What You Need To Know: With last night’s win, the Cubs have a five game win streak and have also won seven of their last ten games. While each game is a “MUST WIN” game, with August approaching and the club still 2.5 games behind the Brewers, each game lost further dampens the hopes of a playoff appearance. Each win becomes more crucial, especially when it is against the team that is also vying for a wild card spot.
After an almost three hour delay, the Cubs sent John Lackey to the mound. His opponent on the rubber was Sean Newcomb. Among qualified pitchers on the team, Lackey is posting the highest ERA and the highest FIP, the latter due to the 25 homers he has given up this season. It seemed as if his dinger demons were going to come around early on derail Lackey’s outing. But a strong show on the mound, thunderous bats, and shutdown pitching from the pen gave the Cubs the win.
Next Level: Lackey has been relying on his slider more so this season than at any other point in his career. According to Brooks Baseball, the slider accounts for almost a third of Lackey’s total pitches. Unfortunately, it is a pitch that has not produced the result Lackey and the Cubs have hoped. It is generating few whiffs per swing and the pitch value, according to Pitch Info charts at FanGraphs indicate is slightly below average.
Last night, out of 86 pitches thrown, Lackey tossed his slider 31 times, 20 of this sliders were for strikes. If we remove Lackey’s errant slider to Markakis in the second inning, the veteran right hander was masterful with the pitch last night. In fact, Contreras commented on the fastball/slider combination last night. “He was able to locate his fastball and slider pretty well, and we were aggressive with it and things worked out,” Contreras told Jaylon Thompson at MLB.com. Hopefully, last night’s success with the pitch will carry through the rest of the season.
Top WPA Play: When the top of the third started, the Cubs were down 0-1. That did not last long. On a 1-0 count, Javier Baez got the Cubs on the board with a home run. After Lackey struckout swinging, Ben Zobrist drew a walk, as did Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo grounded out to second, but the runners advanced the second and third. On another 1-0 count, Willson Contreras hit the second home run of the inning, giving the Cubs the lead 4-1 (+.266).
Bottom WPA Play: In the bottom of the second, Lackey battled with a mix of pitches against Nick Markakis. Markakis fouled off two fastballs and a slider in the zone. However, Markakis was able to muscle a slider that was low and inside over the wall to give the Braves an early lead (-.107).
Up Next: The Cubs finish the series today and then head back home. They have an off day tomorrow before hosting the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Probable starters for Friday’s game are Jake Arrieta and Carlos Martinez. Game time is 1:20 PM.
Lead photo courtesy Dale Zanine—USA Today Sports