Top Play (WPA): The top play of this mostly very fun night came when Kyle Schwarber did this to a baseball (.306):
This three-run homer in the third inning off of Matt Cain gave the Cubs a lead that they would never relinquish. Coming into tonight, Schwarber had been 3 for his last 26, including a four-strikeout game on Monday against Corey Kluber. He continues to hit the ball hard, though, and I would submit that there really isn’t much to worry about for the 22-year-old phenom. Schwarber’s average exit velocity of 94.02 mph is still third in the league, second only to Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Cabrera (Baseball Savant). That is pretty good. This particular homer left his bat at 108 mph, and was beaten only by the 109 mph exit velocity on Miguel Montero’s fourth-inning dinger.
Bottom Play (WPA): With one out and men on first and third, Dexter Fowler grounded out to Matt Duffy at third, who threw Starlin Castro out at the plate (-.086). This play really didn’t end up mattering much, though, because Schwarber’s bomb came in the next at-bat. I don’t feel like being too negative after this one (and it’s pretty late on the east coast), so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Key Moment: Castro actually had a great night at the plate, and to my eye looked more comfortable than we’ve seen him in a long time. He went 3-for-4 with a hard-hit single, a line-drive double, a well-hit fly out, and a homer—this homer, which I am dubbing the key moment of the night.
Just as a fan of the guy, it is great to see Castro have a good night, but if he turns his offense around in a platoon role it could be a huge and tangible bonus for the Cubs down the stretch. This is because Castro, when right, is an incredibly valuable offensive player. Just last year, remember, he OPS’d .777 and had a TAv of .279 as a shortstop. One great night against struggling Giants pitching doesn’t mean that Castro is out of the woods. But his contact has been solid going back the past few days, and if he has made some adjustments he could be (yet another) dangerous hitter in the Cubs order.
Trend to Watch: I’ve spent a lot of time so far writing about Cubs homers, and I’m going to double down in this section (again, the early part of this game was really fun). The Cubs potential power has finally become kinetic in August, so let’s take a look at some stats dealing with this trend. In August:
- The Cubs are first in MLB with 40 home runs (1.8 per game). The Mets are second with 39, and the Blue Jays are third with 35.
- The Cubs also lead the league in ISO this month, with a .236 mark as a team. This stat came before the Schwarber, Castro, and Miguel Montero hit longballs Tuesday night.
- The Cubs are only third in baseball in slugging percentage with an even .500. They have a team OPS of .844.
None of this is likely a huge revelation if you have been watching the Cubs hit this month, but sometimes it is fun to look at the results of a month long hot streak. The coolest thing about this is that it is a hot streak that doesn’t really have to end: the mainstays in this lineup should be there for a long time, and the August BABIP of .314 is actually pretty sustainable.
A negative trend: the bullpen was shaky, and it cost the Cubs an easy blowout victory. It started with some bizarre bullpen management. Joe Maddon allowed Arrieta to start the seventh of an 8-1 game even after he had thrown 99 pitches and labored through the sixth, but then promptly took him out after a bloop single to Marlon Byrd. Even weirder, he went to Justin Grimm first out of the bullpen. Grimm, who has a 1.24/2.40/69 ERA/DRA/cFIP line hadn’t worked since Friday and he might have needed work, but an 8-1 blowout doesn’t seem to be an appropriate time to use one of the Cubs’ best relievers, especially with some tough match-ups coming up. Maddon probably has a good reason for pitching Grimm, but it was hard to understand in the moment.
Maddon then went to the struggling Tommy Hunter in the eighth and he… struggled. A few hits and a walk to the usually-more-impatient Byrd loaded the bases and forced Clayton Richard into the game in an uncomfortable spot. I was surprised that we didn’t see Richard earlier in the game, and it might have been nice to get the bullpen a rest by putting him in the seventh and letting him go (hopefully) a couple of innings. As it worked out, Richard quickly gave up two hits, and the score was suddenly 8-5. This forced Maddon to use both Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon to finish this one off (which they did). A win is a win, and there were tons of positives in this game, but it would have been nice to keep the bullpen rested headed into the rest of this somewhat daunting road trip.
Coming Next: The Cubs have now won six games in a row for the third time in the last month, and have won 21 of 25 overall. They will look to stretch their streak to seven and clinch a vital series victory in San Francisco tonight, when Kyle Hendricks will face off with Jake Peavy. The Cubs were only able to touch up Peavy for two runs when they faced off in Chicago a few weeks ago, but they forced him out of the game after 101 pitches and five innings. On the year, Peavy has been decidedly below average, with a 4.35 ERA/4.92 DRA line. And his cFIP of 109 does not suggest that much positive regression will be coming any time soon, no matter how much Peavy yells at Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs should get some good chances to score in this one.
Hendricks, for his part, has struggled over the past month, but he was a bit better in his last start against Atlanta. He allowed three runs and only got through five innings, but some tough hits fell in, and his seven strikeouts were a step in the right direction. His .092 FIP/.150 xFIP from this start back up my eye test, and hopefully he can build on this progress tonight. If Hendricks can keep the ball down and keep producing ground balls at a high rate—57.8 percent this month—the Cubs should have a good chance at extending another long winning streak. For what it’s worth, Hendricks still has a cFIP of 96 (four percent better than league average) for the year. With Bumgarner and Kershaw looming on this road trip, this would be an important game to win.
Lead photo courtesy of Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports