Before tonight’s game, MLB.com’s Cardinals reporter Jenifer Langosch tweeted out:
So to recap: the Cardinals responded to their reputation as baseball’s Fun Police by literally turning their stadium into the town from Footloose.
Apparently after seeing what he did to them in the field last year, St. Louis has decided that their best chance of winning this series is to ban Addison Russell.
As for the game itself, cue the Kenny Loggins…
Top Play (WPA): After two weeks of play, it’s become abundantly clear that the National League MVP should go to Peter Angelos for his refusal to give Dexter Fowler an opt-out in his contract. In a lineup that’s been in a BABIP-induced slump over the past week, Fowler continues to make his play on the field even more of a feel-good story than his surprise entrance in Spring Training. Mike Leake was hitting his spots almost at will for the first five innings of this game. But he picked the wrong guy to miss to on a 2-1 pitch leading off the sixth, and Fowler deposited it 430-plus feet to center to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead (+.174 WPA). He even capped the hit off with a hop at home plate, but sources are still trying to determine whether or not he greeted Sammy Sosa’s mother at the dugout camera.
Bottom Play (WPA): With runners on second and third and one out in the bottom of the fifth, the Cardinals appeared to hand the Cubs a gift, as Leake bunted through a bunt on a suicide squeeze attempt. Unfortunately, Miguel Montero appeared to be a bit too concerned with keeping Aledmys Diaz at second (or perhaps just wondering who the hell he was) and held onto the ball a split second too long in the rundown. Kolten Wong scrambled back to third safely. With the dangerous Leake given new life, he laced a screamer down the left field line that just hooked foul. Despite all of this, John Lackey bore down and finally struck Leake out swinging on one of the approximately 132 filthy sliders he threw tonight (-.106 WPA).
Key Moment: But the inning wasn’t over as Matt Carpenter strode to the plate. The Cubs elected to go after the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter, calling to mind the fateful decision to pitch to Paul Goldschmidt in the pivotal moment of game two in the Arizona series. But after a decidedly unfortunate ending to that first draft, the revision cleaned things up beautifully. At first, Lackey looked like he was simply pitching around Carpenter, falling behind 2-0. His next pitch caught the outside corner and it didn’t even need the spirit of Eric Gregg that had possessed Carlos Torres’ strike zone for much of the evening. From there, Lackey took control, evening the count and then wiping Carpenter out on a changeup to end the Cardinals’ best scoring threat of the ninth. Due up to lead off the next inning: Dexter Fowler.
Trend to Watch: While Cardinal fans were busy raging against Jason Heyward for having the audacity to leave them behind after all of one season in St. Louis (Using this logic, I can’t wait to boo that jagbag Chris Denorfia!), it turns out they were venting their spleen at the wrong ex-teammate. For the first time this year, John Lackey showed the dominance that led Theo Epstein to make him the Cubs’ first free agent signing of the offseason. With a slider even more frightening than the face he makes between pitches, Lackey struck out 11 while walking only one in seven innings of four-hit shutout ball.
Up Next: Jason Hammel takes on Jaime Garcia. It’s the first half of the season, which means Hammel must be putting up a 3.52 FIP while only giving up a .219 TAv Against. He’s been a very pleasant surprise thus far, and it will be fun to see how long he can keep it up. And he might need it against Garcia, who sports a 1.54 FIP and .144 TAv Against after one of the most dominating outings of the young season (nine innings, one hit, no runs, one walk, 13 strikeouts). Expect a bunt or two. Or six.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports