What You Need to Know: A sluggish, interminable, sloppy game somehow culminated in a Cubs victory. Eddie Butler escaped three separate jams in four full innings before departing in the fifth, and the Cubs failed to score on several good chances early on, but a Kris Bryant triple and Anthony Rizzo home run sealed the deal. Carl Edwards bridged the middle innings, Bryant added two homers for insurance, and the Cubs yo-yoed back to .500.
Next Level: Once again, the Cubs bullpen came to the rescue of the Cubs’ starter. Butler labored through the first few innings, racking up unsightly pitch counts and putting boatloads of Pirates on base. He managed to escape without walking the plank—sorry—and Edwards stopped the flow of baserunners after the Cubs snagged the lead. Pedro Strop squeaked through most of two innings, and Koji Uehara and Wade Davis continued their back-end dominance.
Butler found himself in trouble partly due to very poor defense by the Cubs in the early going. Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ let a ball drop due to miscommunication in the first; Addison Russell lobbed the ball in the general direction of Eddie Butler in the fourth after a Gregory Polanco single, allowing the runner to take second; and Bryant pulled a cutoff throw to home well to his left, across his body, wide of Victor Caratini, allowing Andrew McCutchen to easily score and Josh Bell to take second.
The Cubs are seventh in park adjusted defensive efficiency—solid, but a far cry from last year’s historic marks. They’re still the second-best team on groundballs due to an infield full of Gold Glove candidates, but, as I’ve written in the past, the outfield has failed to convert flyballs into outs at an acceptable rate. The team is the sixth-worst at converting those outs, and it’s unlikely to improve without putting more defensive-minded lineups on the field. Ultimately, today’s mishaps were due to a lack of good decision making, which exacerbates an already fragile defensive situation.
Top Play (WPA): After a pair of innings in which they threatened to score but failed to come up with a timely hit, the Cubs broke the game open in the fourth. With two outs, Ben Zobrist singled up the middle, and Bryant laced a liner into the left field corner, scoring Zobrist and landing himself on third (+.150). After working the count to 2-2, Rizzo hit a laser of a homer into the right field bleachers, widening the lead to 3-0 (+.168).
Bottom Play (WPA): The Cubs’ second was almost that breakthrough inning. Caratini walked with one out, and a pair of sloppy plays by the Pirates on the infield loaded the bases for Zobrist. A pair of fouls and a pair of looking strikes later, and Trevor Williams sent Zobrist back to the dugout (-.077).
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports