This was a fun one, huh? Perhaps the Cubs’ week-long fever has finally broken. Then again, perhaps it hasn’t. The world is a cruel and often deeply unpleasant place. Let’s proceed, just in case things are on the upswing.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs struck early in this one, getting to Michael Wacha in the first with a six-run inning, punctuated by David Ross’s two-out, two-run double (+0.132). Ross is, to put it lightly, having a hell of a retirement year. Our own Jared Wyllys laid out the case well last week, but if you missed his piece, his general point about Ross, which is a good one, was that the Cubs’ expected to be valuable this year in spite of what they thought would be well-below-average offensive performance. Well, Ross has remained deeply and uniquely valuable behind the plate and in the clubhouse, but he’s also triple-slashing a robust .254/.354/.448 through nearly 100 plate appearances, and that’s nothing to sniff at for players even a decade younger than he.
Bottom Play (WPA): Nothing really went poorly in this game for the Cubs, so the “bottom play” isn’t really all that devastating. Still, we—like society as a whole—are largely bound by convention, so let’s trudge on. Like the top play, the Cubs’ bottom play came in the critical first inning, and with the bases loaded. One batter before Ross had his big hit, Addison Russell came to the plate in what was then a 2-0 game with the chance to break it wide open. On the second pitch of the sequence, he instead hit the ball on the ground to first, where Matt Adams picked it up and threw home, retiring Anthony Rizzo and recording the second out of the inning (-0.054). Whatever.
Key Moment: I’ll go a bit of a different direction with this one: the key moment of this game took place a few minutes after 6 pm central, when Jason Heyward—he of the recently contused right side—dug into the box against Wacha and grounded out to second for the first out of the inning. He probably isn’t 100 percent, or even particularly close to it, but Heyward’s presence in this team’s lineup, and in its outfield, is absolutely critical to its long-term success. Sure, his offensive numbers haven’t looked great so far this year, but (a) that’s been his general M.O. for the last few years in the big leagues, and (b) his approach has looked pretty damn good, in general. He sees pitches at a high rate, extends at-bats, and gives his teammates a chance to see what the other guy’s got.
In the field, meanwhile, he’s been every bit as good as advertised, saving runs both explicitly with the glove and implicitly with the arm, and he’d be a devastating loss to the team if he went down for any extended period of time. Say what you will about the Cubs’ depth in Iowa—and you should say it’s pretty good, if you’re paying attention—but it’s nowhere near the quality of Jason Heyward. So, that catch in San Francisco was scary, but he’s back now. That was key for today.
Trend to Watch: Jorge Soler, who’s been on something of a tear lately, broke out in a big way tonight. For those of us who’ve been on the “Soler Can Really Hit, He Just Needs The Opportunity” train for a while, this was a bit of an ex post validation (the kind we at BP don’t usually like). That didn’t make it any less sweet. In the first inning, Soler walked in a run. In the third inning, he walked again. In the fifth inning, he homered to drive in Ben Zobrist. In the sixth inning, he singled. In the eighth, he inexplicably missed a fly ball hit his way by Randal Grichuk, and then he flew out in the ninth. Wait, that doesn’t fit. Anyway, it was, in short, a great night for the kid. Soler has always had the skills necessary to do exactly that—he just needed to learn to lay off pitches outside the zone so that pitchers would be forced into his hitting zone, where he could punish them. Tonight, he did exactly that. If he keeps it up, the Cubs will have something special in their hands.
Also worth noting? Jason Hammel had a great night, allowing four hits over 7 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking—in the low point of his night—three. It’s never been the first half that Cubs fans have worried about with Hammel, of course, but it’s still nice to see him performing so well anyhow. After tonight’s action, his ERA on the not-so-young-anymore season sits at a pretty 2.17. That’ll play.
Coming Next: The Cubs look to take the series tomorrow against the Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez, who’s pitched to a 3.58 ERA so far this season, but hasn’t looked especially sharp doing it. Taking the hill for the Cubs will be Jake Arrieta, who I think you’ve heard of. Gametime is 12:45 pm CT, and the game will be broadcast on ABC 7 in the Chicago area. For more details, please check out our series preview.
Lead photo courtesy Jasen Vinlove—USA Today Sports.