What You Need to Know: The Cubs’ bats remained lively, continuing Friday night’s hitting barrage, and Jake Arrieta settled down after a rocky first to deliver the Cubs an impressive victory. Albert Almora and Addison Russell homered, and Jason Heyward added a bases-clearing triple to put the game out of reach in the middle innings. Arrieta’s return to Camden Yards ended with a victory after six and two-thirds fine innings.
Next Level: The outfield is hitting! A cratering Kyle Schwarber, along with hurt Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, have made the outfield mix and match for Joe Maddon a bit more difficult this year, even with the emergence of Ian Happ as a bonafide hitter. Schwarber has looked significantly better since returning from his short stint in Iowa, but it’s the hitting of Almora and Heyward that made a difference in this game. Heyward still isn’t mashing the ball—his .722 OPS is 11 percent below league average, and his .256 TAv is still below-average—but that OPS mark is 90 points better than his abysmal 2016 number. He’s hitting more home runs (he’s already matched last year’s total of seven) but he’s hitting fewer doubles, and his OBP is still 30 points below his career average. Signs of life are there, but it’s always correct to exercise caution with Cubs-era Heyward.
As for Almora, the center fielder needs to start almost every day. Jon Jay is still hitting well, right around his career TAv of .271, but Almora’s significantly better glove and successful 2017 at the plate have earned him more playing time. He might get exposed by good pitching, but there’s no harm in trying it out for the moment.
The Cubs also continue to pound left-handers, pushing their team OPS versus southpaws even higher than the .797 mark they sported before the game. With two switch-hitters, a lefty-crushing lefty in Anthony Rizzo, and the platoon-split all-star Albert Almora in the lineup, it’s no wonder that the club smacks around southpaws. The turnaround from a 2015 club that struggled versus lefties to a club that is second in the league in OPS versus them has been key to offensive success, and indicates at least some healthiness on that side of the game for the 2017 version.
Ultimately, the Cubs piled up 16 hits, many of them coming from the bottom of the order. Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras also had impactful games at the plate, with three hits each. Contreras tallied a pair of opposite-field doubles, and his hot streak continues.
We should probably pay some lip service to Arrieta’s more than satisfactory start. Early on, he was locating his fastballs very well—on the corners and down—but Sam Holbrook wasn’t giving him the called strikes. Arrieta threw a slew of pitches in the first, but didn’t give up a run, and he quickly settled into a rhythm. A six-pitch third helped him get into the seventh with under 100 pitches, and he exited having given up only two runs, with three strikeouts and three walks. One homer to Caleb Joseph was his only real mistake of the evening, and Arrieta turned in one of his best performances of the year.
Top Play (WPA): Jason Heyward’s two-out triple, which plated three runs, was the biggest blow dealt to the Orioles (+.115). It knocked the Orioles’ win expectancy down into the single digits, and that number never rebounded. Addison Russell’s fourth-inning solo homer, his second in two nights, was just as important (+.114).
Bottom Play (WPA): Unfortunately, the rising tide of offense didn’t lift Ian Happ’s boat. After a perfectly placed bunt single to lead off the fourth by Contreras, Happ bounced a 2-2 pitch right at Wade Miley, and directly into an easy double play (-.076).
Lead photo courtesy Mitch Stringer—USA Today Sports