Game 145 Recap: Cubs 3 Pirates 2

Top Play (WPA): With the Cubs leading 2-1 in the eighth, the Pirates had their leadoff batter reach for the first time all night on a Neil Walker infield single. Francisco Cervelli followed, hitting a knuckling liner at Javier Baez playing shortstop. Pinch-runner Pedro Florimon was going on the pitch, thus making a catch an easy double play, except that Javy was unable to handle the well-struck ball, and Florimon instead raced to third representing the tying run just 90 feet away (+.252). It’s a rare non-scoring top play achieved by the losing team. Another oddity is that the bottom play would occur on the very next play.

Bottom Play (WPA): With Arrieta continuing to rack up pitches, Josh Harrison came to the plate with an opportunity to tie the game. Harrison hit a slow chopper to Baez at short, which he fielded smoothly and fired to Miguel Montero at the plate to cut down Florimon (-.247). Clint Hurdle challenged the play, but the out call stood to preserve the Cubs lead for the moment.

Key Moment:  After Pedro Alvarez walked following Harrison, Gregory Polanco grounded to Starlin Castro at second. Castro headily fired to first to retire Polanco, in-turn getting Alvarez in a rundown. Pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez scored the equalizer on contact, but Baez would make his second excellent play of the inning, throwing to Montero to keep Harrison from scoring the go-ahead run. Just your average, game-tying, 4-3-6-2-5 inning-ending double play. Baseball is fun.

Anthony Rizzo snapped out of an 0-for-15 slump in the sixth, lining a base hit to left with one out. Rizzo then promptly swiped second for his 16th(!) theft of the season, setting the stage for Kris Bryant to do his thing. KB would not disappoint, smacking an RBI-double into the left field corner. The Cubs weren’t done yet, as Montero followed with a single to move Bryant to third. Joe Maddon then initiated a brilliant safety-squeeze, with an outstanding baserunner on third (Bryant), and an excellent bat-handler at the plate (Castro). Castro executed the bunt perfectly, easily scoring Bryant from third.

Jake Arrieta displayed his usual brilliance (8 IP, 1 ER), but tonight he wins the MLSC (most lost sleep caused) award. After a two-out single by Polanco, Starling Marte hit a harmless dribbler back to Arrieta, which he promptly eephus-tossed over Rizzo’s head at first, allowing Polanco to trot home to cut the Cub lead to 2-1.

With one out in the 11th, pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella laced a would-be double into the corner in left, but Marte is absurd, if you didn’t already know:

Neither team would seriously threaten again until the 12th, when Chris Denorfia singled to right to start the inning. Pinch-runner Quintin Berry advanced to second on an excellent read of a wild pitch, and on to third on an Austin Jackson single. Rizzo came through with the eventual game-winner, hitting a sacrifice fly to left to score Berry (on another excellent play by Marte, I might add. What a joy it is to watch him play defense.) Hector Rondon finished it off by collecting the last six outs.

Trend to Watch: Arrieta was once again dominant, as has become completely commonplace. I’ve been tracking his velocity as we get later in the season, and I continue to be confounded by the gains he’s making. Check out tonight’s chart:

Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out) SNIPs / % LWTS
FF (Four-seam Fastball) 96.8 (98.2) -6.46 8.85 26 16 / 61.5% 8 / 30.8% 1 / 3.8% 2 (1) 14 / 58.3% -0.29
SI (Sinker) 96.3 (97.6) -8.02 7.43 34 22 / 64.7% 9 / 26.5% 1 / 2.9% 6 (3) 16 / 57.1% 0.18
CH (Changeup) 90.4 (91.6) -8.98 2.36 11 6 / 54.5% 6 / 54.5% 1 / 9.1% 1 (0) 5 / 50.0% -0.57
SL (Slider) 91.9 (93.7) 2.87 3.47 33 28 / 84.8% 26 / 78.8% 4 / 12.1% 12 (4) 16 / 76.2% -2.02
CU (Curveball) 82.7 (84.2) 6.39 -7.73 13 8 / 61.5% 6 / 46.2% 4 / 30.8% 1 (0) 7 / 58.3% -0.61

His four-seamer averaged nearly 97 mph, while topping out over 98 mph. His curve also ratcheted-up close to two mph higher than his season norms.

Arrieta has oft cited an improved diet and strengthening regimen as a key to his success. This is showing up in spades, as the chart below shows us his velocity steadily increasing  as the season has progressed all of the way to the point of his fastball averaging 1.5 mph faster than his April mark, and topping out tonight at an average of 96.8 mph. This despite the fact that he has now surpassed his career-high innings-pitched total by a whopping 51 frames (207 to 156).

Month Fourseam Sinker Change Slider Curve
4/15 94.29 94.37 88.52 90.44 80.11
5/15 95.16 95.46 89.63 90.63 80.92
6/15 95.02 95.57 90.51 91.01 81.41
7/15 95.24 95.57 90.11 91.47 81.77
8/15 95.14 95.22 89.62 90.60 81.33
9/15 95.87 95.81 89.60 91.96 81.93

He continues to generate an absurd number of SNIPs (58 tonight) due to his dizzying late movement. What do you get when you combine a power-pitching, video game-stuff touting beast who hardly walks anyone? How about a guy who has a chance to break the all-time major-league post-All-Star break record for ERA. Enjoy the history you’re witnessing, folks.

Coming Next: After suffering a tough loss in the series opener on Tuesday afternoon, just 48 hours later the Cubs have the chance to win the series outright. Kyle Hendricks (4.08 ERA, 3.77 DRA) has the opportunity to secure the series victory for the visitors, while Charlie Morton (4.43, 4.93) looks to salvage the split for Pitt. Hendricks is coming off an effective outing last Friday against the Phillies, generating a season-high 12 swinging-strikes en route to a quality start. While Hendricks has managed to maintain relatively consistent performance, his velocity chart trends the opposite direction of Arrieta’s:

Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
4/15 89.94 89.29 80.72 79.12 88.33
5/15 90.90 89.72 81.31 77.32 89.25
6/15 91.21 89.14 81.09 78.37 88.36
7/15 89.04 88.15 79.85 77.48 88.34
8/15 89.75 88.39 80.16 77.80 86.49
9/15 88.60 88.26 80.59 78.42 0.00

His fastball in September thus far is 1.5-mph below its May peak, and his cutter is a full 2.75-mph slower than its peak. His durability moving into October is an important story to follow. Get your meetings out of the way in the morning, as it’s an early 11:35 Central start time. The Cubs magic number stands at 10.


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