What You Need To Know: Behind solo home runs from Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo and a solid start from Brett Anderson, the Cubs shut out the Dodgers 4-0 today to win their third straight series to open the 2017 season.
Next Level: There has been a lot written about the Cubs unbelievable 2016 defensive performance and it has been speculated at BP Wrigleyville and elsewhere whether or not another historical outlier defensive season is possible on 2017. Today—even though there was evidence on both sides of the repeatable defense argument—provided ample evidence that if any team is capable of putting together back to back sub .270 BABIP it’s these Cubs. There are a couple of things that might prevent a repeat “D-Peat” performance from happening, and one is just simple luck; even if Cub pitchers are able to generate the same amount of soft contact that they did in 2016, the spray chart of these hits could be so that it’s possible for even this talented defense to not be able to convert batted balls into outs at a rate we are accustomed to seeing. The second main factor against the Cubs repeating their 2016 defensive output is the prescense of Kyle Schwarber in left field. For the record I don’t think the 2015 NLCS is indicative of Kyle Schwarber’s true talent as an outfielder, but I also think that he’s going to struggle to approach the fielding that an average left fielder would be able to provide. For example, this ball hit into left center by Kiki Hernández in the top of the third.
While the outfield walls at Wrigley are notoriously difficult to navigate (it’s hard to believe any player, no matter their nationality, has had to worry about running into a brick wall in the outfield before), that fly ball hung up for a while and should have been caught. Instead, after a review Hernández was awarded a double. Because of his hitting ability Kyle Schwarber needs to be in the lineup everyday; that’s something that shouldn’t be up for dispute. And there’s nothing wrong with being a slightly below average left fielder—plenty of teams have them and are successful. But if the Cubs want repeat their 2016 defensive performance it would seem that the tradeoff between their 2016 smorgasbord of left field options (primarily led by Kris Bryant), and 2017 Kyle Schwarber might be a little too much to overcome. However, the 2017 Cubs also possess Albert Almora, who made two spectacular catches today to rob Corey Seager of extra base hits.
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) April 13, 2017
oMG Albert Almora again pic.twitter.com/yZjXwSQvUK
— ⓂarcusD²·º (@_MarcusD2_) April 13, 2017
Before the season I would have expected a slightly less than normal regression for the 2017 Cubs defense, it’s hard to be a historical outlier two years in a row. But if Almora starts getting regular starts in center field, maybe that regression is curtailed. Either way, watching Almora play center field is looking like it will be one of the many joys Cub fans will get to experience in the upcoming summer.
Top WPA Play: The Rizzo and Russell home runs had nearly identical WPAs (+.105 and +.102). Special mention also given to Brett Anderson, who got Yaisel Puig to foul out to end a bases loaded threat in the top of the fifth to preserve what was then a 2-0 Cubs lead (+.097)
Bottom WPA Play: Not really a lot to choose from as the Cubs led from the first inning on, but Schwarber’s “catch, but not a catch” referenced above probably takes the crown here (-0.07).
Next Up: The Pirates come to Wrigley Field for a weekend series. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 PM tomorrow with 2016 ERA champ Kyle Hendricks going up against Garret Cole. Be sure to check back at BP Wrigleyville for the recap after the game!
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports