Top Play (WPA): There was something weird in the air Monday at Wrigley, as the Cubs returned home to face the Reds. Maybe it was the come down off of Sunday’s no-hitter/pajama party, maybe it was the full moon, or (more likely) it was just a funky baseball game, but nothing really seemed to make sense tonight, as the Cubs lost a wild and frustrating one on the North Side. The game got out of hand in the ninth, but for eight innings it was a close and ugly affair. There was some bad baserunning, some bad defense, some weird BABIP luck, and a few really weird homers. I’ll do my best to recap.
Addison Russell’s two-run double in the bottom of the fifth tied the game 3-3 and was, barely, the top WPA play of the night (.252). Russell’s double scored Starlin Castro (who had doubled) and Chris Denorfia (who had walked). Kyle Schwarber then singled in Russell on a grounder up the middle two batters later, which was the end of the night for Michael Lorenzen against the Cubs. Lorenzen was good through the first few innings before suddenly hitting a wall in the fifth–likely a result of the Cubs getting a better look at him the second and third time through the order. Russell, for his part, also added a garbage time home run in the ninth.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs made a little noise in the eighth, getting men on first and second with one out against J.J. Hoover. Bryan Price was unusually proactive, though, and brought in Aroldis Chapman to face Tommy La Stella, who promptly struck out (-.088).
This is a graph of Chapman’s pitch speed in La Stella’s at-bat. As you can see, the y-axis of this graph starts at 100.0 MPH, and maxes out at 104.5 MPH. Poor Tommy La Stella.
Key/Weird Moments: There were several extra-weird moments in high-leverage situations tonight, so, for posterity’s sake, I’ll try to hit all of them.
- Castro actually ended up making three errors tonight, but two of them were in the ninth when the game was already essentially out of reach. The first, though, came in the fourth inning, when Castro tried to double Joey Votto off of first after a line out. Castro threw the ball away, and Votto advanced to second. Votto would score the tying run from second on an Ivan De Jesus single two batters later. Castro continues his enigmatic play of late—he now has four errors and four hits over the past two games.
- Joe Maddon made several weird coaching decisions tonight. The most surprising to me was when he decided Kyle Hendricks should intentionally walk Joey Votto with men on first and second and two outs in the fifth. It was a tie game at the time, and the move essentially put two men in scoring position instead of one. This is a questionable move no matter how good Joey Votto is, and WPA suggests that the move increased the Reds’ chances of winning by a pretty significant 3.9 percent. I could understand the move if Maddon was planning on going right to Justin Grimm to face the next batter, but he instead kept the struggling Hendricks in. Brandon Phillips made the Cubs pay for this decision, singling to left and giving the Reds a 3-1 lead in the next at-bat (.238).
- In the bottom of the fifth, Russell didn’t tag up from second on a deep fly ball to right-center field. This basic baserunning error didn’t come back to haunt the Cubs—Schwarber singled in Russell anyway—but it could have.
- Anthony Rizzo also made a baserunning mistake in the fifth, and this one may have been more costly. Here’s some video:
By running to third there, Rizzo didn’t just risk Schwarber not scoring (which almost happened), but he also ended the Cubs’ scoring threat. Rizzo is not a player who usually makes mistakes like this, but on a weird night at Wrigley, this was just another ugly play in a night full of them.
- Maddon’s other questionable coaching decision came in the eighth. Down 7-5 and with Chapman on the mound, he decided to attempt a two-out double steal with Rizzo and Bryant. Bryant was gunned down at second, ending the scoring threat and sparking outrage on Cubs Twitter. This decision was much more defensible to me, though—no one had been caught stealing against Chapman in eight previous attempts this year. If the steal had been successful, a single would have tied the game, and I would say that a successful steal and a Castro single was actually more likely than stringing a few hits together against the dominant Chapman. Unfortunately, the unorthodox decision didn’t work—Bryant was out, and the Cubs gave up six runs in the ninth to put the game out of reach.
- This brings us to a final bit of weirdness, and a bit of positivity: Chapman pitched the ninth against the Cubs tonight… with an eight run lead (!!!!!). Apparently Bryan Price decided that Chapman just had to get a save—he had come on, remember, with a two run lead in the eighth—and that the outcome of tomorrow’s game doesn’t matter as much as that (meaningless) stat. This should be fine with Cubs fans, as it means that Chapman will likely be unavailable for Tuesday’s game. I guess Price might have just totally given up on winning games this year, but this is still weird, even for him.
Trend to Watch: Kyle Hendricks struggled again tonight, continuing this worrisome trend at the back of the Cubs rotation. For the third time in his last four starts, he allowed at least three runs, walked at least three batters, and didn’t make it into the sixth inning. The walks are especially worrisome—with his already borderline stuff, they are something he simple cannot afford. I won’t go into too much more detail on this, but suffice it to say that fixing his mechanical glitches and getting back on track is essential to the Cubs September success.
Justin Grimm had a worrisome outing as well, although it was likely more of a blip than a trend. He gave up two two-run homers in the sixth, both of which were worth exactly (.250) WPA for the Reds. The first, which Eugenio Suarez surprisingly was able to muscle out to right, came on a pretty good pitch—a 96.3 mph fastball down and away:
The second—by recent Reds call-up Adam Duvall—was more of a mistake. It came on a hanging curveball out over the plate:
In the first four batters he faced, then, Grimm turned a 5-3 lead into a 7-5 deficit. This is bad, especially when it comes from one of the bullpen’s most trustworthy members. It would be unwise to worry too much yet, though. Grimm has been great this year, but his 1.17 ERA entering tonight far outstripped his 2.45 DRA, and some regression was probably due at some point. Grimm should be alright going forward. His velocity was still there—he averaged 97.0 mph on his fastball tonight, and his cFIP of 73 is still very good. For now, I’m happy to chalk this one up to the weird variance of baseball. Especially on a night like tonight.
Coming Next: After this frustrating loss against lowly Cincinnati, Dan Haren will look to right the ship Tuesday against Anthony DeSclafani. Haren has struggled mightily since joining the Cubs, with a 6.31 ERA/6.33 FIP in only 25 2/3 innings over his first five starts. Haren’s good results with the Marlins this year were bolstered by an unsustainably lucky .248 BABIP against, and since coming to Chicago the more reasonable .284 BABIP against has led to a TAv of .331 for opposing hitters. This means that opposing hitters have basically hit as well as Josh Donaldson (.329 TAv) in their at-bats against Haren so far in Chicago. Haren’s cFIP of 118 is not promising either. Then again, Haren is likely to have only five or six more starts this year, and if he can just eat some innings while keeping the Cubs in the games that he starts, it won’t have been a total waste of a pickup. I’m still holding out hope that the veteran will provide a bit of productive stability to the back end of the Cubs rotation. Hopefully, that trend will start Tuesday.
DeSclafani, for his part, has basically been the definition of a league-average starter this year. His 3.84/4.10/103 ERA/DRA/cFIP line over 150.0 innings, shows him to be basically the archetype of a mid-rotation starter: useful, but not overpowering. He is the type of pitcher the Cubs have hit well this year—he pitches to contact with a lowish 6.8 K/9 rate, and he has issued a fairly high 3.0 BB/9. The Cubs’ offense was actually pretty good on Monday, and with DeSclafani pitching they could very easily keep it going against another middling righty. With Haren pitching, this has the potential to be a high-scoring affair from Wrigley.
This game also takes place on September 1st, so we could see the first of the September call ups in this one. Javier Baez—both his offense and his defensive usage—will be the most interesting player to watch, and a call up of Quintin Berry, who will most likely be used as in a pinch-running role, is imminent as well. Trevor Cahill and Tsuyoshi Wada will also be at Wrigley on Tuesday, with names like Carl Edwards, Jr and Rafael Soriano likely coming at some point soon as well. We could also see the first appearance of new Cubs outfielder Austin Jackson, who was acquired Monday night. I’m sure there will be more on new acquisitions and call ups as they debut, but I’m excited to see Joe Maddon’s September roster usage as the Cubs set themselves up for the Wild Card game and the playoffs beyond. The game starts at 7:05 Central.
Lead photo courtesy of Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports