It is probably best, after a 2-1 loss to Milwaukee in which Jonathan Villar single-handedly outslugged the entire Cubs offense, to remember that the games carry little real weight for either team by now. And that the Cardinals lost, so the Cubs’ inevitable conquest of the NL Central is no farther away.
Tonight Matt Garza pitched up to the standard he’d set in his previous start, on August 31 against the Cardinals. He somehow perplexed the Cubs batters enough to stymie them almost completely. With the exception of Anthony Rizzo’s upper deck home run in the sixth inning that made us all stop and lean back for a moment, the Cubs produced no tangible threat at the plate. The squandered opportunity of the first inning might haunt them in a game with higher stakes, but it’s hardly more than a nuisance at this point.
The Cubs’ sixth starter handled the task of eating as many innings as he could quite well, and he allowed just one run to boot. On a night when the offense is more productive, Mike Montgomery would be lauded here, but his five stellar innings will probably be overshadowed. They shouldn’t be, however, because he struck out six and allowed just four baserunners. Villar’s fourth inning home run should have been a blip, but for the want of run support, it’s a deciding factor.
All the same, there are plenty of things to be happy about—like Addison Russell’s highlight reel defense, Montgomery’s outing on the mound, Rizzo’s
two one home run (kudos to Keon Broxton for making that grab in center), and the spotless relief appearances of Carl Edwards, Jr., Trevor Cahill, and Travis Wood.
Top Play (WPA): Rizzo’s deep, deep blast to right field gave the game a reset and sparked brief hope that the Cubs would put together more runs and come away with an addition to the win column (+.166). Otherwise, when they loaded the bases with just one out in the first inning the Cubs had their best threat to score, but the rest of the night was mostly hapless at the plate.
Bottom Play (WPA): Jonathan Villar may not be worthy of being dubbed a “Cub-killer,” but his handiwork tonight was certainly pretty close. After giving the Brewers an early lead and then seeing it stolen away, Villar homered for the second time of the night, this time against Joe Smith in the eighth inning (-.261).
Key Moment: In a small but significant sort of way, Keon Broxton’s catch at the wall in the top of the ninth stands out as the key moment of the night. Without his defense, the game gets tied again. And if it had, the Cubs have shown in several games, including one in Milwaukee in May, that they have no problem seizing a late or extra inning victory.
Trend to Watch: Justin Grimm’s “illness.” He exited after facing just one batter with what was later described as a stomach ailment, so it’s probably nothing worth fretting over, but this is the time of the season when playoff teams have the most to lose because of injury to key players. Just ask the Nationals, who saw Stephen Strasburg exit after just 42 pitches last night.
Dexter Fowler has been in a bit of a slump. This loss marked his fourth consecutive hitless game, a stretch in which he’s now 0 for 20. He’s had some lulls before, but this might mean that more days off are in store. He is unmistakably a catalyst for the offense, so when the high stakes games come, Joe Maddon will need him producing in the lead off spot.
Coming Next: The Cubs enjoy a day off today before facing Houston over the weekend. On Friday, Jon Lester (15-4, 2.61) takes the hill against Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06). The rotation has been altered slightly for the remainder of the series with John Lackey pitching on Saturday in front of Jake Arrieta. This is an opportunity for extra rest for Arrieta, and for the rotation to settle into the order that Maddon will want to use come October.
Look for Andrew Felper’s series preview on Friday morning, and then the first game of the series can be found on WGN and 670 AM at 7:10 pm CT that evening.
Lead photo courtesy Benny Sieu—USA Today Sports.