Top Play (WPA): Kyle Hendricks looked solid through five innings today, using his changeup effectively and keeping his sinker down often enough to stymie Rockies hitters. In the sixth, however, Hendricks allowed two singles to the most dangerous hitters in the Rockies’ lineup, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado, the third time through the order. Hendrick’s inability to get through lineups that third time has perhaps been overblown, considering the young righty’s mature approach to his craft, but he wasn’t quite sharp enough to squeak through today.
With two on and no out, Hendricks served up a first pitch single to Gerardo Parra, scoring Gonzalez, and putting Colarado up 2-0 (+0.119). A slickly turned double play from Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist helped relieve some of the pressure on Hendricks, but Arenado scored from third on the play (-0.023). Hendricks would pitch to a single hitter in the seventh before Joe Maddon asked for the ball from The Professor.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs’ best threat to tie the game came in the fifth, after a Jorge Soler walk and a Russell swinging bunt (sandwiching a Miguel Montero flyout). An errant throw by the pitcher allowed Soler to reach third on the play, bringing Hendricks to the plate. The Cubs were poised for a safety squeeze, a favorite of Joe Maddon that they executed fairly well last season. Hendricks, a solid bunter, laid it down on his second attempt—a hard bunt toward first—but Soler streaked for home on contact, sliding in several steps behind the ball, out at the plate (-0.113).
Speculation over whether Soler had the right to a path to the play was moot, as catcher Tony Wolters had the ball clearly before the Cubs’ left fielder began his slide, and Maddon decided not to challenge after a short conference with the home plate umpire. It was a scoring chance squandered, as Dexter Fowler flied out to end the inning, unable to breach the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.
Key Moment: It was death by a thousand paper cuts for the Cubs, bled by Rockies’ singles (neither team slugged a hit for extra bases on the afternoon) and their own errors. The most costly of those errors came in the seventh, with Trevor Cahill replacing Hendricks on the mound after a Wolters single.
Brandon Barnes squared to bunt, succeeding in pushing the ball toward third base on a Cahill sinker. Cahill and Kris Bryant converged on the ball, Cahill perhaps overzealously, as Bryant fielded the slow rolling ball with his glove, transferring to his hand, and crossfiring a throw out of reach of Ben Zobrist. The ball caromed into the Rockies’ bullpen, Jason Heyward slowly corralling it in his first major test with the quirks of Wrigley Field, but Wolters was around third and heading home before the right fielder could toss the ball in, widening the lead to 4-0 Rockies.
Team defense isn’t a primary concern for the Cubs, who should be solid in the department this season, but Bryant had an uncharacteristically difficult day at the hot corner. The 6’5” third baseman has acquitted himself well there in his big-league career, quieting some critics who doubted his ability to pick it there, but his play cost the Cubs in a very close game.
Trend to Watch: It’s early, and the Cubs have feasted on both good and bad pitching while turning in solid starts from their rotation, so it’s petty to worry about a game in which they were merely outplayed (even by a bottom-tier team like the Rockies). However, Maddon’s tactical decisions in this game didn’t do the club any favors; two intentional walks to Gonzalez and pinch-hitter Mark Reynolds seemed unwarranted, and while Hendricks didn’t feel the full force of the Rockies’ slugging potential, the skipper perhaps left him in a batter or two too long.
This is the definition of picking nits. But with all systems go for the Cubs so far, nits are the only things possible to pick.
Coming Next: The Cubs follow their first Wrigley Field day game of the young season with their second, a 1:20 start at the Friendly Confines with Jake Arrieta on the bump versus Christian Bergman in the Rockies’ righty’s first 2016 start. Arrieta has struck out 12 and walked only one in 14 great innings thus far this season, continuing his dominant 2015. Bergman has split time between the rotation and bullpen for Colorado the last two seasons, posting poor DRAs of 5.75 and 4.54 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. He boasts good control, but tends to get hit very hard due to his tendency to pump pitches in the strike zone with less-than-stellar stuff.
It’s possible that Javier Baez will see his first action for the Cubs in 2016, after tearing up Triple-A pitching in his short rehab stint with Iowa. Maddon will likely want to get his regulars some rest after two weeks of play, and the Cubs will travel to St. Louis after the weekend series is over, so it’s a good time to freshen up the sluggers. Look for vintage Arrieta and a unique lineup and defensive alignment on a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon at Wrigley.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports.