What You Need to Know
There was a grand slam, a five-man infield, John Lackey stole a base, and it ended with a walk-off on a wild pitch. It was a pretty fun game if you forget about the five-run lead that was blown.
Javier Baez came into the ninth inning with the game tied at six, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. But Baez, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t try to take anything out of his swing. He swung through a 2-1 fastball so hard he dropped down to one knee. He eventually got a pitch he could handle and drove it into the gap. Billy Hamilton cut it off, but Baez hustled to beat the throw into second. After Jon Jay walked on four pitches, Zobrist came up to bunt them over. Zobrist got drilled, but home plate umpire, Ryan Blakney, said he attempted to bunt at it, which was a bold call. Zobrist eventually got a swinging bunt down, getting Baez over to third, who then scored on a two-out wild pitch to Kris Bryant.
But Baez wouldn’t have had the chance to be the hero if John Lackey wasn’t able to grind through a rocky start. (He also wouldn’t have had the chance if the bullpen didn’t blow a five-run lead, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Lackey was lucky to escape the first inning with only the one run scored. The game began with a double, followed by a walk, and a single to load the bases with nobody out. Lackey didn’t have a feel for any of his pitches, and he was forcing Avila to reach across the plate. He was grooving fastballs down the middle. One run scored on a sacrifice fly that was hit to the warning track. Then, Kyle Schwarber got himself an outfield assist by throwing out Zack Cozart at home plate on another attempted sacrifice fly.
Lackey somehow escaped the second without giving up a run—despite allowing the first two runners to reach and then balking them to second and third. Tucker Barnhart swung at a 3-0 pitch, and popped it up. I’m generally in favor of swinging 3-0 in certain situations. You pretty much know you’re getting a fastball down the middle, which is what Barnhart got, but Lackey was struggling to throw strikes. Seems like if a guy wants to give you bases loaded, nobody out, you take it, even with the pitcher coming up.
After getting shut down by Luis Castillo last night, the Cubs wasted no time getting on the board tonight. In the bottom of the first, the Cubs got their own shot at bases loaded and nobody out. Anthony Rizzo launched the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers for a grand slam. When I was a kid, my dad explained the concept of a clean-up hitter thusly: the first three guys get on, and then the fourth guy hits a grand slam. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it play out like that until tonight though.
When your team hits a grand slam, you just feel like your team is going to win. It’s like finding the golden snitch. But with the way Lackey pitched in the first couple innings, it felt like the Cubs were going to need every single one of those runs and then some. Turns out they would need those runs, but not because of Lackey. After dancing out of trouble (and getting help from his defense) in the first two innings, Lackey looked pretty sharp. He finished his outing without giving up a baserunner between the fourth and sixth innings.
This didn’t have any implications on the outcome of the game, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. JOHN LACKEY STOLE A BASE. And he did it by going before the pitch was thrown. It was the first stolen base of his career, and it sure looked like it. Then he got picked off, because of course he did.
Kyle Schwarber had a nice night, going 1-for-2 with two walks. His strikeout in the seventh ended a stretch where he struck out eight times in a row and then reached base in eight straight appearances. You have to admire the symmetry. I’m still holding out for Schwarber to hit under .200 but accomplish one of the following: have a TAv over .260, have a wRC+ over 100, or have an OPS over .800. I just want the novelty of an above average hitter hitting below the Mendoza Line.
After Lackey left the game, the baseball gods came for the runs they were promised and took them from the Cubs bullpen. Hector Rondon quickly got two outs, but then surrendered a solo home run to Phillip Ervin. Billy Hamilton reached on an infield single, and then Cozart took Rondon deep. Aside from a meltdown against the Cardinals a few weeks ago, Rondon had been pretty solid when he could get into a game. Over the last two months, he’s been sporting a 3.20 ERA and a 2.12 FIP in 19.2 IP. He also hadn’t given up a home run in that time before giving up two in one inning tonight. This was only his third game in August and he was dealing with back stiffness, so the rust/injury is probably to blame.
Top WPA Play
Javier Baez scoring on a wild pitch in the ninth. (+.365)
Bottom WPA Play
Adam Duvall’s two-run homer in the eighth. (-.296)
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports