A trio of Tampa Bay Rays alums shined in the Chicago Cubs’ Tuesday night 2-1 victory at Tropicana Field in Florida. Former Rays’ farmhand Mike Montgomery excelled in his start, going six extremely strong innings and only allowing one hit. Former Rays’ pitcher Wade Davis looked brilliant striking out the side in the bottom of the 9th to preserve the 2-1 lead and victory. And, of course, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, returning to The Trop for the first time since abruptly departing the Rays organization after the 2014 season, made a smart lineup maneuver by employing left-handed hitter Kyle Schwarber to take on Rays righty starter Chris Archer.
With the victory, the Cubs’ Magic Number to clinch the NL Central drops down to nine. Single digits, baby.
What you need to know:
The Cubs’ pitching was nothing short of outstanding. Mike Montgomery carried a no-hit bid into the 6th, making short work of the Rays’ batters. In the 6th, Montgomery’s bid was halted by a Brad Miller solo shot. But, though the Cubs only had a precarious 2-1 lead for much of the game, terrific pitching won the day as Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. tossed two beautiful 1-2-3 innings and shepherded the lead to closer Wade Davis, who dominated his former team by striking out the side to notch his 32nd save in as many chances
Think about how sweet this victory must have felt for Montgomery and Davis, both of whom were traded away by the Rays at various points in their careers (and both traded for each other, among other ballplayers, in the infamous 2012 James Shields/Wil Myers deal between the Royals and Rays). Tonight’s pitching domination must have felt particularly good to those two.
On the offensive side, Kyle Schwarber demolished a Chris Archer pitch in the 2nd inning to deposit his 28th home run into the right field bleachers and to give the Cubs an early lead they would never relinquish. Javier Baez extended the lead to 2-0 in the 5th with a rope double to left that drove Addison Russell in to score.
Kyle Schwarber’s 2nd inning home run was the only really big offensive blow of the game, and it gives us a reason to take a look at Schwarber’s splits to see how many factors aligned nicely to show how wise of a decision it was for Joe Maddon to make sure he was in tonight’s lineup.
First, there’s Schwarber’s solid second half numbers, which have stabilized a very shaky start to the season.
Though still only carrying a season slashline of .207/.314/.457, Schwarber has pulled himself up to a 100 wRC+, making him a totally adequate starter. While “adequate” is neither the goal nor the ceiling for Schwarber, when you consider his first half struggles, “adequate” is pretty acceptable.
One reason Schwarber has had success this second half has been his deployment against right-handed pitchers like tonight’s starter, Chris Archer. Schwarber’s drastic split between lefties and righties has been long noted, and Schwarber’s performance this season is no exception. Though he still struggles against lefties, he does his best power hitting against righties. This season, 25 of his 28 home runs have come off righties and he is rocking a .484 slugging percentage against them.
On top of that, Schwarber has always excelled as a Designated Hitter. Though having garnered only 52 at bats over his career as a DH, he has always performed admirably to a .308/.373/.635 career slashline with four home runs and 14 RBI’s (and that’s not even including a fairly thrilling and significant week in the postseason last fall).
All things considered, tonight was a pretty perfect storm for Schwarber to succeed. And that he did, as his early ballgame home run proved to be critical in tonight’s victory.
Top WPA play: Javier Baez’ 5th inning RBI double that knocked in Addison Russell and gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead. (.130)
Bottom WPA play: Brad Miller’s 6th inning solo home run that ended Mike Montgomery’s no-hit bid and the shutout, to bring the Rays within one. (-.134)
Lead photo courtesy Kim Klement—USA Today Sports