Well, that’s one way to end a homestand…
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 3, 2016
Trailing by two runs entering the final frame, the Cubs mounted a furious three-run ninth inning rally, propelling them past the Marlins, 5-4. The win finished off the three-game sweep of the Fish, and send the Cubs to the Bay Area on a four-game winning streak.
John Lackey was solid for his second consecutive outing, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, walking none and striking out eight. After allowing a first inning run, Lackey settled down nicely. He allowed just two base more baserunners on 62 pitches through the next five innings, before Jeff Mathis touched him for a two-run homer in the seventh.
The Cubs offense was quiet for most of the afternoon, with Tom Koehler holding them scoreless on six baserunners in six innings. Seven of eight Cubs position players had one hit—including a RBI single from Wilson Contreras—and Lackey contributed two hits to his own cause.
The story of the game, however, would be Marlins closer A.J. Ramos falling apart, retiring just two of the eight batters he faced (see key battles below from Ben Zobrist and Dexter Fowler). In the course of a special season, there are transcendent sequences and games that stand out above the rest. Wednesday afternoon at the Friendly Confines certainly qualifies as such. Read below to see how it all went down, including that magical ninth inning.
Top Play (WPA): After Bryant was punched out on a Ramos pitch well off the corner, the Marlins chose to intentionally walk Rizzo to create a force at every base. Zobrist, he of the 14.2 percent walk rate, never even had to lift the bat off his shoulder to drive in the tying run. Zobrist got ahead of Ramos, 3-0, and after taking a strike, Ramos’s fastball missed low, scoring Javier Baez to even the score at 4-4 (+.390). Zobrist is one of two Cubs batters who averages more than four pitches per plate appearance. Remember that.
Bottom Play (WPA): Jeff Mathis entered today’s contest with one home run this season, and a career .100 ISO against right-handed pitchers. Lackey had retired eight in a row before plunking Derek Dietrich with one out in the seventh. Then, despite his history suggesting it an unlikely outcome, Mathis lined a Lackey pitch over the wall for a two-run homer. Mathis’s shot gave the Marlins a 3-1 lead (-.310). For Lackey, it marked the eighth time in his last nine starts that he allowed at least one home run.
Key Moment: Hey, remember a couple sections ago when I mentioned Zobrist being just one of two Cubs to see more than four pitches per plate appearance? Well, wouldn’t you know, the other, Dexter Fowler, makes a star turn here in Key Moments. Fowler, whose 4.31 pitches per plate appearance ranks the third in the NL, stepped to the plate in the ninth inning with the bases loaded, no outs, and the Cubs trailing, 4-2. After a failed check swing on the first pitch, Fowler worked the count full. He then launched a fly ball to right field, deep enough to score Miguel Montero, and allow Baez and Matt Szczur to move to third and second, respectively. While it was an out, the sacrifice fly brought the Cubs to within a run, advanced the runners, and made Ramos work. The Marlins closer would labor through 35 pitches in the inning, with six of them coming against Fowler.
Trend to Watch: Today’s trend to watch is more qualitative than quantitative, but the Cubs have become the cardiac kids as of late. Wednesday’s series finale was the third one-run affair the Cubs had played in less than 72 hours, and the walk-off win moved them to 15-16 in games decided by a run. The Cubs remain the only MLB division leader sub-.500 in one-run games, but they are inching ever closer to that level. The San Francisco Giants are an NL-best 21-13, while the Texas Rangers are an absurd 23-7.
-John Cusack, Grosse Pointe Blank
Like generations of Americans before them, both real, fictional, and cannibal, the Cubs head west, looking to fulfill their manifest destiny. After an off-day on Thursday, the series opens Friday night, with Jon Lester going up against Dillon Overton, who will be making his fifth career start. In his first four starts, he’s allowed 40 base runners (!) and nine home runs (!!) in just 18 1/3 innings pitched. The left-hander goes overwhelmingly to his four-seam fastball (52 percent) and change (34 percent). Lester is coming off his best start since the end of June, and after allowing ten home runs in six starts, he has not surrendered one in consecutive outings. First pitch is scheduled for 9:05.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports