to Johnny Monell and then subsequently advancing him to second on a wild pitch, Arrieta toed the rubber to face the opposing pitcher, Jacob deGrom. The Mets’ hurler made solid contact shooting a line drive up the middle, but Arrieta made a lightning-fast move to catch the ball and wheeled around to second and fired a bullet to Starlin Castro. The throw was errant, but Castro made an absolutely stunning catch and upon review it was shown he had indeed kept his foot on the bag, finishing off a Cubs 1-4 double play (-.158).
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Key Moment: Getting that first run in has recently become something of a painful exercise for the Cubs, so it was great to see them strike early in this one. Following a Chris Coghlan walk (.040) and a Chris Denorfia single (.076), Herrera stepped up to the plate with one out and runners on first and third in the top of the second inning. Herrera, it should go without saying, is not exactly a hitter feared by pitchers around the league. Still, he demonstrated today that there are some things he can do well as a reserve on this team. Herrera laid down a very good safety squeeze (.033), allowing Coghlan to score, and getting the Cubs started earlier than has been typical over the last week or so.
Trend to Watch: You may have noticed that the Cubs’ starting pitching was absolutely stellar in the Mets series. Together, Hendricks, Lester, and Arrieta threw 21 innings while allowing only one earned run. Many have been frustrated with what has been viewed as inconsistent pitching and a black hole of a fifth starter’s spot, but performances like this remind us that the Cubs have had the benefit of a strong and very healthy front four in the rotation. Despite a fifth spot that has often been roughed up, the Cubs maintain the fifth best starting rotation FIP in MLB at 3.40 coming into today’s game. Yes, another Donn Roach start on Saturday is hanging over the team’s head, but for now, let’s just try to enjoy what the core of this rotation is giving us. Their health and effectiveness thus far have been phenomenal, and should it keep up, the Cubs will no doubt be in a strong position to take one of the wild card spots in the NL.
Coming Next: The Cubs (42-35) face off against the Marlins (34-46), looking to extend the winning streak to four. The Cubs send out borderline All-Star Jason Hammel (2.92 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 3.50 DRA) as he looks to rebound from his rain-delayed start on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Marlins are throwing Tom Koehler (3.66 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 4.27 DRA) in an attempt to pick up that rarest of beasts for their club this season: a victory against an above-.500 team.
Lead photo courtesy of Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports