What You Need to Know: Jose Quintana took the hill in Great American Ball Park, trying to build on his recent stretch of success. And in the early going, that’s what he did. Apart from a Billy Hamilton line drive in the second, which scored Curt Casali, Quintana was looking sharp through four frames, racking up first-pitch strike after first-pitch strike (more on this later), staying ahead of hitters, and limiting the damage through well-placed pitches on the corners.
Meanwhile, in the fourth, the Cubs engineered three runs. Ben Zobrist reached on a grounder down the right field line, was advanced to second with an Anthony Rizzo grounder, and was driven in when Javy Baez laid down a beautiful bunt while the infield was playing back. Better yet, Javy ran hard down the first base line and was called safe, extending the inning. It’s become almost a cliche to say that Javy Baez does something exciting every single game, but this was a smart, unexpected, difference-making play, and one that only Javy could have pulled off.
Following the bunt, Kyle Schwarber stepped up and, yet again, blasted a first-pitch fastball into the seats. With the Cubs up 3-1, it was up to Jose Quintana to hold the lead.
Which he did, for one more inning. In the bottom of the fifth, though, Jose Peraza extended his now 22-game on-base streak with a bullet to center, then promptly stole second. Joey Votto ripped a liner to center on the first pitch, and Eugenio Suarez gave the Reds a 4-3 lead with a deep homer to center.
The Reds piled on a couple of insurance runs seventh and eighth innings, the Cubs never threatened again, and they’ve now lost the first two in the series with the last-place Reds.
Next Level: Sometimes the irony involved in baseball is just too much to take. In this game, Jose Quintana had some of his best control of the season. In the past, generating strikes on the first pitches of at-bats has been a formula that has worked for Quintana. Check out how he’s ranked in first-pitch strikes over the past several seasons:
2013: 65.9% (ranked 7th in MLB among qualified pitchers)
2014: 66.5% (ranked 10th)
2015: 69.3% (ranked 3rd)
2016: 65.0% (ranked 9th)
2017: 67.1% (ranked 3rd)
2018: 63.1% (ranks 35th in MLB among qualified pitchers entering this game)
One key to Quintana’s consistency in the past, it would seem, has been to get that strike on the first pitch, something he’s struggled to do this season. Until tonight:
Despite his immaculate control in this game, despite rediscovering the control that led to such consistency in the past, Quintana still served up four earned runs over five innings. Just brutal.
A few other takeaways from the game:
- In the first inning, Jason Heyward saved a run just on reputation alone. After a Joey Votto double and a Eugenio Suarez single to right, Votto was held at third despite there being two outs in a tie game. After retiring Adam Duvall, Quintana escaped the jam unscathed thanks to Heyward’s stellar defensive reputation.
- Kyle Schwarber now has seven first-pitch home runs this year, second-most in MLB behind only Bryce Harper (and interestingly, Anthony Rizzo is tied for third with six). If you extend the sample to 2017, Schwarber has an MLB-leading 17 home runs on first pitches since last season.
- Justin Wilson was brought in for a lefty-lefty matchup with Joey Votto in the bottom of the seventh, which seems fine at first glance. But Justin Wilson had an 18.1 percent walk rate entering the game, second-highest in MLB (min. 29 IP) behind only our very own Tyler Chatwood. And Joey Votto is Joey Votto. Not surprisingly, Joey Votto drew a walk and ended up scoring a run on an Adam Duvall single.
- Jose Peraza managed to swipe three bags with Chris Gimenez behind the plate. I get that Gimenez is a solid pitch framer, but seeing another catcher back there really makes one appreciate Willson Contreras’s energy behind the plate.
Top WPA Play: Kyle Schwarber’s two-run bomb to center (and in his hometown, no less!), which temporarily gave the Cubs the lead. (+0.227)
Bottom WPA Play: Suarez’s homer, which gave the Reds the lead and, ultimately, the win. (-0.263).
Up Next: After taking back-to-back losses on Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana starts, the Cubs hope to salvage the series when they send Luke Farrell to the mound to face Anthony DeSclafani.
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports