It shouldn’t have been this close, not when Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Jorge Soler all had multi-hit games; not when Jon Lester faced the minimum in seven of his eight innings. Here’s how it went down:
Top Play (WPA): “You go, we go.” Or, as has become a familiar pattern this season, when Fowler goes, Bryant goes. It’s what we saw in the first inning when, following Fowler’s leadoff double, Bryant drove his teammate home with a
triple home run fan interference double. That’s nothing to sniff at, but the fact remains that Jason Heyward bats in between Fowler and Bryant every day, and too often the full sequence has played out thusly: Fowler goes, Heyward goes back to the dugout, then Bryant goes.
Not the case in today’s fourth frame. With Lester on base after a very convincing, hard-hit double, Fowler this time struck out, bringing up Heyward. Following three pitches low and off the plate, Phillies’ starter Adam Morgan dealt an 83 mph slider, which didn’t slide but rather hung right in the middle of the zone for Heyward to line straight into the right field stands (+0.189). This was home run number three on the season, home run number 100 of Heyward’s career. It’s nice to see Heyward get more elevation on his hits, and this should still allow Cubs fans at least one small step back from the razor’s edge of panic they’ve been flirting with all spring.
Bottom Play (WPA): It says a lot about this Cubs’ team that frequently they—not their opponents—inflict the most damage to their win probability. How do they do this? Simply by bringing an end to their own rallies. Back in the first after Bryant put his team on the board, Rizzo and Soler loaded up the bases with back-to-back singles. The stage was all set, but Javier Baez and Addison Russell were only able to manage back-to-back strikeouts (-0.66, -0.64) .
Key Moment: A turning point of the night was when Justin Grimm took the mound in the bottom of the ninth in place of Lester, who had been outstanding in his eight full innings, allowing just four hits, striking out nine, and walking zero on only 95 pitches. Could he have gone out for the ninth? Sure, but with a 6-0 lead, why push it? Why not just save some bullets?
Because this is baseball. Because bullpens are inherently unpredictable. Because Grimm then gave up singles to Andres Blanco and Cesar Hernandez before Freddy Galvis fired off a three-run homer. All of this happened on eight pitches, six of which were strikes. When Grimm was swapped out for Hector Rondon, the next batter, Tommy Joseph, immediately homered to make it 6-4 with still no outs. Rondon was thankfully able to close it out after that. It turns out Rizzo’s two late RBI singles and Matt Sczcur’s RBI sacrifice bunt were more than just padding in a blowout.
Trend to Watch: After a slight dip in form in the month of May, Lester is now looking as dominant as he has all season. Prior to June 1, he had yet to throw more than seven innings in any start, but his last showing against the Diamondbacks was a complete game gem, and tonight’s start could have very easily gone the same way. In hindsight, it maybe should have, but the Cubs still pulled off the win.
Soler’s recent hot streak was cut short when he was removed from the game in the third inning. After hitting a long single into left field, Soler pulled up slightly as he approached first base, and after consulting with trainers, he walked off the field to be replaced by Sczcur. Soler will have his left hamstring further evaluated.
What’s Next: The action in Philly continues tomorrow with a battle of righties: Kyle Hendricks against Jerad Eickhoff. Recently, Hendricks has shown off his own ability to go the distance, pitching eight innings of two-run ball against the Dodgers his last time out and, of course, nearly shutting out this same Phillies lineup at the end of May. As for Eickhoff, who came to Philadelphia last year as part of the Cole Hamels trade package, his effectiveness will largely be determined by whether or not his secondary pitches are moving the way they should, especially his slider and curve. With a 3.93 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and 102 cFIP, Eickhoff has been about as middle-of-the-road as you can get so far this season, so it should simply be up to the Cubs offense to be their usual selves. Catch the 6:05 Central start on WGN or 670 The Score.
Lead photo courtesy Bill Streicher—USA Today Sports