What You Need to Know: The Cubs steal away from Pittsburgh with a series victory, thanks to a rare strong outing from John Lackey and timely hits from Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo. Contreras doubled twice to drive in three runs, and Rizzo continued his tear at the plate, adding a two-run homer.
Next Level: The biggest problem with this year’s club has been the dearth of hitting from the non-Bryzzo tandem. Sunday, the Cubs received offensive contributions from some of their role players. The aforementioned Contreras, who was hitting an uninspiring .244/.313/.394 coming into the game, golfed a low fastball from Jameson Taillon off the center-field wall, scoring Rizzo in the first. Two innings later, Taillon hung a curveball with the bases loaded, and Contreras ripped it down the left-field line to plate two more runs. While backup Miguel Montero has surprised this season with his bat, Contreras has disappointed; getting the exuberant catcher back on track offensively is imperative to the Cubs’ continued success.
Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ, and Javier Baez all added key hits. Schwarber swatted a double to right, over the head of Josh Bell, and is trending in the right direction in June. Happ hit his third home run in five games, improving his season line of .220/.310/.520. Happ has shown impressive power output—perhaps a bit unsustainable, as he never profiled as a high-power hitter—but his eight homers in 118 plate appearances (and nine at Iowa before his call-up!) will pass any test. Javier Baez has upped his slugging percentage in each of his major-league seasons, but has dropped significantly in average and on-base percentage. The center field complement of Jay and Albert Almora has hit adequately, and continues to do so.
In the end, the Cubs need these hitters to perform well in order to scratch their way above .500 and win the division. There were some signs of life today against a good pitcher.
Top Play (WPA): Contreras’s third-inning double, scoring two runs, was the game’s most impactful play (+.111).
Bottom Play (WPA): Lackey’s 20th home run allowed of the season was the Pirates’ only offensive blow of the day, a liner just inside the right-field foul pole by Jordy Mercer (-.067). Lackey is on pace to give up more than 40 home runs, a mark reached last season by only James Shields. The ball is juiced this year, and home runs are up, but Lackey is near the worst in the league in home runs allowed.
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports