What You Need to Know
Kyle Hendricks was mostly excellent in a duel against Tanner Roark, going seven strong innings. But Daniel Murphy had his number, tagging the Professor for two home runs. Javier Baez went deep, but it wasn’t enough to win the first game of a potential NLDS preview.
After getting dismantled by homers in yesterday’s marathon, Kyle Hendricks promptly gave up a two-run homer to Daniel Murphy before I even had a document open. Hendricks hung a curve, and Cubs pitchers haven’t been getting away with hanging breaking balls lately. If there was a time that Hendricks looked vulnerable today, it was in the early innings.
The defense bailed Hendricks out of a jam in the third. With runners on the corners and one out, Daniel Murphy blooped one to right center that looked like it was going to drop in, but Heyward rushed over, snagged it, and kept Howie Kendrick from scoring. After a walk to Anthony Rendon to load the bases, Adam Lind scorched a ground ball to the 3 and 4 hole, but Rizzo made a diving stop to save two runs.
The Cubs were supposed to catch a break against the Nationals this week since Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasberg are all unavailable. Tanner Roark, however, isn’t a pushover, and he looked like he wanted to make that known. The Cubs were only able to muster two runs on five hits and three walks against him in 6.1 innings.
The Cubs had an opportunity of their own to score in the bottom of the inning. After Hendricks struck out, Jon Jay walked, and Kris Bryant singled up the middle. This brought up Anthony Rizzo who got ahead in the count 2-0, but Roark worked him back to 2-2. Rizzo poked a fastball, down and away, to the opposite field. It was a similar pitch to the one he singled on yesterday, but this one was right at Rendon to start an inning-ending double play.
After a shaky start, Hendricks settled in and only allowed one baserunner after the third inning. Unfortunately, this baserunner was Daniel Murphy who hit his second home run of the day.
Meanwhile, Tanner Roark was even better, keeping the Cubs to two baserunners between the fourth and sixth innings, both of whom were quickly erased with groundballs.
Roark started to come undone in the seventh inning. Kyle Schwarber led off the seventh with a double into the gap, continuing his quest to hit under .200 but still have a TAv over .260. Then, Javier Baez yanked a slider away for a two-run homer, bringing the Cubs within one. Ian Happ pinch-hit for Hendricks and worked a walk. Jay grounded one to short but managed to beat out the double play, allowing Bryant to come to the plate, but KB rolled over on sinker to end the inning.
Carl Edwards Jr.’s control issues continued, as he walked Kendrick ahead of Bryce Harper to lead off the eighth. Harper lined one over Zobrist at second, setting up runners on first and second with nobody out for Murphy who singled to load the bases. Edwards managed to escape relatively unscathed, only allowing Kendrick to score on a sac-fly from Rendon and getting Lind to ground into a double play. It was encouraging to see Edwards rally to get out of his own mess. Ultimately, the run didn’t matter as the Nationals’ new and improved bullpen was able to contain the Cubs after Baez chased Roark from the game.
Top WPA Play
Tanner Roark had a clear game-plan against Javier Baez in the seventh. He tried to get him to chase sliders down and away. The first pitches were well executed, close enough to be tempting, but far enough where they couldn’t be punished. The fourth slider was not well executed. It hung at the belt and Baez sent it fifteen rows up to left-center. (+0.170)
Bottom WPA Play
The Cubs have given up a lot of runs in the first inning this year. It probably doesn’t signify anything, but it doesn’t mean it’s not annoying. I submit that the Cubs’ starting pitchers should stop hanging curves to guys like Daniel Murphy as those are likely to turn into dingers. (-0.186)
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports