The White Sox walked it off in this heartbreaker, but it wasn’t all bad news for the North Siders.
Top Play (WPA): As close as this game was until the very end, the Cubs never once held a lead. Their most valuable play, naturally, was that which afforded them a tantalizing tie in the ninth. And where better to start a recap than the ninth inning? The Cubs entered the frame down 4-2 but still in possession of high spirits. This is a team that you have to believe always has the ability to come back.
Javy Baez, whose two-run homer in the seventh had kept his team in the game, opened with a double then proceeded to steal third, acting as exactly the sort of spark plug you’d want batting in the nine-spot with Dexter Fowler on deck. Fowler, taking on the designated hitter role, then singled toward second base to score Baez easily. Make that 4-3.
Kris Bryant looked to contribute to the rally by lining the ball to left field, but Melky Cabrera (who in the first inning had robbed Bryant of a 26th homer by perfectly timing his grab over the eight foot wall), fired back into the infield to catch the sliding Bryant at second, in what was a questionable baserunning decision at best. Fowler, however, was able to advance to third on the play, and Anthony Rizzo, exactly who you’d want up to bat in this situation, drove the tying run home with a left field single (+0.108)
Bottom Play (WPA): It was, of course, the walk-off blow. With Mike Montgomery on the mound, J.B. Shuck opened with a single to center and took second on a sacrifice bunt fly (yes, it was that kind of game.). Tyler Saladino got to play hero tonight, and his RBI single was enough to drive home Shuck and secure the Sox victory (-0.303). It’s been a bit of a rocky start in Chicago for Montgomery, who has allowed a run in each of his 1/3-inning appearances since his trade from Seattle.
Key Moment: With the exceptions of the run-scoring plays above, this was a Cubs game less about moments than the negative space around moments that might have been. This is to say that the Cubs missed out on a lot of opportunities. In a way, the tone was set from the very first inning when Cabrera denied Bryant. Then there was the third, when Baez put himself in scoring position on a single plus an error by Adam Eaton. Bryant proceeded with a single of his own to left, but Cabrera (quite the night for Cabrera) returned the ball quicker than expected, and Bryant’s attempt for second was interrupted. With Bryant forcing a rundown, looking like the certain third out, Baez, who’d already advanced to third, broke for home. He dodged the first tag attempt at the plate, contorting his body to the right of catcher Dioner Navarro, but his slide took him too far away from the bag to recover. The Cubs put men on base in every inning but the second, yet they weren’t able to convert quite enough.
Trend to Watch: Despite what the box score says, this was another encouraging second-half start for Jake Arrieta, who completed six innings, having allowed four runs, five hits, and two walks with six strikeouts. The White Sox’s first run came shortly after they recorded their first hit of the game, a double by Saladino that hugged the third base line all the way into the outfield. Eaton followed that up with a liner pulled to right, giving the Sox the 1-0 lead in the third. The score held until the sixth inning, which Melky Cabrera started off with a walk, one of just two free passes Arrieta allowed on the night. Cabrera advanced on Jose Abreu’s single, and Todd Frazier took care of the rest. One frustratingly easy swing sent an Arrieta changeup over the wall in deep center, putting the Sox up by four. But it was a single bad pitch left in the zone.
Arrieta has seen an overall decline in vertical movement on his changeup since April, but it looks to be coming back after reaching a low during the ace’s June struggles. Something else to monitor is Arrieta’s usage of his curve, which continues to remain on the rise since June. Regardless of this particular outcome, if Arrieta pitches this way moving forward, games will swing the Cubs’ way more often than not.
Coming Next: It’s Kyle Hendricks vs. James Shields for Tuesday evening’s match-up. Hendricks has been brilliant enough to stand out on an already-stacked Cubs roster, and he’s coming off an outing in which he kept the Mets scoreless over six frames. His heat may only register at 89 miles per hour or so, but Hendricks has found success by leveraging his ability to locate and smartly mix pitches.
It’s also likely that the newly-acquired Aroldis Chapman will make his Cubs debut tomorrow, so watch for the corresponding roster move. There’s plenty more to come on the Chapman deal at BP Wrigleyville over the next couple of days, but as for tomorrow, you can catch the game on CSN and 670 The Score at 6:10pm CST.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports