Top Play (WPA): This section is less than exciting tonight. The Cubs’ top play of the night was Denard Span’s short fly out to right with one out and a man on third in the fifth (+.060). More on that inning in a second.
Tonight’s top offensive play for the Cubs was equally uninspiring: a two-out, eighth inning walk taken by Anthony Rizzo (+.030). Jokes aside, it actually was an encouraging plate appearance for Rizzo, as he recovered from a 1-2 count to work the walk. More on Rizzo in a moment, too.
Bottom Play (WPA): (Said in extreme Pat Hughes voice) For all of you young pitchers out there, remember that you never, ever want to walk the leadoff batter. After four efficient innings, Kyle Hendricks got ahead of Gregor Blanco 1-2, before eventually walking him. Blanco was hitting eighth in the Giants order this evening, which normally would allow for a breather for the starting pitcher, as the pitcher’s spot is due up next. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Madison Bumgarner was pitching tonight, and he can rake a little. Bumgarner actually tried to bunt—an act the Cubs wish had been successful in retrospect—but fouled it off. Hendricks then elevated a fastball (see below) that Bumgarner ripped into left field, barely beyond the outstretched glove of Jorge Soler. Blanco would come all of the way around from first to score, the lone player to trot across the plate all night (-.178).
Key Moment: The first key moment came in the top of the very first inning. Bumgarner retired Dexter Fowler and Rizzo to start the game, before allowing each of Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Jorge Soler to reach base. Addison Russell came up with a bases loaded opportunity with two outs. Russell entered the game slugging .578 with runners in scoring position, so many Cubs fans felt it was the right man in the right spot. He had an excellent at-bat, working the count full and fouling off multiple pitches. The ninth pitch of the at-bat was Bumgarner’s 28th of the first inning, and he made it count, firing a fastball at the knees to strikeout Russell and end the threat:
It was encouraging to see Cubs’ hitters make Bumgarner labor through so many pitches in the first inning, but, unfortunately, he found his dominant form and efficiently mowed down the Cubs for 7 2/3 innings, needing no more than 13 pitches to complete another inning until he was pulled in the eighth. The repercussions of the missed opportunity in the first would haunt the Cubs for the rest of the night.
Trend to Watch: The Cubs entered the game mired in a deep slump with runners in scoring position, going 6-for-44 in the last calendar week. You needn’t look any further than this to explain the recent run-scoring deficiencies, and there is likely little explanation to be had other than “baseball.” They only had one opportunity tonight—going 0-for-1—as Bumgarner was simply dominant after the first inning.
Rizzo entered tonight’s game really scuffling, going 1-for-22 dating back to May 15th. It didn’t get any easier in this one, as Rizzo had the honor of facing Bumgarner, one of the toughest lefties in the game. Joe Maddon tried to shake things up for him—slotting him in the second spot in the order in Jason Heyward’s absence—but Rizzo still failed to record a knock. He’ll have the opportunity to right the ship next week in St. Louis, as he’ll face three straight Cardinal righties.
Coming Next: The Cubs will take a night flight to St. Louis, likely arriving later than 3:00 a.m. It’ll be a short night of rest, but thankfully first pitch isn’t until 7:15 p.m. It’s the second series of the season for the century-old rivals, each coming in Busch Stadium. The Cubs carry a seven-game lead over the Cardinals into the three-game set, looking to expand upon the dominance they’ve exhibited against the top of the Central Division thus far. The Cubs will run out John Lackey (3.31 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.58 DRA), Jason Hammel (2.31, 3.41, 4.30) and Jake Arrieta (1.29, 2.54, 3.09). The Redbirds will counter with Adam Wainwright (5.92, 4.06, 5.74), Michael Wacha (4.03, 3.54, 4.63) and Carlos Martinez (3.56, 4.28, 4.66). It wasn’t long ago that these matchups would have appeared to give the Cardinals an edge, but the results early in the season suggest the opposite. Series’ between these two teams are always hard-fought, contentious affairs, so you can expect close games that are decided late. Inter-division series are always important for both teams, but this series may mean more to the Cardinals than any May set in recent memory. The Cubs are threatening to run away with the division, and a series win or sweep could put the Cardinals in a hole they never climb out of. Here’s hoping.
Lead photo courtesy Cary Edmundson—USA Today Sports