What You Need to Know:
After a rocky start, Jon Lester threw seven strong innings backed by big days from Ian Happ and Javier Baez. Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis were perfect out of the bullpen to preserve the win.
After getting shut out in last night’s game, it seemed as if the offense would continue their fecklessness after Kris Bryant and Addison Russell both struck out with a runner in scoring position. But you couldn’t be too mad at them. They were, after all, going up against Justin Nicolino who brought his K/9 up from 4.20 in 2016 to 5.63 this year. Fortunately, Ian Happ was able to get the Cubs on the board for the first time since Thursday with a bloop single.
Jon Lester promptly gave up the lead in the bottom of the first on a three run homer from JT Realmuto. The Cubs broadcast showed a graphic stating that Lester has given up 11 earned runs in 16 first innings this year, which points to a bit of an unusual trend. Ordinarily, starting pitchers are much less effective the more times they go through the batting order, but not Lester.
|1st Time Through Order||2nd Time Through Order||3rd Time Through Order|
It’s a small sample for sure, and many of his peripherals don’t indicate that Lester is a different pitcher the third time through the order, but for whatever reason, hitters fare much better against Jon Lester the first time through the order than they do the second and third times.
As good as Lester was, this may have been another maddening loss if it weren’t for Happ and Baez, who went 2 for 3 and 2 for 4 respectively. Happ didn’t just have a good day at the plate though. He also impressed on the basepaths and in the field, taking second on a lapse of focus from Christian Yelich and making a nice play ranging to his right in the 8th inning. Though there have been several disappointments for the Cubs this season, Happ’s development and performance have been encouraging and fun to watch.
Top WPA Play:
Addison Russell doubled to lead off the sixth, and he could have scored on Happ’s single if it weren’t for a prescient deke by Christian Yelich that prevented Russell from advancing past third. This set up runners on second and third with nobody out for Javier Baez. Don Mattingly pulled the infield in, which seemed risky since a ground ball past the defense would likely score two. To take the lead, all Baez had to do was put the ball in play without hitting it right at a defender. Baez, of course, does not have a “put the ball in play” swing. After Baez swung out of his shoes through two fastballs I knew how the rest of the inning was going to play out. Baez was going to strike out, Almora was going to pop out, and the inning would end with Zagunis still hitless and the game still tied. But I’m an idiot and Javier Baez is good. Baez drove another fastball over Stanton’s head and scored both runs. Let this be a reminder that Baez is going to do what works for him, and though it may be frustrating as hell when it doesn’t work, it’s totally rad when it does.
He had a sweet tag to get Dee Gordon trying to stealing third in the bottom of the inning, too. (+0.128)
Bottom WPA Play:
After the first inning, Lester was unstoppable, mixing locations and hitting his spots about as well as he could. At one point, Lester retired 13 batters in a row. But it took some time for Lester to settle down. In the first inning, the Marlins were jumping on Lester’s offerings and Lester was having trouble getting the ball where he wanted it to go. After walking Stanton and giving up a single to Yelich, Lester threw his worst pitch of the afternoon to JT Realmuto. After the dinger, Lester only allowed two more baserunners until Carl Edwards Jr. relieved him in the eighth. (-0.275)
Lead photo courtesy Jasen Vinlove—USA Today Sports