What you need to know:
Fans know the script the Cubs have followed this season all too well: fall behind early, watch their starter struggle, put lots of runners on base, wait for the two-out hit that never comes, fall short in the end, tell themselves not to worry.
The Cubs managed to flip at least parts of that script on this night: instead of falling behind early and struggling to come back as the game wore on, the Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a double by Ben Zobrist at 102.9 mph off the bat, followed by a 109 mph bomb off Kris Bryant’s bat. Had the wind not blown in from left at a crisp 15+ mph throughout the evening, Bryant’s dinger probably lands on Waveland Ave.
Eddie Butler also turned in his strongest start for the Cubs to date, cruising through the first five innings using just 56 pitches and allowing just two baserunners. A leadoff double, sac bunt, and sac fly gave the Fish their first run in the sixth, ending Butler’s night, and turning things over to Mike Montgomery. Montgomery proceeded to pitch 3.1 impressive innings as the de facto second starter, while (probably) earning the three-inning subjective save AND a save of the normal-er, stupider variety.
Importantly, with the Marlins in town, Marlins Man has taken up roost behind home plate, where he and his nemesis, 1989 Neon Pink Wrigley Field All-Star Game Hat Guy, let their cold war stew for all to see.
Butler started his fifth game for the Cubs, and we still didn’t know what to expect from him from a results perspective. We do know that he has changed his pitch repertoire and selection this season as compared to his previous MLB stints:
The biggest changes are fairly obvious: Butler has all but abandoned his slider and learned to throw a curve. His adoption of the curveball reflects the broader MLB trend towards throwing more curveballs amid pitcher’s offspeed options:
Butler also started throwing a cutter this season, which is another pitch that pitchers have turned to more over the past 10 years, doubling in usage since 2007. Perhaps Butler’s adoption of the curve and cutter is a window into what the Cubs, Chris Bosio, and crew saw in Butler: a guy with ostensibly good stuff, who wasn’t missing bats, but had not adopted two of the most effective pitches in today’s game. Fun to watch as the season progresses.
Butler spun his curveball with gleeful efficacy tonight . . . well, that may be overstating it a bit, but he threw his Uncle Charlie 11 times, generating two swinging strikes. On the other 51 pitches Butler threw, he generated the same number of whiffs (two).
The Cubs got off on the right foot thanks to Schwarber’s catch in the first inning, which at 49 percent catch likelihood would rate as four-stars by Statcast’s Catch Probability metric. Statcast recently updated their catch probability calculations to take directionality into account. In other words, they looked at the direction outfielders had to run to make plays to see if running in certain directions made catching flyballs harder or easier. It turns out that running backwards is, in fact, more difficult, which makes Schwarber’s play going back on the ball in the first inning all the more impressive. Chalk up one four-star play and one five-star play for Schwarber this season.
Interestingly, Kris Bryant’s home run wasn’t even the hardest hit ball of the first inning. Maddeningly, that honor belongs to Willson Contreras, who smoked a grounder for a single up the middle at 109.1 mph. That is maddening to me because his GB/FB ratio is a woeful 2.14. Combining his proclivity for hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball on the ground has led to seven double plays this season, or 3.12 more double plays than average given his GB/FB tendencies, and good for third worst among catchers in MLB. And for a fast guy, that is maddening.
Top WPA Play (.129 ): Kris Bryant’s two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.
Bottom WPA Play (.067 ): J.T. Riddle’s single to center to start of the top of the eighth inning. Huh?
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports