I suppose that if there are statement losses, then this must have been a very big statement win. Last night’s game ended on a bit of a controversial note with the fourth ball that walked in the winning run, and all of that came after the pitch that probably ended Matt Holliday’s season. So today felt almost completely without negative drama and ended up as a showcase for the Cubs backup to the backup outfielder, Matt Szczur.
Szczur deserves separate mention here for his leadoff double that turned into the first run of the game and for his pair of home runs. In the absence of Dexter Fowler, easily the greatest catalyst for the Cubs offense, Szczur absolutely szczed the day (sorry) and involved himself in a bulk of the Cubs scoring this afternoon. It’s a testament to the depth of the Cubs as a whole, that they can give Fowler a day off and still score a baker’s dozen.
On the mound, Jake Arrieta was not perfectly polished, but his velocity was up and he struck out six Cardinals in 5 and 2/3 innings. The one run he allowed came on a Stephen Piscotty solo homer in the fifth inning. Arrieta let a sinker stay a bit too high in the zone, and Piscotty capitalized. Like Thursday night, though, the bullpen came in and did an admirable job of preserving the game, though the offense piling on six more runs in the sixth and seventh innings made that a little easier.
Right now, this weekend feels more important for the Cardinals than it does the Cubs, even though the Cubs have now extended their winning streak to 11 games. For St. Louis, they were sitting a half-game out of the wild card before this afternoon, and momentum looks like it’s shifting against them.
Top Play (WPA): This game was essentially over after two innings, but the top two plays both actually came in the first inning. Szczur led off the game with a rolling double past first base, and then Kris Bryant doubled (+.095) to score the first of thirteen runs. Adam Wainwright’s fastball velocity was down in his two innings of work, and because of that, he couldn’t set up his other pitches effectively. It was an 85 mph cutter that Bryant scorched to left field to score Szczur, but it had been preceded by a fastball that didn’t quite touch 89, so Bryant was ready for it.
Bottom Play (WPA): Realistically, there’s not really a “bottom” in a game like this, but if we must, it came in the second inning on an error by Kris Bryant. It allowed Jedd Gyorko to reach and advance to second base (-.041). Keep in mind that this happened in the top of the second when the score was still just 2-0, and as the Cardinals learned last night, granting an extra runner in a close game can be deadly.
Key Moment: The tone was set in the first two innings, but really in the first two at-bats. In fact, Wainwright had given up a run and had two men on before he even got an out, but the evidence of Wainwright’s struggles was clear by the time Addison Russell doubled in the second run of the game. Through Addison’s at bat, Wainwright had thrown five fastballs, and only one was above 90 mph. He’s never thrown the pitch particularly hard in his career, but as recently as 2013, he could average more like 92, so this afternoon was slow by his standards.
Trend to Watch: The Cubs look invincible right now, and if they win tomorrow, they’ll match their longest win streak since late May/early June of 2001. That was a team that fizzled in the final week or so of the season, but that was fifteen years ago, and comparing these two teams beyond that would be silly.
But the reality is that the Cubs probably have another tricky stretch coming, though nothing like what they slogged through in June and early July this year. That kind of thing doesn’t come along very often. But the month of September looms a bit ominously with games against the Giants at the beginning of the month and a lot of games against the Cardinals. Take a look back at last year’s September schedule, though, and it should have been a gauntlet for the Cubs, but instead they thrived in that month, so there’s no reason to read too heavily into the expectations of the upcoming schedule.
In the more immediate future, the bullpen is going to be at the forefront, as they were taxed last night and used for several innings again today. With a doubleheader coming next Tuesday, Hector Rondon still resting a sore tricep, and Pedro Strop out until probably October, the arms of Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, Joe Smith, and Travis Wood become even more important.
Coming Next: Tomorrow afternoon the Cubs send Kyle Hendricks (11-7, 2.17) to the mound against Luke Weaver, who will be making his major league debut. Hendricks has been the surprising anchor of a staff that is very steady to begin with, and Weaver is 7-3 between Double-A Memphis and Triple-A Springfield this year, though he’s made just one start for Springfield. He boasts a 1.30 ERA between the two levels, and has 92 strikeouts in 83 total innings. Tomorrow is another 1:20 pm start, and the game can be found on ABC and 670 AM.
Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports