What you need to know:
A rough night from Brett Anderson had the Cubs playing catchup, but the bullpen locked in as the bats warmed up, and a bit of “We Never Quit” magic raised the W.
Tonight’s game presented itself as a rematch affair between hurlers Brett Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. Their first meeting in Milwaukee turned out a 1-1 pitcher’s duel that lasted into the eleventh before the Cubs’ bullpen took the loss. This one was…different.
In a perfect world, from a mental standpoint, the Cubs’ scuffling bullpen would have received the chance to enter with a lead and close out a badly needed win. Brett Anderson’s performance erased that opportunity, as two nightmarish innings of missing spots and leaving balls up in the zone put his team in a 5-to-nothing hole early. But the starter’s fourth inning exit and tantalizing bursts of offense perhaps provided an even better opportunity for the ’pen.
Joe Maddon’s theme with the media during the recent rough patch has been all about late-game confidence, saying, “Right now I can see some guys pressing a little bit. Trying a little bit too hard, particularly out of the bullpen.” With less than dominant starting pitching and lukewarm offense to start the year, the pressure has potentially been outweighing the pleasure for these guys. Chris Bosio even alluded to them going through an indoor bullpen adjustment period, as climate control has presented some unforeseen issues with grip when emerging to the different elements on the field.
Tonight, the relievers were asked to cover five-plus innings with an initially bleak outlook, but they rose to the challenge. Giving up only one run (a solo shot off Brian Duensing) kept the team within striking distance and laid the foundation for a comeback. Win or lose, that builds confidence, which their process-over-outcome skipper would surely emphasize. But, of course, the outcome felt necessary tonight, and the boost from this particular win should pay considerable dividends moving forward.
Top WPA play: The Cubs’ bats thrived on adversity tonight, and a pair of two-run long balls by Schwarber and Montero kept them in it. But the big moment arrived in the sixth inning, when a four-spot gave the Cubs an 8-7 lead. Albert Almora Jr. brought home Montero and Báez with a pinch-hit knock, and then promptly scored on a Jon Jay triple (+.261). A wild pitch to Kris Bryant plated the go-ahead run. From there, Edwards, Rondon, and Davis blanked the Brewers to victory, while an eighth inning Kris Bryant double provided ultimately unnecessary insurance.
Bottom WPA play: The low point by WPA was way back in the first inning when the Brewers established their lead on a Travis Shaw double that scored Eric Thames (-.110), who continued to hit but did not homer in this one. It didn’t matter.
The Cubs and Brewers meet again tomorrow in an afternoon rubber match to close out the homestand. If they can pull out the getaway day win, the Cubs will have taken four of five series this season. That sounds pretty good after a week of panic-like symptoms in Wrigleyville. Speaking of which…
Last year’s start to the season, twenty-five wins for just six losses, was a hundred year storm. Theo Epstein likened it to being in a tree – it’s nice up there, but eventually, you know you have to get down. Torrential winning of that nature is not, as he put it, “baseball reality.” Sure enough, the Cubs immediately dropped eight of the next twelve, and that was not even the memorable dark stretch from 2016. Just a normal return to solid ground.
Of course, a four-game skid at home is tough – decidedly not Cub – but the rotting toadstool view from the forest floor is equally unlikely to last. Champions inevitably stand up and resume the climb. Tonight’s final out put game fourteen in the books. Over ninety-one percent of the Cubs’ 2017 campaign lies ahead. And, in reality, that’s a lot of baseball.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports