What you need to know:
The Cubs seemed in control from start to finish, and it still felt . . . a little weird . . . considering how poorly the Cubs performed in the first half relative to expectations.
Kyle Schwarber led the attack with two dingers and a triple that missed being a dinger by about three feet of Guaranteed Rate wall. Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer and Kris Bryant chipped in a sac fly to round out the scoring.
Jon Lester started the game poised to continue the Cubs’ post-All-Star Break renaissance, while the White Sox countered Lester with the formidable Mike Pelfrey, he of the 5.33 FIP and 3.8 K-BB%. Lester appeared in control over his seven innings of work, surrendering just two solo home runs. The Cubs scored four runs off Pelfrey in his 5+ innings, which felt like a bit of a letdown considering he’s bad at baseball.
Carl “The Destroyer” Edwards pitched a quiet eighth inning (without walking a guy!) and Koji Uehara closed things out in ninth notwithstanding Jose Abreu’s second solo homer of the night.
In the end, things played out about how you would expect when a rebuilding team crosses a motivated team in the midst of their “championship window” and Cub fans could get used to that feeling.
The Cubs’ starters have performed much better since the All-Star Break. No one can argue with their high-level results: 9-0 with a 2.50 ERA before Thursday’s game. Their pre-All-Star Break FIP was a milquetoast 4.51, while their minuscule post-ASB FIP is . . . wait a minute . . . 4.02?
How do their other underlying numbers look?
|Hard Hit %||32.30%||28.00%|
The Cubs starters are striking out more opposing batters while walking fewer, which is always a good place to start. But the FIP and BABIP numbers make me squirm like when I see John Lackey’s teeth. In particular, their BABIP surrendered is 60 points lower despite their hard hit percent dropping just 4.3 percent. Their second half resurgence may not be sustainable. At the very least, the starting pitchers have stopped allowing first inning runs, for which we are grateful.
On the offensive side of things, Rizzo and Schwarber got the Cubs off the schneid in the fourth inning with homers sandwiched around a Willson Contreras walk. The Cubs’ offense has gotten progressively better each month of the season, including posting much better BABIP with runners in scoring position in June and July:
Schwarber has been much improved since returning from AAA, slashing .239/.340/.500 before tonight’s outburst with a .356 wOBA. Plus, he was graceful as a gazelle sliding into third on his sixth inning triple. Rizzo also continued his recent hot streak with a single in addition to the dinger. In July, Rizzo is slashing .260/.386/.534.
Things haven’t gone quite as well for some other Cubs regulars in the post-ASB world. I’m looking at you Bryant (Sacrelige!) and Jason Heyward. Both appear to be suffering from the same ailment: groundballitis. Heyward hit three grounders to the right side in this game, and while no one is really talking about it, Heyward has regressed to 2016-like GB/FB ratio (1.39 vs. 1.44, so he’s actually a bit worse this year). Heyward’s numbers are propped up by hitting the ball a little harder on average and modestly increasing his power output (.094 in 2016 vs. .145 in 2017), but he’s still a below-average offensive player (89 wRC+; .312 wOBA). Bryant, ordinarily the poster-boy for the flyball revolution, has put up a Heywardian 1.7 GB/FB ratio in July thanks to an equally Heywardian 11.3° average launch angle. For perspective, in his dismal 2016 season, Heyward put up an average launch angle of 11.0°. Snap out of it, Kris, my wife and nine-week old daughter prefer it when you hit dingers!
Top WPA Play (1.61): Kyle Schwarber’s two-run, oppo bomb in the fourth inning.
Bottom WPA Play (1.00): Three-way tie! Twin solo homers by Jose Abreu, and one Willy Garcia off Lester all registered at one point zero zero. Bravo!
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports