Top Play (WPA): It’s always a wonderful day when Addison Russell hits a baseball in this manner, but it’s especially good when it carries a massive WPA along for the ride. Pirates starter Francisco Liriano has always been a thorn in the Cubs’ side (see below)—and the first three innings today were no exception to this—but things changed in the fourth. Ben Zobrist led off with a sharp single down the left field line, before Jorge Soler took a close 3-2 pitch to work an impressive walk. Russell would follow Soler’s lead in working a full count, but Liriano’s offering was not so great this time around:

Russell didn’t miss it, launching the hanging 86 mph changeup into the air at 106 mph, utilizing a 40-degree launch angle to majestically deposit the ball into the Wrigley faithful waiting impatiently in the left field bleachers (+.204)

Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs briefly threatened in the second inning, after two singles left runners on first and second with two outs. Jason Hammel had an opportunity to help his own cause, but Liriano struck him out on three pitches to squash the would-be rally (-.044).

Key Moment: Does an entire inning qualify as a moment? Liriano came into the game today allowing Cubs’ batters to slug just .254 against him in his career, with four home runs allowed in 270 plate appearances. By the end of the fifth inning, Russell (above), Kris Bryant and David Ross had elevated that total to seven, and the score to 8-0. Please enjoy these homers as much as I did:

Trend to Watch: Hammel was once again excellent today (6 2/3 IP, 1 ER) and I don’t want to take away from that too much. However, his usage of breaking pitches—and especially the slider—is bordering on extreme. Take a look at his season trend coming into today:

Game Fourseam Sinker Change Slider Curve
CHN@ARI (4/8/16) 34 6 6 31 12
CIN@CHN (4/14/16) 39 16 0 21 12
CHN@SLN (4/19/16) 17 31 4 14 18
CHN@CIN (4/24/16) 24 26 0 39 7
CHN@PIT (5/2/16) 15 31 2 38 3
WAS@CHN (5/7/16) 28 10 3 34 22

He added 46 (!) sliders and eight curveballs today, continuing to solidify his preference for his offspeed offerings. His breaking pitches have been very effective this season—with opponents hitting under .200 against each pitch—so it’s hard to blame him for his reliance on them. That said, if he continues this trend, he is danger of becoming too predictable to opposing hitters as the season wears on. These pitches are also only effective when they are consistently down in the zone, which as we’ve discussed at length might not be the best approach for Hammel.

Coming Next:  Literally, game two of a three-game series against a division rival in May. Hopefully, the continuation of a new winning streak for the Cubbies. A game in May is never a must-win, but Pirates fans certainly must be feeling some anxiety early on, as dropping the first four games in convincing fashion to your biggest division rival does not sit well. Staff ace Jake Arrieta (1.13 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 3.65 DRA) takes the bump for the Cubs, while not staff ace Jeff Locke (4.68, 4.69, 6.24) throws for the Pirates.

Arrieta is coming off his worst regular season start in a long time (five innings, three runs allowed against the Nationals), which is saying very little as he hasn’t had anything resembling a bad start in many moons. The main culprit for the recent blip is a bout of wildness, with 14 walks over his last four starts. Look for Arrieta to attack the zone early and often in an effort to curtail the free passes. The Cubs will be seeking their 21st consecutive win in games Arrieta starts, which would continue to lengthen the franchise record Arrieta already holds.

Locke, on the other hand, is coming off three consecutive quality starts, as he tries to continue to right the ship after a rough start to the season. This Cubs lineup will be a tough challenge for the veteran lefty, but the cold and cloudy forecast in Chicago should give him a slight boost. First pitch is at 1:20.

Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports

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