Sometimes the worst team in baseball beats the best one, and it’s best not to read too heavily into that result.
Top Play (WPA): Perhaps the lone bright spot of tonight’s loss is that the Cubs were in the best position to turn this game into a win on Albert Almora’s third inning double to left (+0.066). Almora has shown surprising prowess at the plate so far, especially given that the general expectation is that his glove will be his strength in the early stages of his major league career. He went on to score on Dexter Fowler’s groundout to second base, resulting in the only Cubs run of the night.
Bottom Play (WPA): This one came early, and looked at first like an inconspicuous solo home run. With one out in the second inning, Adonis Garcia homered to break the 0-0 tie that had lasted just one inning (-0.177). Jason Hammel surrendered a follow up solo shot to that one to Tyler Flowers, but the ultimate damage had been done.
Key Moment: There are a couple of spots that are worth attention, and I’ll start with the third baseman responsible for the bottom WPA play described above. This time, however, it was Garcia’s defense at third that helped stifle any chance of the Cubs putting together any scoring. During the 5th inning, Javier Baez battled through a very long at bat against Bud Norris and looked as though he was setting himself up to force Norris to throw him a pitch to hit. And, for a moment, it looked like it was going to work. Baez took his last pitch of that at bat and lasered it to the left side of the field – what looked like something bound to find its way into deep left and produce at least a single. Instead, Garcia, maybe the beneficiary of good positioning, or maybe the beneficiary of pure luck, was right there to make the catch.
In the next at bat, he made a defensive play that would cause even Ozzie Smith himself to stop and tip his cap. Addison Russell had another quality at bat killed by Garcia’s wizardry (video here). Russell, like Baez before him, made very solid contact and deserved to be standing safely at first as a result, but Garcia happened instead.
Trend to Watch: Right now, Almora’s work at the plate, to say nothing for his defense which as already been very impressive, has been better than expected. Tonight was just his second hit, but he has not looked overmatched at the plate. Jorge Soler is not likely to return from his trip to the disabled list within the 15 days that have been assigned, so even with the very recent addition of Chris Coghlan, Almora will get a lengthy stay in the majors to show what he can do with his bat.
Clayton Richard continues to demonstrate that he is not the LOOGY the Cubs can rely on. He has put together stretches of good outings, but that has not been the case recently. Though the runners on base tonight were inherited from Justin Grimm, Richard failed to get the out he was sent to the mound for, and allowed an ultimately profitable 8th inning to continue for the Braves.
Coming Next: Tomorrow afternoon, the Cubs are set up very, very nicely to reverse course in this series. Though he was assigned his first loss since last July in his most recent start, Jake Arrieta was sharp to the tune of 12 Ks in 5 innings. The Braves will match Arrieta with 23 year old Matt Wisler, whose 2-6 record belies the quality work he’s done on the mound in 2016, so the second game of this series won’t be a “gimme,” by any means. Tomorrow’s action starts at 3:10 and can be found on CSN.
Lead photo courtesy Jake Roth—USA Today Sports.