Hey, a tight game against a division foe in the midst of a pennant race is one thing, but that catch is another thing altogether:
Addison Russell reportedly covered 107 feet, reaching top speeds of 19.3 miles per hour. Had the ball dropped, the tying run might have very well scored (Len’s words, if you don’t believe me). It was a remarkable, game-preserving play that manages to stand out in a season rich in remarkable, unforgettable plays. That demands an appropriate response:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 1, 2016
Not to be overshadowed, Jason Hammel went six innings, allowing one earned run on six baserunners and six strikeouts. He labored through a 37-pitch fifth inning, allowing his lone run of the night, but otherwise cruised. Kris Bryant homered (see Top Play and Trend to Watch), Jason Heyward added two hits and a RBI, and the Cubs finished off the three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-5.
Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman struggled out of the bullpen, combining to allow three earned runs on six baserunners in 1 1/3 innings pitched. Chapman needed 31 pitches to pick up the save, making him doubtful for tomorow’s series opener against the Giants.
But that can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, the Cubs moved to a season-high 38 games over .500. Let’s break it down below.
Top Play (WPA): Kris Bryant’s first inning home run proved to be the winning run (+.106). Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong entered the game with some impressive reverse splits, holding right-handed batters to .184/.250/.359 this season, and just three home runs allowed. Statistical trends like that matter not to Kris Bryant, who finished off an absurd August (see Trend to Watch).
Bottom Play (WPA): As mentioned above, Hammel rolled through much of the game, needing just 67 pitches to get through innings one through four, and the sixth. His only real test came in a neverending fifth inning. After retiring Francisco Cervelli to open the frame, Hammel walked Sean Rodriguez. Hammel then induced a Jordy Mercer flyout, before issuing a two-out walk to Vogelsong. Josh Harrison would follow with a base hit, scoring Rodriguez, and cutting the Cubs lead to 2-1 (-.115). A walk to Josh Bell loaded the bases, before Hammel escaped the jam by striking out Andrew McCutchen. Prior to tonight, the fifth had been Hammel’s best inning by opponent’s OPS (.606) this season.
Key Moment: Oh, hey, it’s that catch again. With the Cubs clinging to a 5-2 lead in the seventh inning, the Pirates loaded the bases against Trevor Cahill and Justin Grimm, who had just walked in a run. Gregory Polanco, who entered with a .846 OPS against right-handed pitchers in 2016, hacked on the first pitch, popping it in to shallow left field. Russell gave chase, reaching speeds that would be illegal in most school zones, and hauled it in. It was the very definition of Key Moment.
Trend to Watch: Bryant smashed home run 36 off of Vogelsong in the first inning, making him the first Cubs hitter to reach that total since Aramis Ramirez in 2006. He entered the night hitting .379/.467/.728 in August, and enters September leading the NL in runs scored, home runs, total bases, and OPS+. In August, Bryant saw 36.5 percent fourseam fastballs, more than twice as much as any other pitch, and slugged .943 (!). Just for fun, the pitch he faced with the second highest frequency was sliders, and against those Bryant slugged .600. Not bad for a guy we were told to pump the breaks on.
Coming Next: No rest for the victors. Starting Thursday, the San Francisco Giants arrive in town for a four-game set. In the series opener, Mike Montgomery will matchup against former friend Jeff Samardzija. Montgomery is coming off a fairly ugly start in Los Angeles, allowing three earned runs on 10 baserunners in just five innings. He’ll be making his Wrigley debut as a starter. While Samardjiza has struggled this season (4.94 DRA), he’s riding a four-start hot streak (1.75 ERA and 1.05 WHIP). After throwing a cutter just eight percent of the time as Cub, Samardzija’s cutter has emerged as his number two pitch (23 percent usage rate, 30 percent with two strikes), and has emerged as his most effective weapon (.398 slugging percentage). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM CST.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports