Top Play (WPA): The Cubs just couldn’t crack Jaime Garcia tonight. He had his changeup working and when he kept it down in the zone (or in the dirt), Cubs hitters just couldn’t do anything with it. But in the 4th inning after a Jorge Soler walk, Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero strung together a couple of singles to load the bases with just one out—it was the opportunity the Cubs had been patiently waiting for.
Down by a run, Addison Russell came up to the plate with a thousand different ways to score a run and tie the game. Instead, he struck out. With the pitcher coming up, the denizens of Busch Stadium could feel the momentum going their way. But Cubs pitchers are also hitters, leading the majors with 5 RBIs. And what do you know, Jason Hammel came through in the clutch (+.228):
— Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) April 20, 2016
Hammel was solid on the mound, consistently working out of trouble and basically winning the game all on his own.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cardinals had a few opportunities to put up a bunch of runs, but just couldn’t strike that final blow. They, too, had a shot in the fourth inning when they were down 2-1 and had runners on second and third with nobody out. After a Randal Grichuk’s infield fly out, Yadier Molina stepped up to the plate with a chance to pull even and perhaps even take the lead.
And it looked like Molina had succeeded when he flied out to deep right. But Jason Heyward set himself, got the momentum he needed as the ball floated down into his glove, and he fired a perfect throw to nail Matt Holliday at the plate (-.188). Holliday’s pretty much said it all: WOW.
Heyward has been hitting the ball hard at the plate, but hasn’t been getting the results he deserves. Tonight, though, he reminded us why he is a valuable player even when he isn’t at his best offensively.
Key Moment: For all the press the Cardinals get for being a model franchise and doing things “the right way,” they struggled with their baserunning in the second inning. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Matt Adams got caught leaving second early on a hit and run, and Hammel gladly took the free out to help stop the inning from ballooning into a disaster. Then Molina stepped up to the plate and banged a long fly ball off the wall in left, just out of the reach of Jorge Soler, who wound up on the ground in a scene that had many Cub fans holding their breath. Thoughts of Kyle Schwarber persisted until Soler eventually got to his feet. Molina’s triple ended up driving in just the one run thanks to the baserunning gaffe… and that was all the scoring the Cardinals would get.
Trend to Watch: Cubs hitters saw a bunch of pitches and got the Cardinals to dip into their ‘pen nice and early. Jason Hammel threw six innings (that’s 13 quality starts in 14 games for Cubs starters in 2016) to keep his team in the game, despite not having his best stuff or control. The pen came in and did their job to hold on to the win. The Cubs won again.
You’ve heard this story before but it isn’t going to get old anytime soon. If the Cubs offense can continue to put pressure on pitchers even when they’re pitching well and the bats aren’t clicking, that bodes well over the course of a season. Jaime Garcia’s stuff looked really good; he just walked too many guys and threw too many pitches. Just ask Soler, who looked foolish trying to figure out Garcia’s nasty changeup.
Up Next: The Cubs and Cardinals wrap up the series tomorrow afternoon at Busch Stadium, with soft-tossing Kyle Hendricks facing off against the electric stuff of Carlos Martinez. Hendricks will try to keep up this ridiculous trend of sparkling pitching performances and sweep the Cardinals in the process.
Before the series started, there was a lot of chatter about whether or not these two teams were headed in opposite directions this season. With a sweep, the Cubs would make a statement that they’re the team to beat in the NL Central—not that you would’ve gotten much of an argument from this particular writer two days ago.
Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports