Let’s face it. This is the B Story in Windy City sports right now. Because both Chicago baseball teams were scheduled to start pitchers from Texas tonight. And John Lackey turned out to be the rational one.
Chris Sale is what happens when Edna Mode from The Incredibles crosses over to the Dark Side. But unfortunately, this evening he also had a better pitching line than Lackey, who had to gut his way through some long at-bats and work around a defensive miscue while throwing 115 pitches through six innings.
The Cubs got a taste of their own medicine both offensively and defensively in this game. Zach Davies has made two starts against them and in that small sample, he appears to be developing into quite the Cub killer. This despite the fact that he looks like the favorite part of his job is the opportunity to meet Bernie Brewer in person.
In an effort to appear older than ten, Davies has a giant tattoo of the Seattle skyline on his left forearm. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make him look tougher so much as it gives the impression that he’ll be the first player in MLB history to go on the disabled list with “Gentrified Wrist.”
Despite all of this, tonight he made the Cubs offense know what it was like to face Kyle Hendricks, frustrating their hitters all night long with pinpoint location and changing speeds to the tune of three hits and one run in 6 and 1/3 innings. Fortunately, he didn’t even attend college so the Cubs maintain a decided advantage should a future game ever be decided by Quiz Bowl.
Top Play (WPA): After six lackluster innings, the Cubs finally got a leadoff batter on against Davies when Ben Zobrist broke an 0-for-24 skid with a first pitch single to center. After touching first base, he proceeded to look into the dugout as if to ask “I’m on base…what do I do now?” This expression is also known as a “Ryan Theriot.”
With one out, Craig Counsell took out Davies and brought in Will Smith. Jason Heyward then singled to center. Off a left-hander. After the game momentarily paused just in case this was the apocalypse, Addison Russell sent a liner off Jonathan Villar’s glove to drive in Zobrist and cut the Brewer lead to 3-1 (+.077). Unfortunately, the Cubs would get no closer.
Bottom Play (WPA): Back in the first inning, Jonathan Lucroy showed the Cubs what it felt like to face a classic Anthony Rizzo at bat.
John Lackey sometimes gets into predictable patterns on the mound. Especially if that prediction is “I think he’s throwing a fastball.” Lackey loves fastballs the way he presumably hates people who mess with Texas.
And so he threw one to Lucroy. And then another. And another. And another. And Lucroy kept fouling them off. Low and outside. Low and outside. Finally, Willson Contreras went to the mound after pitch number 11 to remind Lackey that there are other locations around the plate.
Unfortunately, Lackey chose “down the middle.” Lucroy mashed it over the left field fence, hitting a Goodwill billboard. Because he hates poor kids (-.185).
Key Moment: Tonight was Mike Montgomery’s Cubs debut as Joe Maddon went to him in the eighth to face the Mike Mordecai Memorial “Really? That Guy?!” Award Winner Kirk Nieuwenhuis with two on and two out. Nieuwenhuis ran the count to 3-1 and then went the other way on an outside pitch, tucking it just inside the left field foul pole to break the game open.
That’s weird. The home run in Willson Contreras’s Cubs debut felt much better.
Trend to Watch: Tonight showed us the good and the bad of Contreras’s defensive skills. Framing-wise, this game gave us an opportunity to see how far he lags behind a master of stealing strikes like Lucroy. The soon-to-be ex-Brewer backstop got Fieldin Culbreth to fall play to his witchcraft all night long, including a couple of important strike calls against Dexter Fowler and Javier Baez.
Meanwhile, Conteras lost several strikes for Lackey, particularly up on the zone. He still moves his glove too much and catches high strikes with a very awkward pose. This presentation clearly makes it harder for the umpire to call a strike, no matter how seemingly obvious.
However, on a seventh inning wild pitch from Adam Warren, Contreras’s athleticism shone through as he grabbed the errant pitch off the backstop with lightning quick reflexes and upstaged Warren by actually firing a strike to him, nailing Hernan Perez at the plate. Despite the rawness of certain aspects of his defense, it’s clear that the Cubs don’t have another Michael Barrett on their hands.
Up Next: In Sunday’s rubber game, Jon Lester (2.89 ERA/4.03 FIP/3.63 DRA) takes on the surprisingly effective Junior Guerra (3.06/3.76/3.49). The Brewers have run wild on Lester in the past so now that he and David Ross have figured out how to work around his throwing issues, it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. It’s at 1:10 on WLS.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Seiu—USA Today Sports