What you need to know:
The focus of game two of the Cubs visit to St. Louis was on the young guns. With injuries and illness ravishing the team, there have been notable call-ups in the past week or so. The most notable of those was one of the Cubs’ top prospects, Ian Happ. His presence on the roster meant that all five of the Cubs’ first round picks since 2011 were on the active 25 man roster. Four of those five started the game against the Cardinals, with the sick Kris Bryant being the only one not present in the lineup.
Once the shine of the young players wore off, there wasn’t a whole lot to be excited about. The Cubs offense was held in check most of the way, which meant that a mostly good Jon Lester start resulted in a loss. The highlight of the day ties back into the young guys mentioned before. Ian Happ looked like he had his first major league hit on a ball that squeaked through the infield in the fifth inning, but it was ruled an error on the first baseman. That error, however, set up the ability for Happ to hit a home run as his first major league hit. His home run seemed like it might be pivotal, bringing the Cubs within just a couple runs. Instead, the Cardinals bullpen was able to shut down any further threat.
Stadium splits or splits against certain teams can be really wonky. Often they don’t really represent what we think they do. They usually occur in small sample sizes. Going into the game, Jon Lester was 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings pitched at Busch Stadium. That’s pretty good! As interesting as that may be to fans (or perhaps not interesting at all), it essentially means nothing.
Lester has pitched well in other ballparks all around the league. You might not believe this, but Jon Lester is a good pitcher. In a small sample, it’s pretty easy to find times when he’s performed really, really well. That has been the case for Lester at Busch Stadium. It’s random variation for a pitcher who has pitched well for pretty much his entire career.
He had given up just three runs total in his previous trips to Busch Stadium during the regular season. On Saturday, he gave up four earned runs on six hits. He was able to strikeout nine batters, but the four walks and six hits really sunk him. Was he “due” for this loss because his numbers had been so exceptionally good up until today? Absolutely not. He had a below average start against a Cardinals team that pounced on any and all opportunities they had to score, including a squeeze play to get their first run of the day.
Surely it would’ve been fun and cool for Lester to continue his dominance in Busch Stadium, especially because it implies that he is getting wins against a division rival Cardinals team. However, random variation doesn’t work that way. The Cubs offense couldn’t pick up Lester after a good but not great start, so the Cubs lost the game.
Top WPA Play (+.120): Jon Lester’s double to center, scoring Javier Baez.
Lester was just inches away from the first home run of his career. He totally thought he got all of the ball and knocked it out of the park, as he pimped the hit just the tiniest amount with a nice bat drop. It was pretty, but in the end it was disappointing when it simply smacked off the wall. It gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead that quickly vanished.
Bottom WPA Play (-.143): Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play, stranding a runner at third.
At the time, the Cubs were within just two runs of the Cardinals. Rizzo represented the go-ahead run at the plate with just a single out. Instead of picking up an RBI, he grounded into an inning-ending double play. Sounds pretty normal, right?
But wait! Rizzo was called out because of the slide rule as Happ slid through the bag at second. Happ pretty clearly went beyond the bag, but it didn’t appear as though the Cardinals had any shot at getting Rizzo out at first. Happ broke the letter of the rule, but the spirit of the rule seems wrong when it calls out a runner that never would have been out under any circumstances. Naturally, Cubs fans were upset while the Cardinals were perfectly happy to benefit from a probably right but still annoying call.
Lead photo courtesy Mark. J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports