Top Play (WPA): Everyone loves a sweep, and this one was especially sweet, given how trying the series with the Reds ended up being. Defense, offense, and pitching all came together in this one, as the Cubs played a great overall game and came away with the win because of it. There were a number of great plays on the day, both in the field and at bat, but the top play, statistically, is also the one most likely to stick in fans’ minds for a very long time. The Cubs came into the bottom of the fifth inning being no-hit by Rubby de la Rosa, and down 1-0 on the game. However, we all know how quickly things can change in a close game, and change they did. Kris Bryant came to the plate to lead off the fifth inning for the Cubs, and what he did next, there are simply no words in the English language (or any other, for that matter) that can be considered a proper explanation for it:
Yes, Bryant drilled an 0-2 pitch off of de la Rosa 495 feet off of the top of the left-field video board (.171). We’ve seen Kris hit his fair share of enormous home runs, but this ranks not only as his personal best, but as baseball’s furthest of the season thus far. A 23-year-old rookie with sure-handed third-base defense and enough power to do the above? Count me in, please.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Diamondbacks lost this game, but not for lack of trying. Indeed, they certainly had opportunities to score runs, but seemed to consistently squander them. Kyle Hendricks worked out of jams throughout his five innings in the game, and left with Arizona having only put up one run on the board. The bottom play of the day came in the top of the sixth inning, during what was yet another Diamondbacks scoring opportunity. The speedy A.J. Pollock drew a walk (.054) to lead off the inning, bringing up slugger Paul Goldschmidt with a runner on first and no outs. The question of whether or not Arizona would be sending Pollock in this situation seemed an obvious one, given Pollock’s propensity for base stealing. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, the send of Pollock coincided with Goldschmidt lining a ball right at Austin Jackson in right field for an out, and so Jackson was able to double Pollock off at first (-.108), essentially killing any potential rally.
Key Moment: Tying the game up was nice, and was especially exciting because of how it occurred in this one (see above), but taking the lead is even more fun. The Diamondbacks ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Chris Coghlan singled, Anthony Rizzo walked, both runners advanced on a wild pitch, and finally, Kris Bryant walked. This brought up Miguel Montero with no outs and the bases loaded. Now, batting Miggy against a lefty reliever seemed like an odd choice at the time. There is certainly an argument to be made that Joe Maddon maybe should have gotten a right-handed bat off the bench, but all’s well that ends well. The veteran catcher took a 1-0 pitch and blasted it for a grand slam to put the Cubs up 5-1, and the Diamondbacks never caught back up. Facing off against Welington Castillo this weekend drudged up a number of fan concerns about his trade, so it was good to see Montero quiet any and all doubters, as he’s been enormously valuable to this team and looks set to be so for another two seasons after this one.
Trend to Watch: Javier Baez is only five games into his 2015 season with the Cubs, but he already looks like a different player than the one we saw in 2014. Baez has two walks, only three strikeouts, and a home run in his 18 plate appearances in this go-around at the majors. Yes, that’s a very small sample size, but when put together with his excellent defense at second and third and good baserunning, it’s certainly something to be optimistic about. Baez could be a real game-changer for this team if he can continue to put it together in September. A positionally versatile, power-hitting young player could really bolster the Cubs as they head towards the playoffs, and that obviously has to be the hope with Baez.
Coming Next: The Cubs (78-57) begin their road series with the Cardinals tomorrow, the first of 13 games against the division rival Cards and Pirates in the next 20 days, looking to gain ground in both the Wild Card race and the NL Central. Dan Haren (3.89 ERA, 4.93 FIP, 4.55 DRA) moves ever closer to his inevitable retirement, as he takes the mound for the Cubs, while the Cardinals counter with their ode to alliteration Lance Lynn (2.80 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 4.22 DRA). The game is set for 2:15 ET and will be broadcast on WGN.
Lead photo courtesy of Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports