Pitching, Defense, and Báez Win Championships; Cubs 4, Dodgers 0


The day after splitting a double header over 19 innings with the Dodgers, the Cubs turned to their ace, John Lester, to win the three-game series against Los Angeles.  What we saw unfold was possibly one of those "signature" games that a winning team has en route to a playoff season.  It saw Lester not only toss a gem, but was described by Pat Hughes as the best overall defensive game he'd ever seen played by the Cubs.  While hyperbole is certainly part of a sportscaster's toolbox, the sentiment is probably genuine.  Let's get to the highlights.

Lester's Day

The first inning started out with some frustration on Big Jon Stud's part.  We've seen inconsistency from home plate umpires all season, and Chad Whitson was no different today.  Credit Willson Contreras for visiting with Lester after a 2-0 count to the third batter of the inning, after having had a borderline call be called "ball four" to the previous batter.  Lester settled down to get fly outs from Justin Turner and Matt Kemp to end the inning.  In the second, Lester pitched around a one-out double to Max Muncy to shut the Dodgers down.

The third inning is where the defensive effort started getting fun.  Their defense reminded me of the type of inning that the struggling Cubs offense tends to have.  With one out, Chris Taylor reached on a ground-rule double.  Enrique Hernandez then singled to left field.  However, the word finally seems to be getting out that you do not run on Kyle Schwarber.  Schwarbs threw home, preventing Taylor from scoring on the play.   The next batter, Justin Turner, flew out to right field where there just so happened to be a five-time Gold Glove winning outfielder.  Jason Heyward made the catch and threw a bullet home.  Contreras made a Javy-esque catch and tag at the plate to easily retire Taylor for an inning-ending double play.

Lester didn't have his greatest stuff - he only struck out one on the day - but he battled through seven innings of five-hit ball, while walking three.  He also threw 119 pitches, giving the Cubs bullpen some much needed relief after having thrown eight innings between the two games yesterday.  He was aided by some solid play at third base by Heyward, but also at third base by Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. who played his usual splendid D in center field, and by Javier Báez, who started at shortstop.  It was Javy who provided what was perhaps the finest play of the day in the eighth inning.  After Addison Russell replaced Tommy La Stella defensively, Báez went to his regular second base.  It was there that he snagged a line drive, then lunged toward second base to double off Enrique Hernandez.  Lester and the Cubs defense continually wasted opportunities for the Dodgers by making all of the plays on defense.

Three is Enough

The offense, as it has been of late, was a mixed bag.

The Cubs scored all the runs they needed in the first inning.  Kris Bryant led off with a single.  Jason Heyward was robbed on a nice play by Justin Turner (who was on the right side of the infield for the shift), and Bryant was out on a force play.  Ben Zobrist then singled on a hit and run, and the Cubs were in business.  Anthony Rizzo grounded into a force out, which allowed Heyward to score.  1-0 Cubs.

The Cubs probably got robbed of a run in the bottom of the second inning.  Javy Báez got a two-out double, then with Lester batting, stole third.  With Lester batting and a 2-2 count, Dodger pitcher Ross Stripling uncorked a pitch that was mishandled by Yasmani Grandal behind the plate.  The ball squirted away, and Javy ran home with what appeared to be a second Cubs run.  However, Lester was judged to have unsuccessfully checked his swing for strike three.  Grandal tracked down the ball and threw it to first for the force out, and the score remained 1-0.

Kyle Schwarber extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning.  After Anthony Rizzo had singled (and was caught trying to steal), and Almora had popped out, Schwarber hit a ball against the slight breeze into the bleachers just to the left of the batter's eye.  It was the 14th homer of the season for Schwarbs, and gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Báez's footprint was all over this game.  He was in the center of another Cubs run in the fifth inning when he led off with a double.  Lester advanced him to third base on a sacrifice bunt, and Bryant scored him with a single to left.  Jason Heyward stayed hot, and doubled to left field.  Bryant was held at third with Zobrist and Rizzo due up.  Unfortunately the rally ended there, as Zobrist grounded a ball to second baseman Logan Forsythe.  With the infield in, he went home and got Bryant at the plate.  Rizzo flew out to center field to end the inning.  Still, the lead had been extended to 3-0.

Seeing as Javy would bat again in the seventh inning, that was when the Cubs scored their last run of the game.  He lined the ball down the left field line, and when Matt Kemp got to the ball slowly, Javy extended the base-hit into a triple.  Tommy La Stella pinch hit for Jon Lester, and promptly looped a line drive into right field to easily score Báez.  4-0 Cubs.  That's it, that's the score.  Cubs win!

Well, there were still a couple of innings to go (Anthony "Don't Call Me Kevin" Bass pitched the final two innings), and the Cubs did flirt with more runs in the bottom of the eighth (spoiler alert: there was a failed squeeze bunt involved), but the score remained the same.

Source: FanGraphs


Winning, of course, is the most important thing about professional sports.  You want your team to win, and you want to have bragging rights over your loser friends that cheer for teams like the Brewers or Dodgers, or even the Cardinals (yes, I admit that I have a few friends who are Cardinals fans - I'm deeply sorry).  An extra benefit is having players that you can feel good about cheering for.  That makes Rizzo a go-to guy.  That being said, I have to admit that I'd not seen until today that Javier Báez has his late sister's name on his glove - he's done it for at least three years now.  I have a good friend whose youngest son was born, and lives with, spina bifida.  It's nice to know that Javy still pays tribute to his sister who also suffered from that condition, and that she still shares in successes like today's.

Moving Forward

So, the Cubs won the series after having blown the first game of yesterday's double header.  I'll take winning a series from a good team any day.  The Cubs head to Cincinnati to play the lowly Reds, and will hopefully not play down to their competition.  Kyle Hendricks will take the bump for the Chicago Nine, while we get our first look at Matt Harvey in a Reds uniform.  He hasn't exactly been setting the world afire in Cincinnati.  First pitch is tomorrow night is 6:10.

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  • Cubs played their best game defensively this year, while the Dodgers mailed it in awaiting their plane flight to the Big Apple so they can get to their restaurant reservation or Broadway Show. Their corner OF'ers (Zobrist included are weaponized to take runs away with their arms), and of course their infield defense takes hits away. At the moment thye posses the best winning percentage in the NL.

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    In reply to rnemanich:

    Glad they have the best record % wise, because they are the best team in the NL, hands down. The scary thing is that they are not even peaking yet. They have a whole other gear they can kick it into. Nitro or Turbo gear when they are completely healthy and hitting consistency, you will see that winning % trickle up even higher!

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I think you are quite right in those gears. Today they made a series of plays that punctuated how good they could be and even the LA announcers were dissing their flamboyant attitude towards making a great defensive play. Today's corner OF'ers really make a team station to station, if Schwarber does not have to chase it around the brickyard. They have to domineering defense around the diamond and when Zobrist plays they don't lose much. Baez is without comparison.

  • I didn't get to watch today, had to "settle" for Pat and Ron, but boy did that sound beautiful! After the roller-coaster ride of yesterday I will enthusiastically proclaim:

    Thank you! May I have another?

    El Mago's devotion to his sister and family goes far beyond a name on his glove. It is permanently inked all over his body. He is covered nearly head to toe in tattoos, though he did save a spot for the 2016 Championship. Another Cubs player, who shall remain nameless, is also wearing a near full-bodied tattoo. His don't express his love of his many, many children, but his love of the "thug life". But I digress...

    This game shows what we can do when we fire on all cylinders. Pitching and defense gets me excited, and it was on full display. Wow.

    I try to remain even-keeled. As the sports cliche goes "never too high, never too low". But a perfectly-exectuted victory has me heading down to my thump room for a little bit of music. Something mellow and relaxing, cranked to about 26 (yes, mine goes waaayyy past 11):

    "Quench my thirst with gasoline."

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I'm replaying it now on MLB.TV - definitely sweet! If I had to move from Chicago I'm glad I got this.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    late, but yes, you may!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Better late than never. Thank you, sir.

    I never really think ahead to any comments. I always just wing it. But I'll admit I've thought about how to make this even more interesting in October. Maybe tie it to a song, or count them down (may I have 2 more, please?). We'll see, and it will be fun, or absolutely crushing.

  • I watched the LA feed of the game. Orel and the new guy were apoplectic that the Dodgers kept hitting the ball hard and the Cubs kept catching them.They kept going on about Lester not pitching well enough to deserve a win. It was fun.

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    In reply to Oneear:

    It wasn't his best game and maybe didn't deserve to pitch a shutout, but he def deserved to win! These things even out. I remember plenty of games where Lester has been seeing eyed single and blooped to death !

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I really think Lester knew they were bushed and pitched to put the ball in play and let his defense make the plays. They did and he walked off with a win and 3rd lowest marque statistic, ERA.

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    In reply to Oneear:

    Somehow complaints about hitting the ball hard but "at 'em" failed to arouse sympathy from Cubs fans.

  • Very satisfying game, great pitching and defense plus timely hitting plus a Schwarbomb, a fun game to watch. Should have been 5-0 when the 3B ump said Lester swung at strike three, not even close. On to Cincy and those streaking Reds!

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Lester was not even close to swinging. I am not sure who the ump was, but he must of had a "senior moment" or was staring at some eye candy in the stands and when they home plate ump signaled to him as everyone in the stadium looked at him, he didn't know what to do but since it was a pitcher up, he called strike !

  • Jon Lester is just killing it this year. Nine wins, 2.10 ERA. Yes, the D helps, but still.

    My ranking of the top three free agent signings in Cubs history.

    1. Jon Lester (by a long way)
    2. Ben Zobrist
    3. Derreck Lee

    Lee is probably better than Zobrist, but World Series MVP, so...

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Wherever we sign a huge contract I immediately feel glad that dude is on my team, but I always know immediately that we will regret that contract. I loved getting Soriano, Lilly, Lester, Heyward, and Darvish. I could go back further with Sandberg and the missed opportunity of Maddux. But you're right, those big contracts rarely work out. Lester's deal has been a pleasant outlier.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    Sorry, but Andre Dawson is def higher the Zobrist. Lester arguably could end up #1.

    #8 Andre "The Hawk" Dawson came here cuz he wanted to be here long before this narrative "Oh he took less money to become a Cub"

    He loved the city and loved the fans before he was a Cub.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    That’s a good call. I’m sticking with Lester #1!

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Andre famously gave the Cubs a signed blank contract, and he was given $500,000 for his MVP season in '87. That was a steal, even in the 80s.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    Lee was trade.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    We traded for D.Lee

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    Andre Dawson was pretty good too.

  • We traded for Lee

  • In reply to mcoley32:

    You’re right. I remember now that my brother was upset we trade Choi. Prospect love.

  • I don't get it. Why does anyone throw a strike to Javy? He now leads the team in XBH and total bases, leads the league in Swing %, yet today they were still throwing him strikes.

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    In reply to Oneear:

    SSSSSHHHHHHHHHH. Don't tell them!

  • Nice way to start out my day, is to read my email with a story about an awesome Cubs victory! Then to head over to my other email address to read Cubs Den. You guys really make my imagination think I was just at Wrigley Field. Thanks for the writing. John lives through your Staff. Go Cubs go!

  • In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    Thanks! I really appreciate it!

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    I was just comparing Albert A and the Schwarbenator. I didn't realize that Albert has a higher WAR this year (2.1 to 1.9) and career also
    (3.8 to 3.1). He has played 244 games to Kyle's 262. I'm still not completely understanding WAR, I mean, I know it means what an average AAA player is but what exactly does that mean? Someone hitting .200 or .220? Anyway, that's alright but I guess in mentioning this it shows how far Albert has come and now how important he is to this team.
    We are really good!

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Right now Stephen Piscotty is the only player in MLB right at 0 WAR. His slash is .243/.310/.376 with a -5.3 def. basically think a guy with sub .700 OPS with slightly below average defense or worse. I’ve said it before but WAR is really just a guide. A 0 WAR player neither helps or hurts you much.

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    In reply to TC154:

    And to think I really liked Piscotty as a player in 2015. But a good explanation.

    To me I think of a 0 WAR player as someone who is often thought of as a "AAAA player." And average AAA player will likely not see the major leagues.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I think there's a good player in there somewhere. After going through what he did with his mom I get that he's been unfocused for the last couple of years. ALS stinks to say the least (generally my response is more, shall we say, "colorful" but since we don't cuss here..". I lost a friend to the disease 3 years ago and have another friend suffering in her 7th year after diagnosis. Awful, awful disease that affect everyone in the family.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    According to fWAR, you have it backwards. Fangraphs gives Schwarber a 2.1 WAR and Almora 1.7. Interestingly, Russell is 1.9 and Baez 1.7.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    OPS is another cool stat to use when evaluating "our guys". I love OPS, since it measures both on-base ability (OBP) and "lethality of the bat"(Slugging Pct.), both important offensive skills for baseball players.

    The Cubs have three guys in the top 20 OPS in the NL for players who qualify. KB is currently sitting at #10, Schwarber is at #13, and Javy holds down #20. That is outstanding for our three young guys. Also, Almora is just a hair outside of the top 25. So we currently have 3 of our guys with offensive breakout years. Of course, I'm not including KB. We already assume consistent (yawn) greatness from him.

  • This game was my first trip to Wrigley in 25 years. Holy Cow! What a great game!!

    I especially liked Baez's steal of third. He caught the Dodgers so unaware that I don't believe the 3rd baseman took one step towards the base.

    Definitely the best game I've ever been to (the sample size is rather small, but the margin is rather wide.)

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Did you notice a lot of the changes to Wrigley Field, or was the "feel" pretty much the same?

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Well, I noticed all the obvious stuff, the video boards, the bullpens not visible, better bathrooms, and the field itself looked better.

    But it did feel the same. That might have been partially due to our seats. The very last row allowed a view of the field with the upper deck hiding the video boards and scoreboard and the bleachers.

    At first I thought the seats were bad, but the restricted view removed distractions from the game. I have probably never watched a game so closely. The only drawback is that fly balls are out of sight and one has to watch the fielders to see where it is going.

  • Bravo to Anthony Bass also. He did his job.

  • Please, hire a proofreader.

    “John Lester”

    “He was aided by some solid play at third base by Heyward, but also at third base by Kris Bryant”

  • Don't worry Sean, some of my best friends are people who have friends that are Cardinals fans...

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