Sometimes, David beats Goliath.
Top Play (WPA): Kyle Hendricks did all he could—we’ll talk about that more later—and Justin Grimm and Adam Warren had done even more (we won’t talk about Clayton Richard any longer, who continues to struggle) to keep the Cubs in this game until the eighth inning, which they entered trailing three runs to one. Miguel Montero led off the inning by reaching on a throwing error by Cesar Hernandez, which Addison Russell promptly followed with a single to left to put runners on first and second. Matt Szczur came in to run for Montero, and Javy Baez—a pinch-hitter for Grimm—singled to load the bases (+0.144) and put the game very much within reach …
Bottom Play (WPA): Unfortunately, it was not to be. A Dexter Fowler sacrifice fly scored Szczur, and kept two runners on with just one out, but Jason Heyward ended the threat by grounding into a double play (-0.210), leaving the score at 3-1 and moving the game into the ninth inning. That’s just how these things go, sometimes. It wasn’t that the Cubs were particularly bad tonight—although Kris Bryant did strike out three times—it was that Jerad Eickhoff finally found out how to solve the Cubs, and threw seven pretty excellent innings against the best team in baseball. I’m sure he feels good about that after his last outing against Chicago (in which he raised his ERA by 21 points), and I’m equally sure the Cubs will do everything they can to make this his one moment of success against them this year.
Key Moment: The key moment was the double play. We just talked about that, so you knew it already. But another moment, less critical to the outcome of the game, took place in the top half of the sixth inning, when manager Joe Maddon decided to pinch-hit for a tiring Hendricks. You probably already know the story: Albert Almora, Jr., the first draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime, taken sixth overall in 2012, finally made his big-league debut. Don’t think he was slow to the majors: he, unlike Bryant, Schwarber, and Happ after him, was a high school signee, and so entered the system at a much younger age than his other compatriots. Almora’s father, who’s in the final stages of cancer treatment, couldn’t make the trip to Philadelphia to see his son play, but I’m certain it was a powerful moment for anyone who’s ever known them. The big leagues. Today. Albert Almora. Soak it in, kid. It’ll be a helluva ride.
Trend to Watch: Well, he didn’t get the win, but Hendricks had a fourth consecutive wonderful start, and now sits at a 2.90 ERA over 68 1/3 innings pitched. That’s—let me check the numbers—really good, and especially good for someone who’s putatively a fifth starter. We’re almost at the post-hype phase with Hendricks, where people have been told for so long that he’s better than they think he is that they now almost think he’s worse than expectations. Don’t mess around with that semantic game: Kyle Hendricks is a good major-league pitcher, and he’d be a good one regardless of where he pitches in the rotation or what the hype was on him as he came up through the system. His changeup is elite, he pairs it with a fastball that’s thrown in all the right counts and all the right places, and his ability to learn from his mistakes is elevating his game past the point where you expect it to all come apart at any moment. Kyle Hendricks: today’s trend to watch.
Coming Next: The Cubs will look to take two of three tomorrow afternoon, as John Lackey will take the mound against the Phillies’ Vince Velasquez. Velasquez has been good but not great in the early going this year—much like the Phillies themselves—and he’ll have a tough go of it against Lackey, who’s been exactly as advertised so far in his Cubs career. The Cubs have a tough stretch of schedule coming up, and so if they’re going to enter the All-Star break strong, it would behoove them to take this series on the road against a not-particularly-good (but also not-particularly-bad) Philadelphia ballclub. Game three will be played at 1:05 central time, and will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet and AM 670 The Score.
Lead photo courtesy Eric Hartline—USA Today Sports.