The Gang Does Day Baseball
Wednesday day baseball is a rare treat… is such a saccharine statement that my teeth actually hurt. Nevertheless, Wednesday afternoon was indeed a productive one for the Chicago Cubs.
Things started ominously for both sides, as Phillies starter Vince Velasquez departed just two pitches into the game (it was later diagnosed as right bicep soreness), and John Lackey surrendered hits to the first two batters he faced. In the end, though, it would be the Cubs who cruised past the initial bump in the road. Lackey would go seven scoreless innings, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist each homered, Javier Baez had four hits, and the Cubs won the rubber game of the series, 8-1. For Lackey, it was his seventh win of the season, and he needed just 100 pitches as he lowered his ERA to 2.63 in the process. The Cubs won another series and can now turn their attention to a day off and a trip south. We, however, get to break this one down.
Top Play (WPA): It was a tightly contested ballgame until the Cubs began to break it open in the sixth inning. After Jason Heyward started the inning with a single off of Andrew Bailey, Bryant launched his 14th home run of the season, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead. It would prove to be the game-winning hit. Last season, Bryant didn’t hit number 14 until July 22. (+.163)
Bottom Play (WPA): As detailed in the introduction, of the three hits Lackey allowed over seven innings, two came to the first two batters he faced. Odubel Herrera led off the home half of the first with a single through the right side of the infield. Cesar Hernandez then lined a single to center, putting runners on first and third with nobody out (-.091). Lackey would escape unscathed, though, after Albert Amora showed some of his defensive chops and nailed Herrera attempting to tag and score on a Freddy Galvis fly out, and Matt Franco flied out to center.
Key Moment: In a game in which the Cubs could not score in the third inning after putting runners on second and third with nobody out, Baez’s RBI single in the fifth inning to break a scoreless tie was a huge moment. It was just Baez’s third multi-hit game since May 10, but in his last seven games, he’s 9-for-22 with four extra-base hits.
Trend to Watch: Lackey was tremendous. The offense put the game away late. The trend to watch, however, is the continued dominance of Pedro Strop. Since surrendering three runs and blowing a lead to the San Diego Padres on May 11, Strop has been absolutely lights out. On Wednesday, he struck out the side in the eighth inning. In his last 10 appearances, Strop has a 0.89 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in nine innings pitched (and a 40 percent strikeout rate). During Strop’s stretch of brilliance, he’s significantly reduced his four-seam and splitter usage, and increased his sinker use by nearly 10 percentage points to 28 percent. Strop is rolling—it’s almost like how a player wears his hat has no absolutely no bearing on his performance. Weird.
Coming Next: The Cubs have an off day before opening up a three-game series against the worst team in baseball, the Atlanta Braves. The series opener will feature Jason Hammel going up against fellow veteran right-hander Bud Norris, who owns a 5.74 DRA, a 1.61 WHIP, and some bad takes. Two years ago, for a Baltimore Orioles team that reached the ALCS, Norris posted a 3.40 DRA and was worth three wins, according to bWARP. Entering this weekend, he’s among the worst starters in baseball, playing for the team with the worst winning percentage in the league. The cruel fate of baseball spares no man. This season, battes are hammering his go-to pitch, the four-seam fastball (.457 slugging percentage). In 2015, Jason Hammel won his only start against the Braves, striking out eight and allowing two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched. As can be expected, Hammel was slider and four-seam heavy that day. Your weekend will start at 6:35 PM CST.
Lead photo courtesy Bill Streicher—USA Today Sports