Top Play (WPA): After a couple of disappointing losses to the Tigers in which the Cubs scored eight runs each, this game served as a good palate cleanser.
The Cubs took the lead in the third and never looked back. After back-to-back Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler singles and a Kyle Schwarber flyout, Chris Coghlan (who upped his ISO to .191) singled to right, scoring Russell and advancing Fowler to third (.148). Who helped most from keeping that bad taste of the last few days to linger was Anthony Rizzo, who turned on a 99-mph` Mike Foltynewicz fastball that must have looked the size of a grapefruit for a three-run homer, putting the Cubs up 4-0 (.162). “Folty” throws a high percentage of fastballs on the first pitch—not unexpected for a young pitcher who throws nearly 100—and Rizzo pounced, lacing the ball just inside the right-field foul pole, a shot that might have landed on Sheffield Avenue prior to this season’s video board additions.
Bottom Play (WPA): The top of the fourth inning looked to be trouble for Jake Arrieta. Following a poor error by Kris Bryant and a squib infield single by Freddie Freeman, Arrieta battled the always-frustrating A.J. Pierzynski, inducing a slick 3-6-1 double play initiated by Rizzo (-.087).
Key Moment: To end the Braves’ threat in the fourth, Arrieta struck out Adonis Garcia, looking. But that wouldn’t be the last of the jams the Cubs ace would face.
The very next inning, the Braves put runners on second and third with one out, due to a single by Jace Peterson, a wild pitch, a single by Michael Bourne, and a stolen base. With his pitch count mounting, Arrieta took Foltynewicz to a nearly disastrous full count before striking out the opposing pitcher on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. Arrieta managed a Nick Markakis groundout to end the inning, icing the Braves’ best chance of the night to put together a rally.
Before the game, the Arrieta vs. Atlanta lineup matchup looked intriguing. Although their team TAv was near the bottom in the majors at .256, the Braves boasted the fewest strikeouts per plate appearance in the National League. Arrieta, on the other hand, had struck out over a batter per inning on the season, ensconced in the top tier of starting pitchers. The Braves battled well against an Arrieta curveball that was clearly at its best, forcing the pitcher to throw over 90 pitches by the end of the fifth; but Arrieta K’d seven, throwing 75 strikes in 107 pitches. He allowed zero fly balls, key in a week in which the wind has blown out frequently. In the end, the bearded starter allowed nary a run, lowering his ERA to 2.30.
Trend to Watch: The offense is on fire. Over the past week, the Cubs have posted a .300 ISO, tops in the majors, a .576 slugging percentage, second, and 14 home runs, also second. As I mentioned up top, they scored eight in each loss to the Tigers, plus seven in this contest, due to a barrage of home runs from their top power hitters. Rizzo and Russell put balls in the seats tonight, the latter a cherry on top of a good offensive showing.
I wrote just over a week ago about the Cubs’ power struggles relative to the rest of the league, citing an anemic bench and less-than-optimal roster construction as the prime culprits. However, I did expect improvement due to the arrival of Kyle Schwarber, impending adjustments from Bryant and Russell, and a creative lineup featuring all of Schwarber, Russell, Coghlan, and Miguel Montero. The Cubs’ wOBA in the past week is .387, third in MLB.
Coming Next: Kyle Hendricks (3.97 ERA/97 cFIP/3.97 DRA) takes the bump in game two against Atlanta, facing tough lefty Shelby Miller (2.43/95/2.51). Miller has only allowed .5 HR/9 this season, but the Cubs’ bats hope to find some juicy pitches to hit (#CubsFruitTwitter). The Cubs stand four games behind the scurvy-less Pirates—they must be eating their oranges—but have a healthy four game leg up on the Giants.
Lead photo courtesy of Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports