Top Play (WPA):
Were I the proactive sort, I would have had to rewrite this section of the recap several times because I would have started early. As it is, I only have to write it once: Kris Bryant, following maybe the most deflating half inning of the season for the Cubs, launched a 1-0 cement mixer slider from John Axford into the left-center-field bleachers, giving the Cubs a walk-off 9-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies (.913).
After this weekend’s embarrassing sweep at the hands of the lowly Phillies, the Cubs needed a redemptive win, and Bryant’s two-run shot sealed what had looked like gut-wrenching loss. Like Proust smelling petites madeleines, the homer evokes strong memories of Aramis Ramirez’s catalytic 2007 walk-off.
Bottom Play (WPA): Before Bryant’s heroics, the Cubs sandwiched a Dexter Fowler walk with two flyouts by Addison Russell and David Ross (-.080 and -.101), all but dashing the scuffling offense’s chances of mounting a comeback. Luckily, this recap did not have to lead with these.
Key Moment: In the bottom half of the fourth, the offense awoke. We’ve been waiting for what seems like weeks for the Cubs’ hitters to get back on track, and they managed to string together impressive at-bats ending in success against Colorado starter Jorge de la Rosa.
Fowler continued to walk like it’s his job (it is). Jorge Soler made de la Rosa pay for throwing him an inexplicable 0-2 fastball (really, no pitcher in the league is unaware of Soler’s breaking/offspeed Achilles heel). Starlin Castro hit a hot grounder through the hole on the left side (the first of two hits, his first multi-hit game in nearly a month). And Addison Russell ripped a double into left field, the highlight of another impressive day for the young second baseman.
By the end of the inning, the Cubs put up a six-spot against de la Rosa, an offensive outburst that nearly cleansed the Cubs and Cubs fans’ collective palates of the weekend sweep.
Trend to Watch: I’ve already detailed Russell’s recent changes in approach, and they paid dividends tonight, but contributor Stan Croussett shrewdly pointed out something I didn’t discuss. Russell has changed his batting stance recently, bringing his arms in front of his body in a way that almost mirrors Anthony Rizzo. He’s also closed his front half a little bit, and his stride is now more compact. Whether this is more the work of Russell alone or a collaboration with hitting coach John Mallee, we don’t know, but it’s safe to assume that the changes are working quickly in Russell’s favor.
Addison Russell tonight compared to 6/17/15. Obvious adjustment. Maybe it's to credit for his recent hot streak? pic.twitter.com/vTDJR7TJFH
— Stan (@Crewsett) July 28, 2015
On the other end of the spectrum, we have to talk about the bullpen again. After flashing recent dominance in the middle and late innings, things have become shaky again in the ‘pen, with Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano failing quite spectacularly to shut the door on an important victory. Motte, having won Joe Maddon’s trust early in the season due to his unflappable veteran demeanor, should find himself pitching in lower leverage situations again soon. He can’t ride his heater to ninth-inning effectiveness.
Soriano might find himself the victim of a DFA soon. His middling velocity and inability to step up in the key situations he’s faced in his few appearances will probably find him on the way out of Wrigley Field, especially with the front office looking for bullpen help on the trade market. He simply did not provide the club the veteran ‘pen arm it needed.
Coming Next: The Cubs look to rebound from the ugly weekend series with a series victory against the Rockies. Their playoff percentage has nosedived the past few days, so they’ll turn to erstwhile Iowa Cubs Dallas Beeler (6.43 ERA/105 cFIP/2.81 DRA) to help that trend in the correct direction again. He faces Yohan Flande (4.24/106/3.06).
Look for Fowler and Russell to continue their hot streaks at the plate and for Bryant to hopefully start a new one after his walk-off. Troy Tulowitzki is a newly minted Toronto Blue Jay, so the Rockies lineup will feature a much different look.
Savor this one. It’s not often your 23-year-old, All-Star, rookie third baseman hits a walk-off homer to bounce back from the season’s low point.
Lead photo courtesy of Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports