Top Play (WPA): Jon Lester might have been the star of this sunny Chicago Friday afternoon, but his batterymate provided the fateful batting blow to fell the Giants.
Every half inning featured five hitters or fewer, save the Cubs’ half of the third, in which the streaking Cubs plated both of their runs. Javier Baez, getting a start at shortstop, doubled to lead off the inning on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. The 39-year-old Ross, entering his last month of regular season Major League Baseball, followed with a double of his own, which hugged the left field line and scored Baez (+.107). Lester promptly bunted, and, although Giants pitcher Albert Suarez had a play on Ross at third, Suarez threw to first to get Lester. Dexter Fowler flipped a single into left-center to score Ross and finish the Cubs’ scoring.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs rode Jon Lester’s phenomenal complete game to their 87th win, now sitting 40 games over .500, and the veteran lefty made only one mistake Friday. For the first six innings, Lester allowed a lonely baserunner in the form of a first-inning walk to after-school special All-Star Buster Posey. The next 18 hitters withered against Lester’s impeccable sequences of two-seamers, cutters, and breaking balls.
Unfortunately, Lester’s 6 and 2/3 inning no-hit innings came to an end at the hands of Jaws extra Hunter Pence, who smacked a flat 86-mile-per-hour slider over the wall in left (-.105). The solo shot was the only Giants run versus Lester, who held the Giants to three hits. The Giants now trail the Dodgers by 2.5 games in the West with just under a month to go.
Key Moment: Since Lester was thoroughly dominant, and the Cubs’ scoring inning was short and fairly pedestrian, I’ll choose the afternoon’s two best defensive plays as the key moments. With one out in the second, Lester tried to put away Eduardo Nuñez with a high fastball. The pitch jammed Nuñez, who hit a line drive slightly off the bat handle, but Lester lunged to his right to snare the ball. It was an impressive play for a pitcher not known for his defensive exploits.
In the fifth, prospective NL MVP Kris Bryant made a diving grab on a diving Brandon Crawford liner, to the third baseman’s right. In the close 2-0 that it was, and with Lester’s no-hitter intact, Bryant’s play was doubly impactful. Dexter Fowler added a diving catch in the next inning, nabbing a line drive off the bat of Kelby Tomlinson, CPA.
Trend to Watch: Chris Coghlan started the game in left, only receiving two at-bats before being removed for pinch-hitter Matt Szczur in the sixth. Coghlan will likely garner more starts in the outfield before the year is out, as Joe Maddon auditions end-of-the-roster players for the playoffs. Coghlan and the recently returned Tommy La Stella figure to be the key players on the bubble, as there is most likely only room for one of the two left-handed hitters on the NLDS team. La Stella probably has the edge, with the Cubs’ considerable positional depth making position less of a concern, as his hitting ability and profile better fit Maddon’s playoff impulses.
Relievers on the cusp of the playoff roster are most likely Joe Smith, Felix Peña, and Rob Zastryzny. Carl Edwards, Jr., has all but secured his spot, as he has succeeded in the high leverage situations in which he has found himself with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop out. Of course, we’re a month away from the playoffs—injuries and disastrous performances can derail these players’ chances, or put them in big shoes to fill. But the Cubs will take on new looks and unique alignments down the stretch, with the magic number down to 14 and Maddon itching to see what some of these players can do.
Coming Next: The Cubs go for a series win on Saturday at 1:20 CDT, now with a 16-game lead on the second-place Cardinals. Two of the best pitchers in the National League face off, as the Cubs send Jake Arrieta (3.66 DRA, 93 cFIP, 2.84 ERA) to the mound. The Giants counter with Madison Bumgarner (3.13 DRA, 90 cFIP, 2.49 ERA), who is quietly putting up his fourth consecutive five WARP season, and his sixth in his seven full seasons.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports