MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

Game 138 Recap: Cardinals 4 Cubs 3

Top Play (WPA): The top WPA play of this deflating loss was Stephen Piscotty’s two-run double in the eighth (+.508). It put the Cardinals up 4-3, and turned what looked like a possible series sweep into a very disappointing afternoon.

Piscotty’s double came off of Fernando Rodney, but it (again) was actually a rough outing by Pedro Strop that gave the Cardinals life. Strop entered the game in the eighth with the Cubs up 3-1, but gave up a walk to Mark Reynolds and a one out hit to pinch hitter Greg Garcia. Clayton Richard then came on, but he was no better: a single from Matt Carpenter made it 3-2 and set the stage for Piscotty’s misdeeds.

Against the Cardinals in 2015, Strop has now given up nine earned runs in just 5 1/3 innings of work; it’s by far his worst performance against any team in the league. He has been a solid reliever for most the year, but, especially after his struggles last night, I would have rather seen Justin Grimm or even Rodney start the eighth. His struggles against this specific team are almost definitely sample-size dependent, but pitching him in a high-leverage spot just seemed like it was asking for trouble today.

Bottom Play (WPA): This was actually Dexter Fowler’s strike out against Trevor Rosenthal leading off the ninth (-.068), but other missed opportunities loom much larger in the memory for the Cubs. The Cubs left nine men on base today, and were only able to muster three runs despite eleven hits. Much of this has to do with sequencing luck, but the stranded baserunners were especially frustrating in a game that ended up so close. Kyle Schwarber, in particular, struggled, striking out four times today, twice with men in scoring position and fewer than two outs. He appears rusty after his rib injury, but hopefully his bat will heat up soon as the Cubs head down the stretch. I would bet that it will.

Key Moment: I really wish this moment could be something that Randall Grichuk couldn’t do–throw–but instead it is something that the Cubs, inexplicably, didn’t do. Both Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero sat on the bench as David Ross, Jonathan Herrera, and Chris Denorfia hit in the eighth and ninth innings of a very close game. With a two-run lead, I could sort of understand hitting Herrera instead of Bryant—you want to give Bryant a full day off if possible and save him for a potential higher-leverage situation later on. But once Jon Lester came out of the game, it made no sense for Ross to face righty Jonathan Broxton in the eighth, and then it made even less sense that Bryant wouldn’t hit for Denorfia when the Cubs were down one in the ninth. Bryant has the kind of power that could easily have tied the game with one swing, but he never got that chance today. Joe Maddon is fantastic, but he mismanaged this one today.

Trend to Watch: Enough negativity. Jon Lester was fantastic today. The Cardinals quickly scored one against him in the first, but that was it, as Lester dominated their lineup for seven innings. He allowed only two hits (and zero after the first inning), and struck out seven en route to one of his best performances of the year. Let’s take a look at how he did it. Here is his pitch log from today, via Brooks Baseball:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out) SNIPs / % LWTS
FF (Four-seam Fastball) 93.3 (95.3) 4.88 9.71 58 39 / 67.2% 25 / 43.1% 2 / 3.4% 8 (1) 31 / 62.0% -1.52
SI (Sinker) 92.6 (93.8) 8.23 4.98 5 3 / 60.0% 2 / 40.0% 0 / 0.0% 1 (0) 2 / 50.0% -0.31
CH (Changeup) 86.0 (86.5) 6.81 3.19 4 2 / 50.0% 2 / 50.0% 2 / 50.0% 0 (0) 2 / 50.0% -0.05
CU (Curveball) 76.9 (79.3) -4.81 -2.49 12 6 / 50.0% 5 / 41.7% 3 / 25.0% 1 (1) 5 / 45.5% 0.04
FC (Cutter) 88.8 (91.0) -1.18 4.14 26 17 / 65.4% 15 / 57.7% 5 / 19.2% 6 (0) 11 / 55.0% -2.14

Lester, as usual, worked primarily with his fastball/cutter combo: 85 percent of his pitches were fastballs today. Early on, he relied on command, moving these pitches from corner to corner as he worked through the Cardinals lineup. When he has his command, this has always worked well for him, and can produce dominance in the early innings. We’ve seen Lester get in trouble this year the second and third time through the order, though, as hitters wise up to his fastball. Here, also via Brooks Baseball, is how he maintained his dominance throughout the entire start today:

The small fluctuations here (between about 94 and 89 miles per hour) are the difference in velocity between Lester’s fastball and his cutter. As you can see, Lester used these pitches early on, with only one exception. As he got deeper into the game, though, he began to effectively mix in his curveball—those big dips you see—as a pitch the Cardinals had not gotten a look at early on. This is the roadmap of an ideal Lester performance: good fastball and cutter command early sets up the curveball later in the game. And vice versa: once Lester starts to mix in his slow curve, all bets are off for the hitters against the fastballs. This is a great way to combat the rise in offense that we see league-wide the third time through the order, and Jon Lester is usually good enough to be able to pull it off. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of this as we head towards October.

Coming Next: This loss smarts a bit, as it drops the Cubs to 7.5 games back of the Cardinals. With only three games remaining against the Redbirds, the division is now not much more than a pipe dream. On the bright side, the Cubs just won a series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, have still won five of six, and now trail the Pirates (who play the Reds tonight) by only 2.5 games for the first Wild Card spot. Even better: Jake Arrieta is starting tomorrow in Philadelphia. 

The Cubs will be seeking their first win against the Phillies this year, having been swept by the worst team in baseball (54-85) back in July. There will be no Cole Hamels this time around, though. Instead, 23-year-old Alec Asher, who was actually acquired from the Rangers in the Hamels trade, will get the ball against Arrieta. At the time of the trade, BP’s Kate Morrison described Asher as a Colby Lewis-type: a big, right-handed, back-of-the-rotation starter with a standard four pitch mix. Asher has struggled so far in his first two big league starts: he has posted a 10.61 ERA and an early 7.32 DRA in 9 1/3 innings of work. On paper, this should be an extremely lopsided matchup, especially with the dominant Arrieta (2.31 DRA/74 cFIP) facing the lackluster Phillies offense. I’ve heard, though, that baseball isn’t played on paper. [Ed.: Confirmed.]

This four-game set will then see Kyle Hendricks, Dan Haren, and Jason Hammel face off with Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Harang, and Aaron Nola, respectively. The back end of the rotation looked quite good during this last cycle, and the Cubs will hope that they can continue that trend in the small-ish confines of Citizens Bank Park. It is usually hard to ask for more than a split in a four-game series, but in this case the Cubs will need to take care of business against the lowly Phillies if they want to catch up with the Pirates and keep (very) unlikely dreams of the division alive. With these matchups and ambitions, three of four is probably not too much to ask. Game one is tomorrow at 6:05 Central.

Lead photo courtesy Jasen Vinlove—USA Today Sports.

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2 comments on “Game 138 Recap: Cardinals 4 Cubs 3”


Ross is the better defensive catcher. I’d always leave him in the last part of a close game that the Cubs are leading.

Isaac Bennett

Really enjoyed this. Thanks Nate.

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