What You Need to Know: Conditions were favorable for the long ball today at Wrigley Field, with the heat index over 100 degrees and the wind blowing out hard all game. The Cubs obliged, launching four home runs en route to a 10-6 win over Minnesota. Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber all went deep this afternoon, but the biggest blow of the day came off the bat of Addison Russell. Trailing 5-2 in the fifth inning, Russell hit a high fly ball into left field with the bases loaded and one out. On most days, Russell’s ball would have ended up well short of the wall, but the wind got a hold of it and pushed it into the bleachers, giving the Cubs a 6-5 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
From there, the bullpen locked down the lead for four innings, and Cubs cruised to a solid win in the series opener.
Next Level: Mike Montgomery was not at his best this afternoon—his start today marks the second straight outing in which he has given up at least four runs. In five innings of work, Montgomery struck out five, but he walked three, and the Twins were able to make consistent, solid contact off of him. Montgomery allowed seven balls in play that were hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more, five of which resulted in hits.
Interestingly, however, Montgomery’s start turned not on the well-struck balls, but on two of the most weakly hit balls. In the second inning, Twins catcher Mitch Garver tapped a roller to the right side of the infield with a runner on first base. With second baseman Ben Zobrist shaded over towards the second base bag, the ball skipped by him, just inches out of reach, which put runners on the corners with nobody out.
Montgomery managed to retire the next two batters, but wasn’t able to fully escape the jam, as Joe Mauer lofted a two-out, wind-aided home run into the basket in left field to plate three runs. Had Garver’s weak ground ball been turned into the first out of the inning, ahead of the eighth and ninth hitters in the Twins’ order, perhaps Montgomery would have got out of the inning unscathed.
Similarly, in the fourth inning, Twins shortstop Ehire Adrianza laid down a sacrifice bunt with a runner on first and one out. The bunt was well-placed to the left of the mound, which forced Montgomery to field it and hurry a throw over to first base. The throw short-hopped Anthony Rizzo and the big first baseman wasn’t able to corral it, which allowed Adrianza to reach safely and both runners to advance an extra base. Montgomery struck out Twins starter José Berríos to get the second out of the inning, but Mauer delivered with two outs once again, ripping an RBI double into center field.
Montgomery was hit pretty hard today, and one could argue that his final line was roughly what he deserved. However, it also wouldn’t be a stretch to say that with a few inches here or there, the Twins could have been held down to only a run or two.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that the Cubs benefitted from some batted ball luck today, as well. Addison Russell’s go-ahead grand slam left the bat with a sky-high 45 degree launch angle, and had only a 4%(!) probability of landing for a hit. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Top WPA Play: Russell’s fifth-inning grand slam (+.364).
Bottom WPA Play: Mauer’s second-inning home run, which put Minnesota ahead 3-0 (-.252).
Up Next: The Cubs will send Tyler Chatwood to the mound for the first time in nearly two weeks on Saturday afternoon for game two of the series. Chatwood will match up against Adalberto Mejía, who will be making his season debut for the Twins.
Lead photo courtesy Matt Marton—USA Today Sports