With a Pirates loss at Washington tonight, the Cubs ended April in sole possession of first place in the Central.
What you need to know: Winter turned to summer this evening at Wrigley Field, but the offenses didn’t seem to notice the 80-degree weather or the wind blowing out at 16 miles an hour. With the exception of Kris Bryant’s first hit since his return, a wind- and dead ivy-aided rocket triple to right, both teams played station-to-station tonight. The fifth-inning blues returned for the Cubs starting staff tonight as the Rockies took a 2-1 lead on a combination of walks from Jon Lester, a bloop single, and a Javy Baez error. Addison Russell built off of his excellent Sunday with a solid single in the second inning to plate Ben Zobrist and another to lead off the fifth; he’d come around to score and tie the game at 2-2 on a one-out Albert Almora single.
Next Level: After a successful outing in which the successful outcome seemingly depended on the winter weather mitigating the surprisingly large number of well-struck fly-balls Lester gave up, tonight, his batted-ball outcomes looked reassuringly typical: eight ground balls to only two fly balls.
Kyle Freeland got similar results, but both team’s defenses made things difficult for the pitchers. For the Rockies, these were the marginal plays that the Cubs capitalized on: Nolan Arenado looked merely average at third tonight, unable to make tough plays on Zobrist’s ground ball double in the second or Addison Russell’s infield single in the fifth (though he did turn two on a sharp Javy Baez grounder to end the Cubs threat in the fifth). Both Zobrist and Russell would come around to score, however.
On the Cubs’ side of things, Javy Baez literally dropped the ball while covering first on a would-be sacrifice bunt by Rockies starter Kyle Freeland in the fifth, granting the Rockies an extra out that they’d capitalize on. Although it was scored a hit, he then saw a hard-hit Ian Desmond line drive pop from his glove in the ninth to let the tying run reach base. Bryant also bobbled a ground ball in the sixth to allow the Rockies to move a runner into scoring position and Addison Russell’s poor footwork in the ninth nearly let Desmond reach second with one out.
Top WPA play: The differences might have been the handful of well-timed defensive plays the Cubs did execute, including Albert Almora’s running grab of Trevor Story’s fly ball on the warning track in the fourth and Willson Contreras’ pick-off of Noel Cuevas at second when Kyle Freeland pulled back a bunt offer in the fifth inning. But the biggest, according to WPA, came in the top of the eighth. Despite his frustrating struggles at the plate to start the season, Anthony Rizzo’s defense at first continues to be superb. After Chris Ianetta singled to lead off the eighth, Gerardo Parra hit a high-bouncing grounder to first, which Rizzo snagged above his head, stepped on first, and threw to second, where Addison Russell chased down Ianetta to complete the double-play (+.182).
Bottom WPA play: With runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth, Charlie Blackmon hit a bloop RBI single to center to tie the game at one. Nolan Arenado followed this up with a line drive double to left field, scoring Kyle Freeland and moving Blackmon to third (-.155)
Up Next: Kyle Hendricks starts against Jon Gray at 7:05 CT tomorrow.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports