Kris Bryant did it again Friday night, homering in the tenth inning to lift the Cubs over the Dodgers 6-4 in Los Angeles.
Most of the natural spotlight here falls upon the high-action late frames leading up to and including the deciding blast: Bryant’s first homer of the night in the eighth pulled the Cubs within a run, then Jason Heyward scored from second to tie it in the ninth thanks to a couple of wild pitches from Kenley Jansen. But even from the start of the game, despite the tight scoreline, despite the fact that the Dodgers led for the majority of the time, there were some stark differences between the two teams, a superior element of the Cubs’ play which Win Probability Added (WPA) illuminates.
WPA is a stat which tells stories. It figuratively shuns the isolative properties we often seek in our numbers and embeds itself in the constantly-shifting context of a game at play. Per Tom Tango, it represents “the quantification of your feelings as the game unfolds,” and it’s been a fixture in our game recaps here.
But sometimes it’s not as straightforward as having varying degrees of positive margins for run-scoring plays, negatives for momentum-killers. Take the WPA figures for each of the first three run-scoring plays against Cubs starter Mike Montgomery, and shift momentarily away from our usual Cubs-centric view to focus on the Dodgers’ perspective.
In the second inning, Chase Utley grounded out to short, scoring Kiké Hernández and tying the game. WPA: a meagre +0.007. In the third, Justin Turner’s own ground out scored Howie Kendrick for a 2-1 lead. The WPA in this case was actually -0.016. The Dodgers took it a step further in the fourth, with Kendrick hitting into a double play to bring home Utley and broaden the lead. WPA: -0.033.
It’s not pretty. WPA rejects these Dodgers efforts as lacking value compared to what was left on the table in terms of runners stranded on base and outs sacrificed. While WPA is not a predictive stat, it does feel a bit retroactively prophetic in this case, as each of the Cubs’ scoring plays carried a WPA of, at minimum, +0.108. The Cubs are winning, yes, but they’re also winning efficiently.
Top Play (WPA): It was, of course, Bryant’s soaring blast in the tenth off Adam Liberatore. Dexter Fowler, who opened the inning with a single, led the trot home to put the Cubs up 6-4, as it would stay. WPA’s verdict is clear on this one: +0.356 for the play of the night.
Bottom Play (WPA): Only the Dodgers’ fourth run was scored without an element of sacrifice. Justin Grimm found himself behind 3-1 against Adrian Gonzalez to lead off the seventh inning, and he served up just what the lefty was looking for. Gonzalez, whom Vin Scully likes to call the “Big Butter and Egg Man”, didn’t waffle at all on his swing, sending a towering shot into the bleachers for a 4-2 Dodgers lead (-0.097).
Key Moment: Mike Montgomery, in his second spot start, was really struggling with command. In his five innings pitched, he allowed six hits, five walks, and one hit batter; it got him in some trouble, and while he didn’t escape unscathed, the damage could have easily reached hemorrhage status. By Leverage Index, easily the most crucial at-bat for Montgomery came against Josh Reddick in the third inning. The bases were loaded following Corey Seager’s double and walks to Hernández and Carlos Ruiz, and Montgomery had been burying balls in the dirt all frame. Somehow, though, he managed a strikeout at this essential moment. Ultimately, it’s probably what kept the Cubs within striking distance.
Trend to Watch: Just sit back and observe the tear Kris Bryant is on. His two homers in the game, numbers 34 and 35, once again tie and then push him ahead of Nolan Arenado in the NL home run race. Bryant now has the most home runs by a Cub in a single season since Derrek Lee’s 35 in 2009, way back before the lows and subsequent highs of the Theo Epstein era. But Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs highlighted in a recent piece that despite Bryant’s personal numbers, his timing of hits and their translated productivity for his team have been actually pretty un-clutch. It’s one more interesting thing to keep in mind while watching Bryant’s MVP campaign, and an extra-inning, game-deciding homer is a pretty clutch way to kick that off.
Coming Next: Saturday’s Game 2 is Jason Hammel’s chance to rebound from 10 runs allowed over 3 and 1/3 innings pitched his last time out against the Rockies. He’ll pitch opposite the recently-no-longer-teenaged Julio Urías, who threw six scoreless innings against the Reds last Sunday. WGN, FS1, and 670 The Score will carry the 3:05pm CST match-up.
Lead photo courtesy Gary A. Vasquez—USA Today Sports