What You Need to Know: Jon Lester pitched well until the sixth inning, when the wheels came off. Arizona scored four in that inning, and the Cubs couldn’t eek out a single run versus D-Backs starter Patrick Corbin, rallying late for two versus erstwhile Cub Fernando Rodney before dropping the second game of the series. Home plate umpire Mark Wegner stunted the ninth-inning rally by calling a low ball a third strike on Ben Zobrist, with two runners on base. The Cardinals beat Atlanta, and they are now tied with the Cubs for first place in the NL Central.
Next Level: Lester pitched fairly well, despite the lopsided score. He struck out nine, walked two, and allowed seven hits, and, after a laborious first, settled down until the rocky sixth. Since the natural, but arbitrary cutoff of the All-Star break, Lester has a 4.05 ERA, 26.3 percent strikeout rate, and a mere 6.6 percent walk rate, good for a 1.08 WHIP. In three of those seven starts, he’s allowed multiple home runs. Overall, he’s been relatively consistent this season: his 3.97 ERA and walk and strikeout rates are right in line with those recent numbers. Lester might not be the anchor of the prospective playoff rotation that he was last year, but he hasn’t careened off the rails yet, and he shows no signs of doing so.
Once again, the bullpen pitched solidly, sans an inside-the-park home run-sized hiccup for the returning Justin Grimm. Hector Rondon got some work after being shelved briefly with a stiff back, and the righty looks to pick up some higher leverage innings with Koji Uehara out and Carl Edwards, Jr., struggling.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs threatened in the fifth, after putting pressure on Patrick Corbin in the first without scoring. A pair of nice base hits from Javier Baez and Alex Avila (+.069), followed by a successful sac bunt from Lester, put runners on second and third for the top of the order. With Baez going on contact, Almora grounded to short, and Baez was unable to slide safely into home despite a close play and well executed slide. Kris Bryant walked and Anthony Rizzo flew out to the warning track in right, swatting the ball off the handle of the bat, and the threat ended swiftly.
Bottom Play (WPA): The Diamondbacks took over the lead in the sixth inning and never looked back. After an infield hit by Adam Rosales and an intentional walk to Paul Goldschmidt, the newly acquired J.D. Martinez doubled on a line drive to right, scoring Rosales (-.187). While that was the most impactful play by WPA, the next plate appearance altered the character of the game: Ketel Marte bounced to shortstop, Javier Baez gloved and threw to home, but the throw ended up very wide of the plate and Goldschmidt scored. Baez had plenty of time to set his feet and throw, as Goldschmidt had already planned to insert himself into a pickle, but he slung the ball sidearm and put Jon Lester in an undeservedly tense situation. The Cubs never recovered.
Least photo courtesy Jennifer Stewart—USA Today Sports