What You Need To Know:
Here’s how you know the Cubs are going to win: at some point early in the game, they’re losing. That’s it.
In eight of the Cubs last nine games, they were losing, then come back to win. (Yes, there was one they were losing and then lost, but that’s clearly an aberration to this new rule.)
The Cubs two-strike hitting was fantastic in this game. In the 2nd, Kyle Schwarber went 0-2 to 4-2, Happ fought off a couple 97 MPH sinkers before ripping a liner to center, then Russell got down 0-2 on sliders, before drilling a 2-run double to right-center. Javy’s game-tying and go-ahead RBIs in the seventh also came with two strikes. David Bote’s winning walk? Full count.
Lester’s command wobbled in the fourth, he got behind Suarez, and Suarez put the Cubs behind 3-2 with a two-run homer. Billy Hamilton is also somehow still invincible against the Cubs, unless he’s trying to throw the ball back into the infield while Jason Heyward is running.
After Baez and Heyward helped get the lead back in the seventh, things looked good until Morrow gave up a no-doubter to Duvall in the ninth for his second blown save. Thankfully, that brief bummer just gave the Cubs another chance to be the #ComeBackCubs. They almost did it in the ninth, loading the bases with one out, but couldn’t get the run home.
They loaded the bases again in the tenth after Votto was briefly possessed by the spirit of someone much worse at baseball. He juggled the ball while he stepped on first, allowing Russell to load the bases on a grounder…which allowed David Bote to walk the winning run in.
Hamilton came into the game with an OPS of over 1.000 against Lester, and that…went up.
While that’s a bit of a curiosity, it becomes a real tangible problem with a Reds lineup that has three dangerous spots, and a bunch of “eh.” Votto/Suarez/Gennett are going to do damage, but when you let a guy as offensively bad as Billy Hamilton get you, too, it’s trouble.
Lester gave up a double to Hamilton in his first AB, and he scored. In the second AB, Hamilton walked, which is the least excusable outcome in a major league at-bat. No one should ever walk Billy Hamilton, and most people don’t. Once he got on, the Cubs somehow had a defensive play bad enough to score Hamilton from first. It’s a hard play to describe, but everyone threw the ball, and nobody caught it. Picture that, and you’ve got it.
Ultimately, Lester did what he’s done all year, and that’s finding a way to succeed while striking out fewer people than almost ever. If the season ended today, Lester would have his lowest K-rate since 2008 (7.1 per 9), his highest walk rate as a Cub (3.2 per 9), and the best ERA+ of his career (186, 86% better than league average). Baseball is weird.
Lester seems a good bet to improve those peripherals, but it would be hard to improve on his results. With a rotation that has gone from a potential four aces, to one where Mike Montgomery looks like a potential game 2 playoff starter, the Cubs have to hope that he keeps working this first half magic… and that Billy Hamilton doesn’t end up being traded at the deadline to a playoff opponent.
Top WPA Play: Clutch Javy Baez almost tied it with a bunt that rolled foul, and instead he singled to center with two strikes, and Jason Heyward scored all the way from first to take the lead. Heyward was running on the play, hustled to third, saw Hamilton looped a nonchalant throw back in, and took off for home. Wow. (+.411)
Bottom WPA Play: My heart tells me it was walking Hamilton and playing hot potato for a full minute while he ran around the bases — (-1 billion, unofficially) – but the numbers say it was the Duvall home run in the 9th, delaying the inevitable win by one more inning (-.332)
Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports