What You Need to Know: This game felt off starting in the second inning. While Kyle Hendricks promptly retired the Phillies in order in the first, he walked Aaron Alther in the second and fell behind Nick Williams, making Williams comfortable enough in the box to turn on a pitch and deposit it in the right-field bleachers. Hendricks would allow three more runs in the second, making this start the first time that Hendricks has allowed five runs in an outing this season. He only allowed five runs in a start once in 2017 and not at all in 2016, a testament to the unflappable right-hander’s consistency. Unfortunately, not much else of note happened in the opener of this three-game set.
Next Level: Hendricks didn’t have his best command, a rarity for the Professor. While he struck out five Philadelphia hitters on the evening, he walked an uncharacteristic three. Luckily, Hendricks was able to push through five complete innings and prevent the taxation of the bullpen, but by then the game was already in hand for the Phils. There’s not much more to say about the Cubs righty except to hope he isn’t injured: early in the game, Hendricks failed to locate his pitches in a way that I cannot recall seeing from him, and he even looked like he might be hurting due to one unfinished follow-through and awkward pitch. Joe Maddon allowed Hendricks to remain in the game, however, so there should be little cause for concern.
On the offensive side, the Cubs once again frustrated the Wrigley faithful by failing to touch up a mediocre pitcher (this time, Zach Eflin, who should learn to spell his first name correctly). They managed eight hits and a walk, and struck out only twice (!), but scraped across a lone run late. Kris Bryant continues to scuffle at the plate, his first real slump of the season; he hasn’t homered since May 14 versus Atlanta. While Bryant’s average hit .311 a few days later on May 19, it has since fallen to the high-.280s, and his OPS has dropped a cool hundred points. Anthony Rizzo has picked up some of Bryant’s slack, and other hitters are coming alive at the right time to carry the club’s offense, but Bryant’s flagging bat could cause some problems in the immediate future.
Top Play (WPA): The Cubs’ top play on the evening wasn’t even a scoring play, or one that set up a rally. After Rizzo’s leadoff single in the fourth, Willson Contreras flied out. Kyle Schwarber’s subsequent double, moving Rizzo to third, heightened the scoring threat (+.054), but Javier Báez struck out and Albert Almora grounded out on the first pitch he saw to unceremoniously snuff out the opportunity.
Bottom Play (WPA): Nick Williams’s second-inning homer provided the knockout blow, as Hendricks fell behind the left-handed hitter 3-1 before Williams launched an impressive shot into the bleachers in right (-.176). The wind was blowing in stiffly, but Williams likely was looking for one pitch in one spot considering the early struggles from Hendricks.
Up Next: Wednesday’s 7:05 start features a marquee pitching matchup. The Cubs send José Quintana to the bump opposite ascendant Phillies ace Aaron Nola. The Cubs will hopefully fare better against Nola than they did against [checks notes] Zach Eflin.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports