Top Play (WPA): Part of the beauty of having the best pitcher in baseball on the mound is that an RBI knock in the third inning feels like a game-winner. That is not quite what happened tonight (more on that in a bit), but Chase Utley’s triple to drive in Jimmy Rollins felt like the end long before the actual end (+.174)Utley ripped a 92-mph Jason Hammel fastball over Dexter Fowler’s head to give the Phill…err…Dodgers a 1-0 lead. While Hammel was effective for most of the evening, it’s safe to say he missed his spot on this offering to Utley:

Bottom Play (WPA): As is usually the case when an opposing starting pitcher completely dominates, the three worst plays by WPA were all earned by the winning team. Adrian Gonzalez’s shallow fly out to Fowler in center wins the top spot as it stranded a runner on third base (-.057).

Key Moment: Every time Clayton Kershaw snapped off a slider or curveball felt like a key moment. Let’s take a look at his pitch chart:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out) SNIPs / % LWTS
FF (Four-seam Fastball) 93.7 (95.3) 1.56 10.01 53 38 / 71.7% 30 / 56.6% 5 / 9.4% 9 (2) 29 / 65.9% -0.89
SL (Slider) 88.3 (91.4) -1.75 2.26 36 27 / 75.0% 22 / 61.1% 12 / 33.3% 2 (0) 25 / 73.5% -2.33
CU (Curveball) 73.4 (75.7) -0.53 -11.03 19 14 / 73.7% 11 / 57.9% 4 / 21.1% 2 (1) 12 / 70.6% -0.56

Kershaw threw 55 breaking pitches, generating 16 whiffs and 37 SNIPs (strikes not in play). Predictably, this led to 14 strikeouts for the southpaw.

Add in one punch-out for Kenley Jansen while collecting the save, plus the 16 the Giants mustered on Thursday, and that totals 31 strikeouts in the last two games for the Cubs. You knew the lefty aces loomed large, but you certainly hoped for a better outcome than that.

Kershaw did make one mistake. After snapping off one of his most vicious curves of the night, he surprised everyone besides Anthony Rizzo by leaving a 3-2 fastball up and over-the-middle for Rizzo to hammer.

Trend to Watch: The aforementioned strikeouts, I suppose. Although, if you paid attention the last two games, the gaudy totals had more to do with ridiculous stuff being delivered from the mound than it did with hitter incompetence. Kershaw was simply untouchable virtually all game and Madison Bumgarner wasn’t too far behind the night before.

What seemed like a borderline-safe 7.5 game Wild Card lead 48 hours ago suddenly has been reduced to just 4.5 games, as the Giants won again by beating the Cardinals 5-4. You didn’t think anything about this was going to be easy, did you?

Coming Next: The starting pitching advantage tilts to the Cubs favor, as Jon Lester (3.14 FIP, 1.7 WARP) faces Mat Latos (3.55, 1.3) in Saturday’s middle game of the weekend set. Would you believe, however, that even though Lester’s ERA is a full 1.37 runs superior, Latos owns the better DRA (4.07, 3.95, respectively)? At any rate, the 2015 version of Latos will not be confused with the Kluber, Bumgarner, and Kershaw triumvirate that veritably shut down the Cubs this week. Despite tonight’s loss, you have to feel good about the Cubs chances to still win the series with Lester and Jake Arrieta trotting out the next two days.

It’s a rather innocuous three-game losing streak given the stiff competition, but the Cubs still face a crucial weekend to avoid falling into a deeper skid. Lester was paid for moments such as this, and he’ll get an opportunity to play stopper on Saturday night in Los Angeles. Game time scheduled start is 8:10.

Lead photo courtesy of Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

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