For better and for worse (but mostly for better) Jason Heyward’s play today was unlike any game he has played this season. After uncharacteristically dropping a fly ball (which of course was hit by Hunter Pence) in the second inning that led to an unearned run, Heyward collected three hits and drove in all three Cub runs as the Cubs beat the Giants 3-2 in thirteen innings.
Top Play (WPA): Since it was a walk-off hit the top play by WPA was obviously Heyward’s single in the thirteenth inning (+0.297), but honorable mention goes to Addison Russell who led off the ninth inning with a double down the left field line, and then advanced to third on a wild pitch by Giant closer Santiago Casilla. This caused the Giants to move their infield in and allowed Heyward’s sharply hit ground ball to get past a diving Joe Panik and tie the ball game at two.
Bottom Play (WPA): Like every other game this series (and pretty much all Cubs vs. Giants this year), scoring was at a premium and the game was tight throughout. Contenders for the bottom play include the Heyward drop in the second inning off of a fly ball hit by Hunter Pence ( -0.069). Pence later scored on a groundout. The Giants scored the other run in the top of the fifth inning after Eduardo Nunez doubled to the right field gap (-0.057), stole third (the first of two steals this game), and then scored on a suicide squeeze by Ehire Adrianza.
Key Moment: In both the bottom of the eleventh and twelfth innings the Giants had runners on first and second with only one out, but Aroldis Chapman and Justin Grimm were each able to strike out each of the next two batters to stifle both threats. Had Travis Wood and Joe Smith performed at levels we were accustomed to seeing prior to earlier this week, or if Bruce Bochy would have pinch hit for Johnny Cueto (who was outstanding in his seven innings pitched) in the top of the seventh with runners on first and second with two outs, this game could have had a far different outcome.
Trend to Watch: Today marked the return of the everyone’s favorite chicken and beer aficionado John Lackey from the disabled list. Lackey, who made his last start on August 14th against the Cardinals before suffering a right shoulder strain, pitched about as well one could’ve hoped for in his return going five innings with two runs allowed (one earned), to go along with four strikeouts and a walk. All of this depends on how he well his shoulder responds after pitching again, but with Lackey’s performance today I think it’s safe to say he is back in the driver’s seat for the fourth playoff starter spot.
But the story of the game was the Cubs’ bullpen. The combination of Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith, Travis Wood, Carl Edwards Jr., Aroldis Chapman (for two innings which I was not a huge fan of), Justin Grimm, and Trevor Cahill pitched eight innings of scoreless baseball. Obviously not all of these guys are going to make the playoff roster, but it feels good to have this many guys in the bullpen hitting their stride, especially since the success of Zastryzny, Smith, and Co. will allow for the key contributors (Chapman, Rondon, Strop) to rest or rehab without urgency during September.
Coming Next: The Cubs travel to Milwaukee to take on the still Ryan Bruan-led Brewers with their magic number to clinch the NL Central title at eleven games. Kyle Hendricks looks to continue his run of dominance against Zach Davies and the Brewers with first pitch at 12:10 CT. Be sure to check back at BP Wrigleyville for a full series preview.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports