Top Play (WPA): Unfortunately for the Cubs, today’s top play transpired way back in the fourth inning, when Cubs starter Jon Lester made his only major mistake, serving up a first-pitch meatball to slugger Nolan Arenado:
One of only three Nolans to ever play the game at the major-league level (Ryan, Reimold), Arenado deposited the Lester offering three feet over Jorge Soler’s glove in left field, landing in the basket for the eventual game-winning home run (+0.139). Just to be a jerk (or maybe because he’s just awesome at baseball, to be determined), Arenado launched another solo blast in the ninth off Justin Grimm, hogging the entirety of the game’s runs and RBIs all for himself (+0.101). Here’s another look at the game winner, if we must:
Bottom Play (WPA): Today’s least successful effort occurred in the third inning, and it actually assisted the Cubs chances despite their losing effort. After the Rockies threatened with one-out singles by Tony Walters and Tyler Chatwood, Lester forced former-Cub DJ LeMahieu to hit a ground ball to a perfectly positioned Baez at shortstop for an easy double-play, ending the threat as quickly as it started (-0.097).
Key Moment: In a game that was brilliantly pitched by both Lester and Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood, most of the key moments were of the defensive variety. Two of those moments came when David Ross helped out his good friend Lester, nabbing both Trevor Story and Gerardo Parra attempting to steal second base, each of which came along with an excellent pick-and-tag by middle-infielders Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist.
In the bottom of the sixth, Chatwood allowed a leadoff double to Lester, placing the potential tying run just 180 feet away with nobody out. After inducing a fly out off the bat of Dexter Fowler, he struck Jason Heyward out with a high fastball clocked at 93 mph. Ben Zobrist followed by making excellent contact into deep left center, but the wind kept it from carrying as it floated harmlessly into Brandon Barnes mitt for the final out.
In the ninth, Dexter Fowler led off with the Cubs trailing 2-0. He blasted Rockies’ closer Jake McGee’s first pitch towards the middle of the diamond, but Story made a tremendous stop and fired to first in time to retire Fowler. The play would pay immediate dividends, as Heyward ripped a double into the right field corner, which would have easily scored Fowler and placed the tying run at second base with nobody out. Zobrist followed by again making solid contact, hitting a high fly ball that was held up yet again by the wind, as Parra tracked it down on the track in left field for the second out. After Anthony Rizzo was plunked by an errant McGee curveball, Kris Bryant went down swinging to secure the victory and series win for the visiting Rockies.
Trend to Watch: I had already established that my trend today would discuss the Cubs’ starting pitching, and this tweet hammered the point home:
With Arrieta's 8-inning effort, they've now gone 6+ IP in each of first 11 games. 1 shy of the 1999 Braves' record.
— Kazuto Yamazaki (@Kazuto_Yamazaki) April 16, 2016
With Lester’s outstanding performance today (7 1/3 innings, 1 ER, 10 K), Cubs’ starters have now pitched at least six innings in 12 consecutive games to start the year, tying the iconic 1999 Braves pitching staff’s record. Of those 12 starts, 11 of them have been quality starts, with only John Lackey’s first start falling short of the mark. He’ll have a chance at redemption tomorrow, as he has opportunity to break the record for consecutive starts of six innings or more to start the season.
Coming Next: Lackey, Heyward and the Cubs head to St. Louis on Monday while nursing their first series loss, marking their first visit to Busch Stadium this season. Lackey (5.68 ERA, 2.75 K/BB, 4.64 FIP) will make his third start of the young season, squaring off against his former Redbird teammates for the first time. He’ll be looking to build upon his quality start (6 2/3 innings, 2 ER) against Cincinnati last time out, and facing his former friends in red should provide extra motivation. Opposing him for St. Louis is Mike Leake (6.97, 1.75, 3.23), having signed as a free agent after spending the first six years of his career with the Reds. Leake struggled in his first two outings, giving up 15 total hits and four runs in each game.
It’ll also be an awkward homecoming of sorts for Heyward, as he heads back to the city that criticized him after he left for Chicago via free agency. It’s been a tough start to the season for Heyward, which is not unusual for him as he has traditionally been much better in the second half of the season. Like Lackey, I have no doubt Heyward views this series as an excellent time to find his stroke. The first pitch is at 7:09 pm CT, with ESPN televising the game nationally.
Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports.