Heading into Wednesday night’s game at Wrigley Field, Alfredo Simon held a 4-0 record and 1.66 ERA in 15 career appearances against the Cubs, including five starts against Chicago during his previous Reds stint in 2014. Not that we needed more evidence of this, but Wednesday’s results suggested this Cubs team has very little in common with that 73-win 2014 club. On a day when Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom wrote that these Cubs could have the most disciplined lineup ever, Simon threw 49 pitches and recorded just two outs before the Cubs chased him from the game with his team at a 5-1 deficit. The rest of the game felt like a formality after that 57-pitch first inning. The Cubs romped to a 9-2 win over Cincinnati, pushing their record to 7-1 on the season.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs trailed early after John Lackey allowed a first-inning run, but the Cubs wasted no time in getting it back. After the Cubs loaded the bases with a double from Dexter Fowler and walks for Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant came to the mound with a chance to do big damage. Rather than swinging for the fences, the third baseman took advantage of the erratic Simon, working a six-pitch at-bat for a game-tying walk (+0.097).
Those three first-inning walks were key to putting early runs on the board, but the patience lasted all night: The Cubs drew 10 walks on the evening. We’re barely a week into the season, and this lineup has already frustrated plenty of opposing pitchers.
Bottom Play (WPA): John Lackey’s Cubs career started off on the wrong foot last week when he allowed a home run to Jean Segura in his first pitch wearing blue. His second start started almost as poorly: He allowed a double to Billy Hamilton on Wednesday’s first pitch, and Eugenio Suarez followed with a single that put two on with no outs (-0.067). A walk to Joey Votto loaded the bases, but Lackey induced a strikeout, sacrifice fly and groundout to escape the jam with only one run allowed. The Cubs’ retook that lead quickly in the bottom half of the inning, and Lackey settled in, eventually allowing two runs and six hits over 6 2/3 innings.
Key Moment: On a cold night with the wind blowing in, the Cubs mounted their first-inning rally through walks and singles, not power. Because of that, there wasn’t really one standout hit, but there was a subtle moment in Miguel Montero’s one-out at-bat that helped open the floodgates.
After Bryant’s walk, the game was tied and the bases were loaded when Montero found himself in an 0-2 hole. The third pitch of the at-bat was a 91 mph fastball right on the low inside corner of the strike zone, which Montero wisely took for a ball. Simon’s willingness to nibble seemed to wane after that borderline call: Montero got two pitches in the outer part of the zone after that, hitting the second one into left for an RBI single. Jorge Soler, Addison Russell and John Lackey all saw hittable pitches and converted them into RBIs in the next three at-bats, with Lackey’s single chasing Simon from the game.
Trend to Watch: The Cubs’ five-run first was their biggest single inning output so far, but this team is no stranger to big innings. Through eight games, the Cubs have had seven innings in which they put a three spot or better on the scoreboard. (The Cubs also added a couple of two-run innings later on Wednesday for good measure.) We knew this team could score runs—Wednesday’s rout puts their run differential at an impressive +36—but Wednesday proved that they could do it without hitting the ball out of the park. The only extra-base hit in the first was Fowler’s leadoff double, and that aforementioned patience will only help the Cubs continue to post big innings.
Coming Next: The Cubs will send Jason Hammel to the bump on Thursday as they go for the sweep of the Reds. The fourth starter was solid in his season-opening start in Arizona last week, throwing six innings of one-run, four-hit ball but taking a no-decision as the bullpen blew a late lead. Reds righty Raisel Iglesias fared well in his two starts against the Cubs during his 2015 rookie campaign, allowing four earned runs and striking out 18 over 12 2/3 innings. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. on CSN.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports.