Pardon me for quoting my own tweet, but…
this game is straight bonkers
— zack moser (@BeersNTrumpets) April 8, 2016
The game was sloppy. John Lackey gave up a home run on his first pitch as a Chicago Cub. Chase Field looked like a pinball machine. And the Cubs lost their left fielder for an undetermined amount of time.
Top Play (WPA): And I saw a first baseman coming down from the dugout, having a key to victory and holding in his hand a great club.
There isn’t a much more deflating moment than watching one of your teammates go down with a seemingly bad injury, but the Cubs exhibited their resilience—and their big bats—in the top of the fourth, only an inning and a half after Kyle Schwarber was carted off the field. It was one of the more memorable regular season innings in recent Cub history.
The inning started auspiciously, with an Addison Russell double. John Lackey flied out to center, but Dexter Fowler continued his torrential start to the season with a triple in the gap, plating Russell (+0.143). Jason Heyward walked, capping Diamondbacks’ starter Rubby de la Rosa’s night. Needless to say, the Cubs worked Rubby de la Rosa to the point of frustration, the third time in three games they have put together a long inning that has visibly tired the starter.
Jake Barrett, the Arizona reliever, didn’t look much better, burying several pitches in the dirt. One of those pitches skipped past former Cub Welington Castillo, scoring Fowler from third. Ben Zobrist promptly walked, bringing Destroyer of Worlds Anthony Rizzo to the plate. Rizzo appeared to be locked in all evening, and his fourth inning at-bat was no exception: the first baseman roped a line drive down the right-field line, clearing the bases (+0.225). Rizzo found himself on third, and the Cubs found themselves ahead of Arizona for the first time in the game.
Bottom Play (WPA): I saw Chase Field standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider was called Segura. With his bat he judges, and makes runs.
Lackey’s Cubs debut appeared to be an unfettered disaster early on. He grooved the first pitch of the game to Jean Segura, who swatted the pitch out to right field, the first of two home runs on the evening for the new Diamondbacks shortstop. The new starter didn’t settle down, either; many of his fastballs remained belt high, and Arizona’s A.J. Pollock-less lineup feasted.
By the sixth, however, Lackey had found at least something of a groove. A clean single to right by Jake Lamb led off the inning, but Lackey was able to induce a double play, instigated by substitute third baseman Tommy La Stella (-.092).
Key Moment: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more leg injuries or mourning or crying or pain, for the young outfielder has passed to the DL.
For all the hoopla of the above events, the story of the game is Kyle Schwarber’s injury and imminent trip to the disabled list. Segura’s aforementioned second home run was an inside-the-park job: the former Brewer put a charge into a ball that sailed out to left center, and Schwarber and Fowler converged near the warning track. Both outfielders sold out for the ball, with Fowler diving ahead of Schwarber; the latter’s knee collided with Fowler’s leg, and the sophomore left fielder sprawled out on the warning track, making a futile effort to corral the loose ball that had caromed off the wall. Segura scored easily, and the Cubs’ training staff immediately made their way to Schwarber. Unable to make his way off the field under his own power, Schwarber received a ride off the field from the medical cart.
First, the good news: Schwarber likely has only an ankle sprain, and not the broken bone that many feared. He’ll undergo an MRI on Friday.
#Cubs say Kyle Schwarber is being evaluated for left ankle sprain, with initial X-rays coming back negative and MRI scheduled for tomorrow.
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) April 8, 2016
The bad news: Schwarber may still have suffered serious ligament damage, or otherwise been injured. More information will come out in the next few days, but Schwarber will certainly see the disabled list. Right now, the question is whether it will be the 15- or 60-day DL, and what kind of treatment he will receive.
Trend to Watch: The Cubs’ bats are white hot, top to bottom. Fowler, Heyward, Rizzo, Bryant, and Russell all turned in multi-hit games, and the box score boasts three doubles, two triples, and a Rizzo homer on the night, peppered with ten (!) walks, just one game after not drawing a single base on balls. Rizzo tied a career-high with his six RBI. The club’s patience is evident. De la Rosa joins Andrew Heaney and Garrett Richards in the “starters trounced by the Cubs” club, a group bound to include dozens by season’s end.
Besides working deep counts, like usual, and waiting for good pitches to drive for extra bases, there was some fine baserunning on display by the Cubs in this one. Back in the midst of that absurd fourth inning, Kris Bryant found himself toeing the batter’s box against Jake Barrett, right after Rizzo’s three-bagger. The twinkly-eyed third baseman smashed a one-hopper to third, fielded backhanded by Lamb and freezing Rizzo. Bryant hustled down the line, forcing an errant throw that skipped off of Paul Goldschmidt’s glove. Eyes surely wide with opportunity, Rizzo ran home—the ball had scooted toward the coach’s box, and Goldschmidt did not recover it in time. Bryant also seized upon the error, willing his long legs toward second base, where he met Goldschmidt’s throw. Initially called out on the tag, Joe Maddon’s challenge resulted in a safe Bryant.
The Cubs are going to slug and walk a lot of teams into submission this year, but their baserunning can steal some runs in close games. It makes this author giddy to see the meticulously crafted offensive force jell so early on in the season.
Coming Next: The 3-0 Cubs and their juggernaut lineup, minus one Schwarber, face lefty Robbie Ray (2015: 3.52 ERA, 97 cFIP, 4.10 DRA) in another late game, 8:40 CT on WGN. Unfortunately, Schwarber’s spring grooming to be the personal catcher for Saturday’s starter, Jason Hammel (2015: 3.74, 91, 4.60), is for naught, so David Ross might get a rare second start in a week if Maddon decides to go with his righty-heavy lineup.
The outfield will feature either Matt Szczur, who managed another hit tonight, or Jorge Soler, who Maddon interestingly did not tap immediately to replace Schwarber when the outfielder went down. Soler has little experience in left, so Szczur likely gets the start.
Cheer up, Cub fans. Schwarber’s injury is a blow, both for the club, who counted on his bat to provide thump and his glove to spell Miguel Montero behind the plate, and for Schwarber himself, who looked to build upon an impressive rookie season. In the meantime, the Cubs’ offense will be just fine. The depth and versatility that were the focus of the offseason were bound to make a difference. It’s just a little earlier than anticipated.
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.