Top Play (WPA): This game was back and forth through the first six innings, but Jay Bruce’s two-out, two-run homer off of Justin Grimm gave the Reds a 5-to-4 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish (.412). Grimm came on in relief of Clayton Richard, who was removed after 70 pitches and three runs through 5 2/3 innings. The decision to put Grimm in made sense at the time, although the results are a bit hard to stomach. He came on to face Todd Frazier, who had homered off of Richard in the first and was getting ready to face the Cubs’ current fifth starter for a third time. Grimm walked Frazier, however, and then delivered a meatball to Bruce, who deposited the ball into the right-field bleachers. The Cubs wouldn’t lead again.
Bottom Play (WPA): Jonathan Herrera grounded out weakly with one out and Chris Coghlan on third base in the eighth inning, severely damaging the Cubs’ chances of tying the game and avoiding Aroldis Chapman in the ninth (-.152). The Cubs struggled once again with runners in scoring position, going 2-for-11, and leaving nine men on base in total. At some point, the other shoe will drop, and the Cubs will break out, but for now the failure to capitalize with men on base will continue to be frustrating.
Key Moment: Brandon Phillips made an unbelievable play up the middle to rob Jorge Soler and the Cubs of what would have likely been a game-tying single in the seventh. This is a (spectacular) play that will be shown on repeat for the next few days, so we might as well give you another look at it here:
It is hard to be mad after a play like that, but it really hurt the Cubs’ chances in this one. Soler did have a two-run double that gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead in the fifth, and if he keeps hitting the ball like this, we will see more positive results sooner rather than later.
Trends to Watch: While the results were very mixed in this one, there was actually a lot to be optimistic about if you were watching closely. As has been well-documented, Dexter Fowler and Addison Russell have been struggling mightily over the past month or so. Each had a very encouraging game. Fowler ended up 2-for-3 with two walks, and Russell was 2-for-3 with one base on balls himself. Even more encouraging than the results was the contact and approach that each had at the plate. They saw 43 pitches between the two of them, and none of the hits were cheap. Russell seemed especially willing to take outside pitches to the opposite field, a habit that will serve him well over time. With the Schwarber/Bryant/Rizzo/Soler gauntlet now sitting menacingly in the middle of the order, the Cubs’ offense will be hard to stop if its table-setters can start getting on base like they are capable of. This is why Joe Maddon has Russell hitting ninth ahead of the top of the order, and if you squinted hard enough at this game, you could really see the outline of what could be a very good offense in the second half.
Also, I’ll be interested to continue watching Kyle Schwarber behind home plate. There still isn’t sufficient data on his pitch framing, but there were a few instances where he seemed to stab at a ball near the strike zone and perhaps dissuade the umpire from calling the pitch a strike. Clayton Richard also threw a wild pitch in the fourth inning that would have been a hard play for any catcher, but Schwarber did seem to react a bit more slowly to it than you would like–especially with a runner on third. Perhaps I’m nitpicking here, though, and Schwarber (1-for-4 with a single, a walk, and a rocket lineout) continues to look great at the plate.
Coming Next: The Cubs will look to even the series tonight against Cuban righty Raisel Iglesias. This will likely be the Cubs’ first of many looks at the 25-year-old, who signed a 7-year, $27-million deal with Cincinnati prior to last season. Iglesias has struggled through the first 29 innings of his major-league career, however, posting a 5.90 ERA/5.29 DRA slash line (in a very small sample size) and looking like nothing more than a back of the rotation starter. This matchup should give the Cubs a good chance to really get the offense going. Pitching for Chicago will be Jason Hammel, who will look to carry his first half success (2.86 ERA/3.39 DRA) into the second half of the season. Hammel left his last outing before the All-Star break with hamstring tightness, but the Cubs seem confident that he is good to go tonight. Here’s hoping, because Hammel’s continued success and health down the stretch could be the difference between a ‘just good’ and a great Cubs rotation.
Lead photo courtesy of David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports