What You Need To Know:
The Cubs fell behind early, thanks to a Jose Martinez two-run bloop single in the first and a Molina solo home run in the sixth. But thanks to a Baez solo home run in the third and Kyle Schwarber’s first career grand slam in the seventh, the Cubs clawed their way back into the game. Hector Rondon, Koji Uehara, and Wade Davis combined to pitch scoreless seventh through ninth innings, sealing the victory.
This season, Cubs starters have allowed 48 first-inning runs in 54 IP, battling the formidable San Diego Padres for worst in the league. Though starters have recently begun to limit first-inning runs, the problem reared its ugly head today, as Lester gave up two runs in the first. Prior to today, Lester was the one starter who had managed to avoid this trend, allowing only four first-inning runs on 10 hits and four walks in his 11 starts. He has also been somewhat of a Houdini, having not allowed a hit with the bases loaded this season, but allowed a bloop single that scored two. Despite this being something of an anomaly for Lester, it is still clear the Cubs must improve first-inning pitching.
Another thing requiring improvement is the MLB’s belief that running on Jon Lester is acceptable. Player narratives are so all-consuming that the notion of Lester’s ‘yips’ has translated to the belief that teams can run wild on him (despite Contreras throwing out 8 of 14 attempts). With two out in the fifth inning, poor, naive Tommy Pham thought he could take a 20-foot lead at first. Lester, who I can only assume hates Tommy Pham so deeply he devised a 10-year plot just to make him look a fool, threw so nonchalantly to first it was like he’d successfully done it thousands of times. Whether this marks the end of his yips or if they existed at all, we’ll never know. But baseball always needs more mystery, and this is one I enthusiastically welcome. Further, Lester has now picked off somebody at second and first this season. It remains to be seen whether he can pick off somebody at home.
Moving away from Lester, Kyle Schwarber proved the hero of the day, hitting a grand slam in the seventh to put the Cubs ahead 5-3. This home run could prove monumental for Schwarber and the Cubs, who have both been scuffling of late. In May, Schwarber slashed .120/.232/.337, and much of the contact he made produced weak groundouts and popups to the right side. His home runs this season had also been pulled to right, and so that today’s home run was to left-center on a pitch on the outside corner indicates an improvement that should increase Schwarber’s hitting performance in the coming weeks.
Top Play (WPA):
Kyle Schwarber hit a grand slam off Mike Leake, who should definitely not still have been pitching, in the bottom of the seventh. (+.605)
Bottom Play (WPA):
Yadier Molina hit a solo home run off Jon Lester in the sixth inning to make the score 3-1 Cardinals. (-.134)
Kyle Hendricks looks to go for the sweep against Michael Wacha in the series finale tomorrow on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. A victory would put the team back over .500.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports