What You Need To Know: Early on, it seemed the story of tonight would be Billy Hamilton and the Reds rendering the Cubs helpless. Hamilton led off the first with a single and then came around to score the game’s first run. In the third, he robbed Kris Bryant of a hit and the Cubs’ first scoring opportunity, and Scooter Gennett burned starter John Lackey for another run in the bottom of the inning. But the second-half Cubs have proved a resilient group whose mantra is simply “wait for it,” and so we did through four innings, and we were not disappointed. The bats came to life in the fifth, and though the modes of offense (walks, singles, sac flies, and groundouts) did not blow us away, the Cubs nevertheless tied the game. However, Lackey decided to take a break from his usual 5 IP/3 R outing, surrendering a three-run dinger to Eugenio Suarez. But the Cubs stayed alive, eventually taking an 8-6 lead on a Zobrist double to cap off a four-run seventh inning. The Cubs tacked on five more runs in the eighth, winning the game 13-6, leaving Cubs fans more than satisfied.
Next Level: Lackey has pitched precisely five innings in a game seven times this season and in three of his six starts prior to tonight. He looked poised to add another such outing to his season until he surrendered a three-run home run to Suarez to make the game 6-3 and end his night after 4.2 innings. The home run came on a fastball elevated in the zone. This season, he has surrendered eight home runs in the fifth inning, the most of any inning (second-most is the second with seven). This trend matches his career numbers detailing his struggles in the fifth inning. In addition to hitting more home runs off him, batters have a higher OPS+ (22 points higher than any other inning save for the ninth), resulting in 22 more earned runs scored.
Part of the explanation for Lackey’s fifth inning struggles could pertain to fastball command. Throughout his career, Lackey has elevated his fastball in the fifth, resulting in a higher ISO against:
Lackey has typically thrown fewer fastballs in later innings, and this season, in particular, is throwing a much smaller percentage of fastballs the second and third times through the order, relying more heavily on his slider, perhaps in an effort to assuage these issues.
Nevertheless, batters have teed off on his four-seam in the fifth inning throughout his career (again, heightened this season), swinging at and whiffing on fewer of them. This trend that has become increasingly problematic this season as he is going deeper into games on fewer occasions, thereby maximizing the damage of his rougher innings, leading to more bullpen taxation and fan frustration.
Top WPA Play: Ben Zobrist hit a two-run double in the seventh, scoring Heyward and Baez to make it 8-6 Cubs. (+.305)
Bottom WPA Play: Eugenio Suarez hit a three-run homer in the fifth to make it 6-3 Reds. (-.310)
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports