Whew … wouldn’t mind if every game was that sweet, eh?
Last night’s Cubs/Marlins series opener was like something out of a Cubs fan’s dream. The team succeeded in nearly every facet of the game, every single starter made a meaningful contribution (either at the plate or on the field), and the breakout Kyle Hendricks threw a complete game shutout the night after every single reliever was used in an extra innings game.
How could it have been better?
- I suppose the Cubs could have scored more than the five spot they put up by the end of the sixth inning, but frankly, it felt like about 25 runs, before the opposing starter, Adam Conley, left the game after the fourth. We recapped the offensive performances last night in a brief postgame post here, but they’re worth mentioning again. Especially …
- Anthony Rizzo reached based five times last night, with a single, a double, a triple, a walk, and a HBP. Even here, at the beginning of August, a night like that was capable of raising his slashing line from .283/.389/.566 (.399 wOBA, 151 wRC+) to .289/.396/.578 (.406 wOBA, 156 wRC+). That’s six points of batting average, seven points of OBP, and twelve points of slugging … in one night! Absolutely huge.
- Jason Heyward also had a nice night at the plate, with two hits (including a double) and his usual excellent defense in right field (he connected with Javy Baez and Kris Bryant on an outfield assist against Derek Dietrich at third base). Last night was, if you can believe it, just Heyward’s 19th multi-hit game of the season and his first since before the All-Star Break. Although he has looked a lot better here, recently, and is hitting .313/.333/.625 in his last four games.
- But I can’t even brush over the defense that quickly, because last night, it was on display. Jason Heyward had a great night in right, including the start of that outfield assist, Addison Russell made a slick bare-handed grab, and Matt Szczur made a diving catch in left. But beyond all of that, of course, it was Willson Contreras who completely stole the show (with apologies to Kyle Hendricks). After Dee Gordon reached base safely in the top of the fifth inning, he led off gratuitously from first base. Contreras, being the high intensity player that he is, fired behind the batter to first, to try and catch Gordon off the bag. While the throw was accurate, it was late and the camera followed Gordon has he finger wagged at Contreras:
Did Dee Gordon just bait Willson Contreras? Looked like he wagged his finger, "You're not gonna get me." I wouldn't test him.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 2, 2016
- Of course, on the very next pitch, Gordon broke for second base, Contreras popped and made probably the most perfect throw to second base I’ve ever seen, Javy Baez applied the tag and Gordon was out. Unbelievable. Contreras, then, returned the favor:
The Mutombo finger wag, classic. pic.twitter.com/f5iQTSmgYi
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) August 2, 2016
- The Cubs also had three challenges go their way last night, two of their own choosing and one from the Marlins. But, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the star of the evening, Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks threw the second complete game shutout of his career and first since last May, looking completely dominant from thing one. His final line read: 9.0 IP, 0 ER, 7H, 3BB, 5Ks, and even though he’s now up over 125 innings pitched, Hendricks’ ERA dropped from 2.39 to 2.22 in the course of an evening. I know how big of a night this was for Hendricks, but I’d prefer to get into it more deeply, later in its own post. In the meantime you can read comments from manager Joe Maddon and others at Cubs.com. Suffice it to say, Hendricks was a boss.
- With that win, the Cubs have moved to 11-6 since the All-Star Break, 64-41 on the season. They hold an 8.0 game lead over the Cardinals in first place of the NL Central. However, by beating the Marlins last night, the Cubs actually inched the Cardinals closer to the second Wild Card spot. They are now just 1/2 game out.
- Myrtle Beach Pelicans first baseman Yasiel Balaguert has been named the Carolina League’s Player of the Week for the last week of July, after winning it the week prior, as well. Through those second seven games at the end of July, Balaguert slashed .406/.412/.719 with a .319 ISO (.491 wOBA, 204 wRC+) over 34 plate appearances. He doesn’t have the best overall numbers, but this is his third player of the week honors on the season (streaky hitter?). Balageurt signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent back in 2011.
- Similarly, the Cubs breakout and possible top prospect, Eloy Jimenez, has been named the Midwest Player of the Week for the same stretch of games. During his seven contests, Jimenez went 15-25, with four doubles and two homers. Jimenez is now slashing .342/.378/.544 with a .419 wOBA and a 167 wRC+ on the season. Those are the type of numbers you have expect to win you player of the week, let alone putting them up in over 375 plate appearances. Although you can make an argument for Ian Happ at this point, I’m starting to think that Jimenez is the obvious choice for the top of the Cubs system (now that Gleyber Torres is in New York).
- Over at the Athletic, Sahadev Sharma has a fantastic read on the recent exploits of Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who looks better and better every single day. If you can believe it (trust me, this one’s a doozy), Carl Edwards Jr. has just overtaken teammate Aroldis Chapman in the whiff per swing rate on his four seamer in all of baseball. Indeed, before 2016, no one got more whiffs on their fastball than Chapman – and for good reason. But now, Edwards has passed everyone, including Chapman with a 37.6% rate – tops in the Pitchf/x era. There is so much good in Sahadev’s article, including comments from the man himself, so you’re going to want to check it out.
- At CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney talks about the trade deadline with GM Jed Hoyer, with specific regards to the Cubs coming up empty on a starting pitcher. Specifically, Hoyer mentions, the lack of movement can be attributed to the shallow upcoming free agent class and the fact that the Cubs were faced with two intra-division (Brewers and Reds) and one intra-city (White Sox) sellers. To get something from any of those teams would have cost a premium the Cubs were (rightfully) unwilling to pay. That said, starting pitching was a significant area of interest for the Cubs, and is something they plan on addressing this offseason, as well.
- Cubs Organist Gary Pressy sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ last night, after reaching hist 2,400th consecutive game as the Cubs organist.
- I almost forgot, Ichiro Suzuki stepped up to the plate last night, just two hits shy of 3,000, and roped a liner … right into a hoping Kris Bryant’s glove, who quikly fired to first to complete a double play. I don’t know if there are many more likeable guys out there than Ichiro; I hope he gets his two hits this week at Wrigley Field. That would be fun to watch.
- Yesterday at Baseball is Fun, we watched as Madison Bumgarner pinch hit for Matt Cain during Cain’s no-hitter, Jayson Werth kidnapped a Bruce Bochy giveaway gnome, a Dodgers ball-girl caught a 108.7 MPH line drive, and Wil Myers stole home with Homer Bailey’s back to the plate.
- Lastly, the Cubs deadline acquisition Joe Smith just got a heck of a lot more interesting. Maybe the Cubs can share him with the Bulls in the offseason:
— David Theriault (@davidtedu) August 1, 2016