A day after Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero expressed some displeasure for the Spring Training type vibe in Pittsburgh, Joe Maddon decided to trot out the Spring Training split squad B team lineup anyway. Not only did the Cubs go with a bullpen day on the mound, starting with Rob Zastryzny, they also emptied the bench to start the game. Addison Russell, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez were the only semi-regulars to get the start.
The game didn’t mean anything in the standings, and to be honest it didn’t seem like it meant a whole lot to the players either. Sure they put forth the effort to win, but the game just kind of rolled along and was relatively uneventful until the rain came in the sixth inning, pausing play with the score knotted at one.
After about an hour and twenty-five minutes of delay, the game was suspended and no make-up date was announced. Because the game will not be made up, it is officially a tie and the stats count. This is the first tie in the Major Leagues since the Astros and Reds in 2005 and the first tie for the Cubs since May 28, 1993 against the Expos.
Top Play (WPA): After a Josh Bell sacrifice fly scored the first run of the game for the Pirates in the third inning, Andrew McCutchen stepped up the plate with runners on first and second with just one out. He proceeded to hit a slow roller to short, which Russell flipped to Kawasaki and the Cubs turned a double play to end the inning (+.096).
Bottom Play (WPA): The exhilarating moment in this game that garnered the most WPA against was earlier in the third inning in which McCutchen finished by grounding into that double play. After Fryer singled to start the inning and Ivan Nova reached on a fielder’s choice sac bunt, Jordy Mercer walked to load the bases. This would set up the Bell sac fly and in such an uneventful game would end up being the biggest WPA knock against the Cubs (-.097).
Key Moment: Since the game was pretty slow, how about that pierogi race?!? After a lap around the outfield, Cheese Chester and Sauerkraut Saul both approached the finish line at just about the same time. Cheese and Saul both went for the tape with outstretched arms and to be honest after watching ten times, I still have no idea who the winner was (They ruled Saul at the ballpark). What a way to end the final pierogi race of the 2016 season!
Trend to Watch: There wasn’t a ton of excitement in this one, but Willson Contreras impressed with two infield singles. To be fair to Willson, both balls were hit hard and were knocked down by diving Pirates infielders. Contreras has been very hot lately, slashing .385/.429/.731 over the past two weeks, which amounts to 28 plate appearances. With Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan nursing injuries, Contreras could not only be an important piece of the lineup as a starter, but he might also be the first bat off the bench in key spots. The rookie likely has some big time at bats coming in his future, and by all indications he seems up to the test.
Coming Next: The Cubs travel to Cincinnati for the final series of the year against the Reds. With Jason Hammel scratched, look for another bullpen game tomorrow (Jake Buchanan will start) as they continue to try to prep for the postseason. The Cubs should play their regular position players for most of this series, but really the only thing that matters at this point is making sure that everyone stays (or gets) healthy and is ready to go next Friday. Jorge Soler might not play this weekend, but the Cubs will monitor him in batting practice to make sure that he’s comfortable moving around. After that, if all is good, they’ll test him in a simulated game on Tuesday. Chris Coghlan is the other guy that they need to get healthy, though we don’t really have any details on what his timeline will look like.
Bonus shout-out to Rob Zastryzny for his excellent outing. While this “next” is further in the future, this was an excellent audition by Rob Z to be the Travis Wood replacement in the bullpen. With Wood likely gone following the season, the Cubs will be looking for a versatile lefty to fill his role and Zastryzny just might be that guy.
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports