World Turned Rightside Up Again--Cubs 6 Cardinals 3

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I'm not really sure why, but this is what I am feeling tonight.

#Bullpenisstrong
The Cubs have had an amazing run of elite closer production the past two and half seasons. The Cubs have employed three different relievers in that role, and the production has somehow managed to get better despite the cost going down. The one main difference between the pen this year and past postseason runs is the absolute depth. Steve Cishek gets the ball so frequently because he is very trustworthy. That eases the load on Pedro Strop who should be more effective. Mike Montgomery will head back to the bullpen at some point this season, and being used as a starter now consistently might actual save his arm for October. Then there is the notion that Justin Wilson was warming up if things got further out of hand after the first two singles in the ninth inning. Writing that sentence just a month ago would have meant Maddon was waving a white flag on the night. The depth is just much better and perhaps an injury to Carl Edwards Jr. now might be a blessing in disguise for October as well.

Guys... I don't want to jinx it but this might be real
The random endpoints game of sample size selection allows one to construct any sort of argument one wishes, but Jason Heyward's recent breakout feels different. And I think it was not just that Heyward delivered a much needed two run blast. It was the fact that he did it to a 100 plus mph fastball. Velocity had been killing Heyward ever since he put on Cubbie blue, but twice Heyward has been able to exact a lot of damage on mistake fastballs. Pitchers having to fear meatballs being crushed will work more carefully which should lead to more walks. The Cubs might finally have the top of the lineup envisioned in the winter before the 2016 season.

Hendricks is Lackey. Lackey is Hendricks.
Okay I am belaboring the comparison at this point, but it is meant as a true term of endearment when I write it here. Hendricks has figured out how to gut through the rough first inning and settle in to give his team a solid chance at winning a ballgame every night. The six innings meant the Cubs had back to back quality starts and also meant the bullpen was only needed for three innings. The outing could have been stronger without some Cardinaling in the middle innings for their third run, but Lester and Hendricks did exactly what was needed of them this important turn through the heart of the division.

WPA CHART

Source: FanGraphs

Bottom of the Ninth, Two Outs

The Cardinals had the tying run to the plate and two runners in scoring position. The inning had been emblematic of the Cardinals performance, but it didn't matter as the Cubs elite closer Brandon Morrow was just one strike away from ending the game. A high breaking ball was thought to be good enough by Morrow but not by the umpire. Tommy Pham had worked the count to full. Morrow delivered an upper 90s fastball high and inside. Pham couldn't help but swing at ball four to move the Cubs back to a half game of the Brewers.

Bottom of the Ninth, No Outs

Yairo Munoz had the most Cardinal of Cardinal hits with a groundball single back up the middle. Kolten Wong dropped a single into shallow right field for the second hit, and the Cardinals were quickly in business against Morrow. Backyard Baseball character Greg Garcia grounded back to Morrow for the first out, but it meant the Cardinals fourth and fifth runs were in scoring position with just one gone. Morrow retired Matt Carpenter on swinging strikes for the second out which left just Tommy Pham between the Cubs and a series victory.

Top of the Ninth

Matt Bowman continued to pitch into the ninth inning. He retired the Cubs in order for just the second time a Cardinals pitcher had accomplished that feat in the game. Bowman retired five batters to save the rest of the Cardinals bullpen after falling behind by three.

Bottom of the Eighth

Pedro Strop is the most consistent reliever in modern Cubs history. He is probably the most consistent reliever since the modern usage of bullpens became en vogue. Strop has been very good for a long time, but I still get nervous every time he takes the mound against the Cardinals. It isn't a rational belief and the more he pitches the more his numbers stablize against the team from St. Louis. Tonight it was three quick outs to hand the baton to Morrow.

Top of the Eighth

Hard throwing Jordan Hicks continued on into the eighth inning. Ben Zobrist reached on a tough play but called error on shortstop Munoz. Hicks went to work against Heyward and got ahead with fastballs. However, Hicks tried to throw it past Heyward just one too many times as his 100 mph heat caught too much of the plate. Heyward hit what would have been the hardest home run of his in recent memory if it weren't for that other slightly bigger home run he hit. Hicks could only get one more out before giving way to Bowman to finish out the frame.

Bottom of the Seventh

I'm glad to see Steve Cishek in this game. It had been over 48 hours since he last appeared in a Cubs game and I think that is long enough to legally report him as missing. Cishek had the slimmest of margins to work with, but retired Thommy Pham and Yadier Molina to end the inning. Randy Rosario retired Matt Carpenter on a fly ball to start the frame.

Top of the Seventh

Sam Tuilalavalall--Tiuvalalli--Tuivailala was the second Cardinal hurler out of the bullpen. Anthony Rizzo greeted him with his first hit of the day. Willson Contreras moved Rizzo into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt fielded by the pitcher Sam Tuivailala. Mike Mattheny elected to walk Kyle Schwarber. Addison Russell hit a pop fly caught by the shortstop. The Cubs were in danger of letting a chance to break the 3-3 deadlock slip by the wayside. Ian Happ dropped a double down the right field line to score Rizzo giving the Cubs a 4-3 lead.

Bottom of the Sixth

Kyle Hendricks worked his final inning in the sixth. It started off poorly with Dexter Fowler reaching base yet again. This time it was Hendricks fourth walk of the game. Yairo Munoz dropped a single in front of Kyle Schwarber. Fowler decided to try for third and was easily gunned down by Schwarber for the first out of the inning. Munoz moved into second on the play but he remained planted there as Hendricks retired the next two batters. At worst, he would earn a no decision in his quality start. His night was done at that point.

Top of the Sixth

The Cubs were retired in order for the first time in the sixth inning. It was the first reliever that the Cardinals faced after chasing Carlos Martinez in just five innings. The name of the reliever was Austin Gomber. Felt a Cardinaling in the making at this point.

Top of the Fifth

Carlos Martinez was working with a lead for the second time in his outing. He promptly worked on giving it back by walking Kris Bryant to start the frame. Rizzo fouled out to the third baseman for the first out, but Contreras' bunt single moved the tying run into scoring position. Kyle Schwarber ripped a solid line drive up the middle to plate Bryant making it a 3-3 ballgame.

Bottom of the Fourth

Jedd Gyorko grounded out to Russell to start the inning. Dexter Fowler hit a solid single into right field, but Munoz dropped a sandwedge shot to give the Cardinals two runners on base. Hendricks struck out Kolten Wong, and that gave him a chance to escape with the game still tied after the Cubs had just scored. Carlos Martinez helped his own cause and put the Cardinals ahead 3-2 with a single just over Ben Zobrist.

Top of the Fourth

Addison Russell blasted a Carlos Martinez mistake to start the inning. That erased the deficit that Hendricks had dug with two outs in the first inning.  Martinez pitched out of trouble frequently. The Cubs managed seven hits including Russell's long ball. He also walked another six batters while striking out five.

Top of the Third

Ben Zobrist reached base to lead off an inning again. This time it would count for something as Zobrist reached second on Bryant's walk and third on Rizzo's fielder's choice ground out. Contreras hit a groundball with some weird break that Matt Carpenter struggled to handle. That allowed Zobrist to score the Cubs first tally with two outs. Schwarber flew out to end the inning, but the lead was now just 2-1.

Bottom of the First

A one out walk to Tommy Pham was one of the signals that Kyle Hendricks was not at his absolute best. However, it looked like he would escape with no damage caused by the free pass with two fly outs sandwiching the four pitch mistake. Marcell Ozuna and his neon green sleeve, however, confirmed my diagnosis of full blown John Lackey disease. It is probably curable, but this is a pitcher that is still helping the Cubs win even at this level. If he finds the near Cy Young level again here the Cubs might have something.

Comments

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  • That was fun! It’s nice to see Heyward, Russell, and Happ produce; three players that struggled earlier. Montgomery back to the pen? We’ll see, my friend. I see Chatwood coming down with a mysterious injury: infected toenail, maybe. I hope Greg Simmons enjoyed the game...

  • That was soooo satisfying.

    Thank you, may I have another?

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    Yes you may!!

  • It feels so good to beat STL. I particularly like that they kept coming back against a very good pitcher in Martinez.

    I am getting a little concerned with the gopher balls Hendricks is allowing. He’s nearly at his number allowed last year and we are not at the break yet.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    When it comes to the Cubs and regular season baseball, there is NOTHING better than beating the Cardinals in their own park. After years and years of the Cubs getting their brains beat in, I relish the fact that we are on top, have been on top since Oct. 2015, and we'll be on top for a long time. So this morning I really liked reading this from the lead sports columnist in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    “They even had Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez pitching. But maybe the Cards just aren’t as good as we thought. Or — maybe the Cubs are better than many people thought. Or, if you will, maybe the Cubs really are the Cubs, yet again.”

    And this: “Run differential is a strong stat — smart baseball people use run differential to gauge just how good a team really is, even if the team’s record might say otherwise. Well, as the Chicago boys on Waveland wavered in second or third place, they still compiled one of the best run differentials not just in the National League, but in all of baseball. The Cubs really are good, guys.”

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    In reply to TTP:

    That’s a big deal for St. Louis media. For the last four years, I’ll I’ve heard from these guys is arrogant confusion. It’s never been about the Cubs being better than the Cardinals, it’s always about the Cardinals simply struggling. Or Matheny. Finally … finally … they’re starting to admit that the Cubs are a better team. I’ve been waiting 50 years for this admission. It’s so schadenfreudicaly sweet.

  • In the grand scheme of things and because of the time of year this series isn’t that big for the Cubs but today’s game is really huge for the Cardinals....if they lose today this really begins decent separation between the two. Come onnnnnn Cubs!

    Happy Father’s Day guys.

  • Mike I am concerned about the adult content on this blog. This hashtag reference to a strong bull penis bothers me....

  • What makes baseball is surprise, surprise, surprise and how humbling baseball is. Each season is a unique collection of individual stories and it is not linear even though stat-heads want you to believe it. Sure there are all conflations that players and teams overall move to their range of standard deviation but then there are surprises. Heyward is currently sporting a .418, he ranks 8th, essentially tied with Zobrist .417. But the last 30 days, Rizzo .541, Happ .533 and Heyward .506. And wRC+ he is 4th behind, Rizzo, 148, Happ 147, Zobrist 134 and Heyward 130.

    Last night Smoltz whom I like to listen his insight on mechanics and impact stated that after Heyward's 2-run blast discussed how he *WAS* blocking himself now like all have recognized is quieting his hands and also initiating his swing with hands. But the results make the Cubs lineup very formidable with Heyward hitting his weight. BTW the other insight was giving Heyward periodic rest.

    Lastly 41% of the season completed, Cubs win today they will have a .500 or better record with every division rival.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Good stuff.

    1. JHey's resurgence is the most significant development this season and of course it coincides with this team finally starting to look like one of the best in baseball. It's not just that he's hit two big homers in last few games, or that he's hitting over .271. The fact that he against two outstanding relievers who seemly no one could touch this year is so meaningful.

    2. I am so happy for JHey and really want him to keep this up, not just for the team's success and chances, but for him personally. I have so much respect for him. I've marveled at how he has handled himself throughout the struggles he's had since he came here. Always positive, always the consummate pro. It's hard not to admire JHey.

    Go JHey!
    Go Cubs!

    And Happy Father's Day, fellas!

  • In reply to TTP:

    Love your second point. Heyward may be one of my favorite current Cubs... not as a player, but just as a pro. Despite his struggles the past 2 years, he's kept plugging away, trying to improve. I was often frustrated by him, but always rooting for him and always liked him for his professional approach. It's so great so see him having well-deserved success again.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    That's the thing with Heyward: his hands. I saw where he was asked to explain his recent success and his answer was simple: "I have my hands back.". For the last two seasons his swing was all arms, with his back elbow flying open. Now he can keep that elbow tucked and turn the bat with his wrists and hands.

    I think it's more about his wrist than his hands, but same thing. As the old song goes "the wrist bone's connected to the hand bone...". Much like prospect development and team progression, injury recovery isn't always linear. Medical science can put an exact timetable on the recovery time for a broken bone or surgically-repaired ligament, but the complexity of the human wrist makes that a much more murky endeavor. We've all seen those wrist injuries linger, derailing multiple seasons and even careers. I think we're seeing the same thing with Zobrist, who was so bad he completely abandoned swinging from the right side at a point last year. He simply couldn't do it physically. The wrist my be even more fickle than the consistency of a relief pitcher.

    This just may be sustainable.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    spot on

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    My wife does rehab as a PT and she will tell you the same person can have a surgery on each arm/leg/hip, etc. with the same doctor and the recovery can be completely different. It isn't that no one understands the variables but that we don't know what exactly will happen. Kind of like forecasting the weather. We know many of the variables and, contrary to popular belief, predicting the weather has gotten much better in the last 20 years. But they still have to give their predictions of precipitation in terms of percentages (probabilities). Not because they don't know what the variables are but what "values" to put in to those variables. Ask any meteorologist and they will tell you that their confidence in the deatils of their forecast go down as time goes out. Even if they know what to look for they don't know what the situation will be more than a couple days out. Which is also why forecasts for a week out can swing dramatically in a day or two, or even a couple hours.

    If Heyward has "recovered" his hitting suddenly his "albatross contract starts not looking so bad. It might even be good going forward.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I think we're saying the same thing. All injuries, and recovery times, are different person-to-person. But unlike a singular, specific event, like a broken tibia or repaired ACL, the complexity of the wrist makes full recovery predictions much more difficult. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. I've had knee, shoulder, and elbow injuries that healed, but we're still an issue for years. Then, suddenly, they weren't.

    I also have to believe that the constant attempts to "completely re-make" Heyward's swing, while dealing with a bum wrist, couldn't have helped. I was critical of Mallee's attempts to re-create Heyward's swing from his early Atlanta days to produce more power, and expressed my hopes that Chili would simply let him be who he is. The combination of a healthy wrist and letting him be who he is may make fans hope that he doesn't opt out of that "albatross" contract.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    My favorite part about Heyward's homer is that I think it was a change-up. Hicks must have taken something off his fastball because that is usually faster than 99.1 mph. LOL.

    If it had been his normal fastball it would have meant Heyward would have not gotten around on it so well...and it would have been a HR to CF.

  • BTW, loved the recap, Mike. Some have complained in the past and expressed their preference for a simple, play-by-play account of what happened. That's fine. I enjoy the creativity and humor that makes each piece unique, even if I don't particularly care for any one example. Keep up the good work.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    I agree with you, BP. I am just so grateful to be able to read these soon after the game is over I am not going to quibble over format and style. I have my preferences but that is as far as I will go.

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