After winning 23 consecutive games in which Jake Arrieta started, the Cubs then proceeded to lose two in a row. They got back in the saddle behind seven strong innings of two run ball from Arrieta today, and a glut of hard contact from the offense didn’t hurt either. If they were to go on another such streak, the Cubs would not lose another Arrieta start until sometime next April. It seems to me that may be something we shouldn’t expect.

Top Play (WPA): The Cubs expected to get above-average offense from one of their catchers (Miguel Montero), and excellent veteran leadership and defense from their other (David Ross). Unfortunately for Montero, he has battled injuries and a slumping bat as he has stumbled to a .665 OPS this season. Fortunately for the Cubs, Ross has picked up the offensive slack. With Ross retiring and Willson Contreres waiting in the wings, it’s important for Montero to get back on track, for next year as much as this. Today’s top play saw a nice step in that direction, as he drove a 1-2 changeup from Braves’ starter Matt Wisler into the right-center bleachers (+.122). The three-run blast gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead, one they would never relinquish.

Bottom Play (WPA): The third inning represented a wonderful scoring chance for the Cubs, as Addison Russell led off with a single, and Jake Arrieta laid down such perfect sacrifice attempt, it ended up going for a hit. After a wild pitch by Wisler, runners stood on second and third with no one out, as the lineup rolled around to the top. After Dexter Fowler grounded out, Wisler struck out Jason Heyward on three pitches for the second out (-.075), before retiring Kris Bryant on a flyout to center, ending the early threat.

Key Moment: There were several key moments for the Cubs, and most of them involved home runs. The second batter of the game was the struggling Heyward, and he greeted his hometown fans loudly. The home run was one of three hits for Heyward on the day, a fantastic sign for the Cubs, as they try to withstand a glut of recent injuries.

Cubs fans held their collective breath yesterday when hearing that Anthony Rizzo was scratched with back tightness, but he laid those fears to rest in the fourth inning.

The next homer belonged to today’s top play (shown above), but the Cubs weren’t quite done. In the fifth, Kris Bryant smacked a two-run home run, extending the lead to 7-1. The line shot came off the bat at 110 mph, and never got more than about 30 feet off the ground. It is Bryant’s 15th home run, which quietly puts him on pace to hit 40 homers. He is an MVP candidate in the National League, and he is just 24 years old.

Trend to Watch: Chris Coghlan received his first start this season for the Cubs, heading out to left field and batting sixth. He made several nice plays in the outfield, further dispelling the idea from days past of his being a liability on defense:

It remains to be seen how Joe Maddon divvies up playing time between Coghlan, Albert Almora Jr. and Matt Szczur, but you can expect Coghlan to get the glut of starts against right-handed starters, with Almora and Szczur occasionally spelling Coghlan and also getting starts against lefties. Jorge Soler’s return will further complicate the issue, though his excellence with the bat in the weeks leading up to his injury likely means the job is predominately his once again upon return.

Coming Next: The rubber match between the best team and worst team in baseball. The Cubs’ second ace Jon Lester (2.06 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 3.56 DRA) takes the mound, facing off against John Gant (6.17, 4.52, 3.76)—no apparent relation to former Braves’ outfielder Ron Gant—for Atlanta. Much as much as these teams represent the ultimate stratification of on-field quality, so do the starters for tomorrow’s contest. Lester looks to build upon his fantastic early season results, as he has the opportunity with a solid start to join the under-2.00 ERA club with Arrieta. Gant, meanwhile, is making his first career start, after seven murky relief appearances this year. The best team against the worst team. One of the best starters of this decade starting against a young man making his major-league starting debut. What will happen? The nature of baseball demands that something unexpected will transpire. Tune in to WGN at 12:35 to find what will happen that may surprise you and everyone else.

Lead photo courtesy Dale Zanine—USA Today Sports.

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