The Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 Thursday night to bring their record, fittingly, to 8-1. But the lopsided scoreline serves mostly as a lavish facade for what, until the fifth inning, was a tight 1-0 game. Jason Hammel delivered a solid six-inning performance, walking four batters but surrendering no runs on the way to the Cubs’ series sweep.
Top Play (WPA): The game’s major excitement came in the five-run eighth inning, but the biggest impact came in the second when Kris Bryant notched his second home run in as many nights, a solo shot to the left field bleachers (+0.115). In baseball’s younger days, batters could request locations from pitchers, and Bryant may as well have requested the pitch in question, so perfectly centered was it in the strike-zone. Raisel Iglesias would have liked that one back.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 15, 2016
Bottom Play (WPA): With just a one-run lead, Hammel helped himself out, reaching base on an error in the third. This was followed by a Dexter Fowler single, and Jason Heyward’s fielder’s choice pushed Hammel to third. From there, the Cubs continued in their recent tradition of clogging the bases, loading them up with a further walk issued to Ben Zobrist. Who else would you want up at the plate in this situation but Anthony Rizzo? Unfortunately, Rizzo struck out to end the inning (-0.064), and the Cubs wouldn’t widen their lead until the fifth.
Key Moment: Speaking of the fifth inning, an honorable mention is due here to Jason Hammel, not for his pitching this time, but for his bat. Though it was far from Jake Arrieta’s monstrous 442 foot home run, Hammel managed a deep double in the fifth to score Addison Russell from first base, a hit which nearly won Hammel the title of Top Play (+0.114). The Cubs’ starter would later score himself on a sacrifice fly by Zobrist.
Trend to Watch: I could write here about how Dexter Fowler is in video game mode, reaching base safely in all nine games so far with a .559 OBP and a helpful .556 BABIP, but this is fairly plain to see. Let’s mention the bullpen briefly instead.
Chicago’s relievers have thus far allowed five runs and just one walk in 2016. It’s hard to point out definitive weaknesses on this team, but bullpens are always fair grounds for questions, and so far, the bullpen has gone mostly unnoticed for good reasons. But a time will come, probably soon, when the Cubs’ rotation is not as consistent as it’s been in eight out of nine games this season. Then, provided the bats regress to a level of mere mortality, we may see some late inning tests.
Coming Next: Next up for the Cubs are three games at Wrigley against the Colorado Rockies (keep an eye out for our series preview). Kyle Hendricks, who allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings in his first start, will take the mound on Friday (also Jackie Robinson Day) against righty Chad Bettis. More compellingly, he’ll try his luck against Rockies’ rookie Trevor Story, who no longer needs an introduction. Also just around the bend is the return of Javier Baez, who started the season on the disabled list. Since the Cubs have just one off day between now and May 11, expect to see Baez making the defensive rounds to give positional regulars some rest. First pitch tomorrow is at 1:20pm on CSN.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports.