Top Play (WPA): Kris Bryant is a National League All-Star in this, his rookie season. Part of the reason why is that he frequently—more frequently, indeed, than most—does things like the thing he did in the first inning of today’s game. What he did, to be specific, was hit a ball past the glove of a diving Tyler Saladino, the White Sox third baseman, and into the left-field corner. Left fielder Melky Cabrera had some trouble corralling the ball down the line, and that allowed Dexter Fowler (who’d reached on a clean liner to center field) to easily score the first run of the game. Bryant reached third base, content (one imagines) in the knowledge that he’d improved his team’s chances of winning the game by 15.1 percent. It’s a fun play. You can watch it here:
Bottom Play (WPA): The rhythm of this game was such that the White Sox never really got anything going against Jake Arrieta, who was absolutely dominant for yet another consecutive outing. That meant that the Sox’s highest-leverage moment—and, consequently, their bottom play by WPA—came in the ninth inning of the game, with the score 3-1 in favor of the Cubs. Emilio Bonifacio, a member of the distantly-remembered 2014 club, dug into the box to lead off the inning against Arrieta, who was working towards a two-hit complete game. On a full-count pitch, Bonifacio struck out swinging, reducing the South Siders’ chances by 3.3 percent. Adam Eaton, who followed Bonifacio, and J.B. Shuck, who followed Eaton, played to form by striking out as well, making Arrieta’s strikeout total for his nine-inning day a symmetrical nine.
Key Moment: Arrieta wasn’t just brilliant on the mound. He’d talked before the season began about working on his swing and hitting his first major-league bomb this year. In the fifth inning, he came through with a line drive home run that ended up landing just over his own face on the small video board in left field. It brought the crowd to its feet for a lenghty ovation and put the Cubs up 3-0 in a game in which it felt like they were always in control. Watch and enjoy:
Trends to Watch: The offense still, still, isn’t really clicking. It’s been nearly a month-long issue, and it’s shown no real signs of abating as the team heads into the break. That same break will provide an opportunity to partially test Joe Maddon’s long-standing hypothesis that the Cubs’ offensive struggles have been caused by a lack of rest. Setting aside All-Stars Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the team will no doubt enjoy the opportunity to go home to their families, go on a fishing trip, or generally lounge around on a couch. This will be particularly important for young stars Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, who have yet to get fully acclimated to the rigors of a big-league season.
On the positive side of things, this game was yet another example of the continued dominance of Cubs’ pitchers. For the last 30 days, their 2.93 FIP is lowest in the majors, and their 2.61 ERA is third. One shudders (with delight) to imagine what the Cubs’ record might have been at this point if the offense had been somewhat less anemic. Pitching coach Chris Bosio—a holdover from the Dale Sveum era in Chicago—has clearly found something that works for him, his pitchers, and the front office. Long may it continue.
Coming Next: Tomorrow night, Rizzo and Bryant will compete in the Home Run Derby (which my colleague Brett Taylor covered here a few days ago, and Scott Lindholm covered today), and on Tuesday, they’ll play in the 86th edition of MLB’s midsummer classic. Until then, Cubs fans can rest and relax knowing that the Cubs, for the first time since the magical 2008 season, are entering the break in position for a playoff berth. Their 47-40 record is above—well above—reasonable preseason expectations for this young team, and the smart money is on the front office adding a key piece before this month comes to a close. This has been a fun season, for the first time in a long while. Onwards, to bigger and better things.
Lead photo courtesy of Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports