In the beginning of his career, a practically teenage Mike Tyson made a practice of dispensing with his opponents so quickly that the ringside luminaries could barely settle into their seats before the fight was already over. Tonight, it was a first inning lead-off home run, pair of singles, and a Jorge Soler three-run shot that ended this particular fight before it could really even start. The Cubs offense, nearly equally young as Tyson was in those days, and in their own way almost improbably successful, has a penchant for forcing the viewers to just keep paying attention because they might strike early, or they might just rope-a-dope their opposites for seven or eight innings before finishing them off.
And as if the four runs in the first inning weren’t enough, they punched in three more in the third to leave no glimmer of an Oakland comeback possible. The A’s had to lean heavily on their bullpen to carry them through two-thirds of the game, and they should be acknowledged for ending the scoring at seven runs. On the other side, Jon Lester pitched a quality start, going seven full innings and giving up just two runs.
Top Play (WPA): It was, of course, the three-run home run by Jorge Soler in the first inning and in his first at-bat in nearly two months (+.229). After Fowler led off with a solo homer, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell singled in between outs by Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist, and then Soler went to work. He saw two changeups to open the at bat, one in the dirt and then one that he let go by for a strike, but when Dillon Overton attempted to sneak an 89-mph fastball by him, Soler took it deep for his sixth home run of the season.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Athletics gave little indication that they were going to keep the Cubs honest tonight, but when they pushed across their second run of the game in the sixth inning, the odds were at their best. Brett Eibner hit the very first pitch of the inning to end the shutout, but the bottom play for the Cubs came just a bit later when Bruce Maxwell doubled to set up Marcus Semien’s RBI single (-.019). This, too, was first pitch swinging, and it worked.
Key Moment: Probably more so in the long term, but Jon Lester coming out to take the seventh inning bears importance for the work it saved the bullpen. Lester had a very strong game overall, but his sixth inning was tenuous, so getting through another inning was key.
Along with that, a lead-off home run needs to be mentioned. Dexter Fowler went down 0-2 in the count and then worked the count full on three straight balls. In fact, Fowler took just one swing, and it was on the sixth pitch, when he took Dillon Overton for a ride on the fifth fastball of the at-bat.
Trend to Watch: Soler announced his return to the Cubs in as loud a fashion as a slugger hopes to, and going forward, how he’ll be used in the lineup will be a story to follow. Just prior to pulling his hamstring in very early June, Soler had been having a promising stretch at the plate, though his numbers in his minor league rehab games suggest that his timing may take a bit to return to that form.
Soler may also change the dynamic on defense as well, possibly limiting the opportunities for Kris Bryant to play in left in the future and therefore also limiting the opportunities for Javy Baez to wow us at whatever infield spot he happens to be playing in that game. On this note, however, there’s a sliver of a possibility that if there are continued struggles at the plate for Jason Heyward, Soler could be used to spell him in right field as well.
Coming Next: The second game of this series features what would have been a premier pitching matchup had things gone differently this season for A’s pitcher Sonny Gray. But Gray (5-10, 5.84) has struggled off an on all season and did not build on a successful June last month. Facing the ever-potent Cubs offense and Jake Arrieta (12-5, 2.75) as his opposite on the mound tomorrow afternoon, things don’t appear promising for Gray to start August on a better note. Tomorrow’s game is at 3:05 CT on CSN and 670 AM.
Lead photo courtesy John Hefti—USA Today Sports