The Chicago Cubs fielded an outfield with only one of their Opening Day starters out there, they left 10 men on base, and Jon Lester fielded a ground ball that got stuck in his glove.
They still won on Wednesday afternoon, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2.
They took the three-game road series by scores of 7-2, 7-1 and 6-2.
I’ll save you the math and give you the final score: 20-5.
In six games against the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs have gone 5-1.
The Pittsburgh Massacre gave the Cubs a 6 game lead in the NL Central through May 4th.
They start a four-game series at home on Thursday against the Washington Nationals, which is likely going to be billed by the national media as a potential preview of the National League Championship Series.
There’s still a long way to go, of course, but the Cubs have put up some unprecedented numbers through their 20-6 start to the season.
When your team is accomplishing things that haven’t been done since John McGraw’s mighty 1905 New York Giants squad, you’re doing alright.
Their Pythagorean record is 22-4.
Their run differential is plus-93.
In the average game, they win by 3.6 runs.
The next best is the previously mentioned Nationals, who win by an average of 1.5.
For reference, last year’s leaders were the Toronto Blue Jays, who won by an average of 1.4.
They’re walking in 13.3% of their plate appearances. (9.2% led the league last season.)
Something’s got to give, right?
On the one hand, folks are quick to point out that it’s only May 3rd, so being back four games isn’t such a big deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The flip side, of course, is that it’s only May 3rd and the Chicago Cubs are already up by four games.
You could say it’s a very small deficit to make up.
Or could you say that, at this pace, the Cubs would clinch the division on September 5th.
It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.
Round 1 of Cubs vs. Pirates turned nasty when Kyle Lobstein – whether on his own or under direction of Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle – decided to throw at Ben Zobrist in retaliation for Cubs starter Jason Hammel having hit Starling Marte the inning prior.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had some choice f-bombs for Lobstein.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had some in return for Maddon.
And home plate umpire Laz Diaz was stuck in the middle of it all, trying to assure all parties involved that he had things under control.
In the end, it was a lop-sided 7-2 win for the Cubs, who gave Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole fits with their usual 2016 brand of running up pitch counts.
Cole left after 4.2 innings of work, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) on 10 base runners (6 hits, 4 walks).
Chicago is now a combined 3-1 against the other NL Central superpowers, the St. Louis Cardinals proposing to be the other member of the preseason Big 3.
Though, at 13-13, having been swept at home by the Washington Nationals over the weekend and Adam Wainwright paying too much attention to what social media trolls are saying about him, my doubts about the Redbirds are starting to creep in.
It’s a good start for the Cubs, who had an undoubtedly easy April schedule.
To their credit, they took advantage of it.
They start May with three games in Pittsburgh before a 10-game home-stand that begins with four games against the Nats and ends with three against the Bucs.
With three games in St. Louis and four at home against the stacked Los Angeles Dodgers towards the end of the month, it should be interesting to see where they’re at exactly one month from today.
For now, the view from four games up is pretty good.
I figured I would be writing this morning about Jake Arrieta‘s second consecutive no-hitter, thrown in blustery weather against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field last night.
But perpetual rain took the game away from the Chicago Cubs, so instead we’re left with a rash of allegations (suspicions?) that Arrieta is juicing.
The loudest voices in these claims are notorious gasbags Stephen A. Smith and Ozzie Guillen Jr., so… perhaps best left not examined.
In today’s day and age, it’s never exactly shocking if a player is found to be using PED.
With Arrieta, I’m inclined to think that his renowned workout regimen and dedication to healthy eating has everything to do with it.
It also seems that in my 30-plus years of really watching baseball I’ve seen numerous examples of pitchers who didn’t really turn the corner until their late 20s, learning how to pitch and not just throw.
Arrieta was a top prospect with the Baltimore Orioles, so it’s not as though his recent success is completely shocking. That, coupled with coming over to Chicago under pitching coach Chris Bosio, seems to indicate more a case of “finally figuring things out”.
But, again, modern times lead me to think that anything is possible. I just don’t plan to dwell on this any more.
Elsewhere in the division, the Pittsburgh Pirates won for the 6th time in their last 7 games, running their winning streak up to 5 with a 9-8 win in 12 innings over the Colorado Rockies.
Andrew McCutchen did not homer, but did go 2-for-5 with a double to continue his rebound from a rough start to the season.
Fellow outfielders Starling Marte (2-for-5, SB) and Gregory Polanco (HR) also enjoyed nice nights.
It was a battle of awful starting pitching, with Jon Niese getting roughed up again – 5 IP, 5 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 5 SO.
For the Rox, Jon Gray went just 3.2 innings, allowing 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk.
Also coming up winners were the St. Louis Cardinals, who took down the Arizona Diamondbacks, 11-4, thanks to a 5-run 6th and 3-run 7th that put the game out of reach.
Stephen Piscotty went 4-for-5 with a pair of RBI and is hitting .305 with a .917 OPS this season.
The lineup had to bail out starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who allowed 4 runs in 5.1 innings of work to see his ERA drop to 7.16 in 2016. He allowed 7 hits (2 of which left the park) and walked one.
Waino has allowed a .327 batting average against this season, which is well above a .245 career mark. His WHIP of 1.70 is ghastly. Possibly telling is his 0.94 ground ball/fly ball ratio. He’s usually sitting around 1.4, so maybe he’s leaving the ball up.
Not sure what to make of this, but here’s a comparison of his pitch locations for 2015 versus 2016.
His career walk rate is 6.1% but so far this season it’s 8.7%.
The most telling differences between those two graphs is to see how much more he’s missing high (4.15% in 2016 versus 2.35% last season) as well as a pretty astounding rate at throwing low and right (from the catcher’s perspective) – 11% this season.
Let’s take a look at the velocity.
While last season he was hitting 94 with his four-seam and sinker, this season he’s seeing more 91. Similarly, the cutter has gone down from 89 to 87.
Right now, his velocity is down a couple of ticks and he can’t seem to locate his pitches.
To his credit, he did only walk one batter last night. And he had 6 outs on the ground compared to 0 in the air, so maybe things are turning around.
Still, it bears keeping an eye on.
Last season, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen hit .194/.302/.333 in the month of April.
He finished off with a solid .292/.401/.488 mark.
He may be doing something similar this season, as he entered last night’s game with a slash line of .213/.337/.347 – slightly better than last April, but not quite “McCutchenesque”.
Well, stuck in a 3-for-23 slump that saw him getting some occasional days off, “Cutch” broke out in a big way last night, helping the Bucs to a 9-4 win over the Colorado Rockies.
McCutchen worked the field with a solo shot to left in the 1st, a solo shot to center in the 2nd, and a 3-run homer to right in the 6th.
Left fielder Starling Marte picked up his 3rd outfield assist of the season, cutting down the potential tying runner in the 5th inning and killing a Colorado rally.
Here’s a look at the current stats for the mighty Pittsburgh outfield.
The Pirates had lost 6 of 7 at one point, but have since gone 7-3 including wins in 5 of their last 6.
Unfortunately for them, the Chicago Cubs have a league-best .750 winning percentage, so there’s only so much they can do.
But Pittsburgh has gotten their name into the playoff conversation, living up to their pre-season expectations.
Matt Joyce‘s 3-run homer to opposite field in the top of the 7th broke the game wide open, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-1 road win against the Colorado Rockies last night.
Jeff Locke tossed 6 shutout innings for his first win of the season, striking out 8.
5 of Locke’s 8 strikeouts came looking which may have had something to do with two Rockies getting ejected from the game.
It was Pittsburgh’s 4th win in their last 5 contests and pushed them up into 2nd place in the Central.
Starling Marte had another nice game for Pittsburgh. He’s hitting .329 with a .375 OBP and already has 9 doubles and 6 stolen bases.
The story in Pittsburgh as of late has been an overtaxed bullpen and while Locke’s 6 shutout innings of work were nice, they are still looking for somebody to go 7-plus.
In fact, they’ve gone 8 straight games now without a starting pitcher working their way into the 7th inning. The last time it happened was April 16th, when Jon Niese went 7 shutout innings for the win at home against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates are 11-9 with a +6 run differential (0.0 per game) while the St. Louis Cardinals‘ loss dropped them to 10-9. The Redbirds have an impressive +35 run differential (+1.6 per game) but were swept by the Bucs to start the 2016 season.
Here are expected records based on run differential in the NL Central. That Luck column is basically Actual Wins minus Expected Wins, so teams like the Chicago Cubs and Cardinals should have a couple more wins than they do right now, while the Cincinnati Reds and Brewers have better records than they deserve.
In New York last night, veteran Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips took a Noah Syndergaard fastball off his left ring finger and was removed from the game.
X-rays were negative.
Read a nice little article over at Fangraphs where August Fagerstrom puts the spotlight on the Cubs’ base-running skills.
I had no intention of blogging today, but then…
Look, it’s no mystery that the Cincinnati Reds are just plain awful.
Please don’t tell me that they are 8-8.
Zach Buchanan at the Cincinnati Enquirer points out how the Chicago Cubs are “light years ahead” of the rest of the league with a plus-60 run differential this far while the next best team (the Washington Nationals) are just plus-31.
But then he says everybody should calm down and remember that the Reds are 8-8.
If he’s going to point out the Cubs’ run differential, he might want to take a look at his own team’s as well.
The Reds have averaged 3.9 runs scored per game while allowing a league-worst 5.9 per game.
You don’t average being outscored by 2 full runs and finish the season .500.
They have a Pythagorean record of 5-11, which is a more accurate representation of their talent level.
Their last four wins have each been by 1-run margins.
By contrast, four of their eight losses have been by 7 runs or more.
That’s not to take anything away from Jake Arrieta, who has pitched like Superman for the last several years now.
He’s off to a 4-0 start with a 0.87 ERA.
Take on his last 28 starts from 2015 to give us a full-season of 32 starts and you get 23-4 with a 1.50 ERA.
He has made 24 consecutive quality starts in the regular season. In that stretch, he’s gone 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA. (The only loss was when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubbies.)
So he’s been doing alright, that Jake guy.
My favorite moment from the post-game interview with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the Cubs’ TV crew was Arrieta pointing out some of the superstitions surrounding throwing no-hitters: “Business as usual, other than ‘Javy’ (Javier Baez) was in my spot before the eighth inning, so I kind of gave him a little hell for that, told him to never do that again.”
David Ross caught the first no-hitter of his career in this, his final season. This shower is pretty spectacular.
“Grandpa Rossy” came into the interview room towards the tail end of Arrieta’s session with the media, saying “I didn’t want any questions — I just want a picture” then sitting down for photos with his pitcher.
Remember April 11th, when Brandon Finnegan started for the Reds against the Cubs and took a no-hitter into the 7th inning?
Neither do the Cubs’ batters.
In a merciless outburst, Chicago racked up 5 runs on 7 hits and a pair of walk in 4 innings of work for Finnegan, who fell to 1-1 on the season.
Relievers Tim Melville and Drew Hayes each allowed 4 runs in 2 innings of work.
The final score was 16-0.
Arrieta himself had a pair of hits. Ross homered and scored three runs. Kris Bryant had four hits and homered twice (4). Anthony Rizzo homered. Ben Zobrist had his first Cubs’ homer and was a triple shy of the cycle.
All along I was watching the game and feeling a little bad for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who we know wants to protect Arrieta’s arm and make sure he has bullets left in it for October baseball.
This violates a maxim of baseball, assuming that you will get to the playoffs. But with a 12-4 start to the season and the way this roster is built, it’s about as safe a bet as you can get. Still, no guarantees…
With the team running away with it, there was no reason to leave Arrieta in. It was a perfect opportunity to rest his arm, pull him after 6 or 7 innings only having thrown maybe 80-90 pitches.
Instead, Maddon had to leave Arrieta in and just sort of wait and see what happened.
Couldn’t help but wonder if part of him was thinking “please just give up a hit so I can get you out of there.”
But Arrieta was not to be denied.
There was some good material in the Twitter-verse following the no-no, including love between the Arrieta’s family and Ross and the Los Angeles Dodgers (victims of Arrieta’s 2015 no-hitter) consoling the Reds.
His 2nd no-hitter in as many seasons is in the books and the Cubs are on a nice roll, taking advantage of a their cupcake April schedule.
It took six tries, but the St. Louis Cardinals finally came away with a win against one of the other elite teams in the NL Central.
In a game that would have taken 2 hours and 40 minutes to play were it not for weather, the Cards came away 5-3 winners at home against the Chicago Cubs, avoiding a sweep.
A rain delay that lasted nearly 3 and a half hours settled in on Busch Stadium in the bottom of the 7th, testing the patience of those of us who were looking forward to the game.
In fact, it was a bit of a yawner.
Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk set the mood in the top of the 1st inning, robbing Anthony Rizzo of a home run over the center field wall for the third out.
Matt Holliday connected for a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning and the Birds got two more in the 2nd – Yadier Molina doubled and later scored on a wild pitch by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks then Kolten Wong scored on an RBI single by St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez.
The Cubs made a game of it following the rain delay as they picked up a pair of runs in the 8th.
But the Cards came back with an insurance run in the bottom of the inning and Trevor Rosenthal closed it out in the 9th, striking out the side for this 100th career save.
Both teams were headed to other destinations following the game – Chicago to Cincinnati and St. Louis to San Diego – so you never want a game that ends more than 6 hours after it began.
But such is life in April baseball, where Mother Nature often has plans of her own.
The “Big Three” all have chances to win over the weekend, with the Cubs (11-4) visiting the Cincinnati Reds (8-7) for a four-game series that begins this evening, the Cards (8-7) visiting the San Diego Padres (6-9) for a three-game set that starts tomorrow, and the Pittsburgh Pirates (7-8)road trip continuing with a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (8-8).
(The Bucs have one more game against San Diego this evening.)
The most interesting of those match-ups is probably the Pirates / D-Backs series.
Pittsburgh was expected to be solid again this season, yet they seem to be spinning their wheels right now. Their National League ranks are 8th in both runs scored and runs allowed per game. So they are right there in the middle. They have a run differential of minus-6.
There was expectations that ‘zona could contend in the NL West, particularly with the acquisition of Zack Greinke, and yet here they are with a pedestrian .500 record, ranking 9th in runs scored and 11th in runs allowed per game.
Just looking at the 2016 standings, you’d think that’s about as bland of a series as you can get. But knowing what’s expected of each team, and only being almost 10% of the way through the season, it’s hard to not want to watch and try to figure out where, if anywhere, those two squads are headed.
The NL Central’s “Big Three” may be reduced to the “Big Two” sooner rather than later.
After falling 2-1 to the Chicago Cubs last night, the St. Louis Cardinals are now 0-5 against other members of the division’s elite.
In fact, taking away a 5-run outburst in an extra-inning loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in game 2 of the season, the Redbirds have totaled just 3 runs in 4 other games.
The Cardinals still lead the National League in runs scored per game (6.1), but it’s been feast or famine.
Against the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, they have averaged 8.7 runs per game. They scored 10 or more runs in 4 of their 9 games against the league’s lesser teams.
Against the Cubs and Pirates, it’s just 1.6 runs per game.
Jason Hammel improved to 2-0 for the Cubs (11-3), going 6 innings to give the team a run of 14 consecutive games to start the season in which the starting pitcher went 6 or more innings.
(For all the mythology about how “in the old days, everybody went the distance!” this is actually historic – it’s been over a century since the last time a Cubs team accomplished that feat.)
Hammel also got it done at the plate, with a 2-RBI single off of Jaime Garcia in the top of the 4th inning accounting for all his team’s runs. Cubs’ pitchers now have driven in 7 runs this season, putting up a .660 OPS. That’s better than the Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres teams have hit this season.
Garcia (L 1-1) looked sharp early on, but the Cubs did what they’ve been doing to everybody else – grinding out long at bats and working the pitch count up.
Garcia ended up leaving the game after just 5 innings of work, having thrown 98 pitches already.
That’s an average of nearly 20 pitches per inning, compared to 14 per inning that were offered by Hammel.
The Cards had their chances but were done in by some problems on the bases.
Matt Adams was inexplicably picked off of 2nd base by Hammel with two men on and none out in the 2nd inning. It looked like a run and hit was called with Yadier Molina at the plate, but Adams simply took off well too early and was dead.
In the 4th, Matt Holliday was thrown out at the plate by Jason Heyward at the back end of a fly out/throw out double play. (Heyward nearly had two assists on the day, but Addison Russell dropped a throw at 2nd base earlier in the inning.)
St. Louis put the tying run at 2nd in the bottom of the 8th, but the Cubs intentionally walked Adams to set up slider-happy reliever Pedro Strop to face the slider-weak Randal Grichuk.
Even with the bad match-up, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny allowed Grichuk to bat and the result was predictable.
84 mph slider – called strike.
84 mph slider (again) – fouled off.
85 mph slider (again) – swung on and missed.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but even watching the game in real time you were thinking Matheny had to get Grichuk out of the game in that situation. He’s not hitting well and the deck was stacked against him given Strop’s bread and butter is the slider.
Although St. Louis would get yet another lead-off man on base to start the 9th, Cubs closer Hector Rondon was still able to buckle down, throwing for the first time in eight days and ending the game with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko.
The game had a real playoff atmosphere and we’re right back at it again in just a few hours.
The Cubs – now the only team in the division who is above .500 – go for a sweep shortly after noon.
The St. Louis Cardinals fell to 0-4 against fellow members of the division’s Big Three, ending on the low end of a 5-0 shutout at home against the Chicago Cubs last night.
John Lackey returned to last year’s stomping grounds and erased his first two starts of the season with an 11-strikeout performance, tossing 7 shutout innings.
True, Lackey entered the game with a 2-0 record. But this is a blogger who feels won-loss records for pitchers are some of the worst commonplace statistics out there, so we’re not going to focus on that. Would a pitcher with an ERA over 6 have a 2-0 record if he pitched for a team with an average offense? Hell no.
Lackey escaped a jam in the bottom of the 5th, when the Redbirds put runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out and Cardinals starter Mike Leake at the plate.
On a botched squeeze play, Kolten Wong was halfway down the line at 3rd and hung out to dry.
Cubs catcher Miguel Montero ran Wong back and had him dead at 3rd base, waiting to throw the ball down there to Addison Russell covering the bag for the tag.
Problem was that Kris Bryant was also near the bag and essentially intercepted Montero’s throw, allowing Wong to make it back to the bag.
Never mind, though, because Lackey came back to whiff Leake and then retire Matt Carpenter on one of the more impressive efforts on the night, ending with another strikeout.
Leake kept pace through 5 innings until Dexter Fowler broke up the double shutout with a solo homer in the top of the 6th.
In the 6th, St. Louis shortstop Aledmys Diaz made a costly error, air-mailing a throw over first baseman Brandon Moss‘ head and into the dugout.
It was Diaz’s 4th error as the 3rd string shortstop for the Cardinals. Backup shortstop Ruben Tejada was activated from the disabled list and starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta is still out another month or two.
The Cardinals have now made 15 errors, which is worst in the league. Their .970 fielding percentage is 2nd worst, one point ahead of the woeful Cincinnati Reds.
Their 7 errors at the shortstop position are 3 more than any other team in the big leagues and the .868 fielding percentage at the position is about as awful as anything you’ve seen outside of 19th-century baseball.
Diaz’s error allowed Bryant to score and Montero to move to 3rd.
Montero would then score on a sac fly by Russell – again, a nice at bat in which he was clearly only trying to loft the ball and get the run home. Lackey followed with an RBI single that made it 4-0 and the Cubs ran away with things.
New Cub Jason Heyward – referred to as “the turncoat” by St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jeff Gordon this morning – continued his typical rough-hitting April with another 0-fer in his return to Busch Stadium (where he played just one season) but also had a couple of nice defensive plays in right field.
The Birds get a good chance to pick up their first 2016 win against one of their major divisional rivals tonight when Jaime Garcia (1-0, 2.40) takes the mound against Jason Hammel (1-0, 0.75).
Garcia has Cy Young stuff when healthy – the problem being that his arm usually falls off at some point.
Hammel had an All-Star first half for Chicago last year before a miserable second half that saw him routinely yanked before he completed five innings. Part of that may have been due to a leg injury suffered mid-way through the season which he never fully recovered from.
Regardless, Hammel supposedly had a renewed focus on nutrition and exercise this off-season, guided by teammate and workout addict Jake Arrieta. So far Hammel has had two nice starts to show for it.
It’s always a good time for baseball fans when these two teams face each other. 18 more match-ups remain between the two.
The bell on Round Two rings at 7:15 tonight.
The second match-up of the NL Central’s “Big Three” kicks off this evening, with the division-leading Chicago Cubs (9-3) visiting the 2nd place St. Louis Cardinals (7-5).
Some Cardinals fans were in a panic after an 0-3 start to the season, getting swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates to kick things off.
Not to worry, I pointed out. Upcoming series against the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds would turn things around for you.
Sure enough – the Redbirds went 7-2 in those games.
The Cubs are coming off of a somewhat surprising home series loss to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend. Of note, their often ridiculous lineup went missing, scoring one run in the Friday loss and then getting shutout yesterday.
You picture the 2016 Cubs lineup against any Rockies pitching staff and figure there are runs to be had, but it didn’t turn out that way.
The big story line in this series will be the return of a few ex-Cardinals showing up in enemy blue.
One of those guys, right fielder Jason Heyward, is off to another cold April, putting up a .205/.314/.250 slash line thus far.
For his career, he has put up a line of .223/.315/.394 in April.
Starting pitcher John Lackey also makes his return to Busch, now as a member of the Cubs.
The two teams come into this series pretty similar in terms of their numbers they’ve put up this year, so don’t let the early .167 point difference in winning percentage fool you.
The Cardinals lead the National League with 7.1 runs scored per game, with the Cubs in 2nd place at 5.9 runs per game.
On the flip side, the Cubs are 2nd in allowing just 2.6 runs per game. Meanwhile, the Cards are 6th with 4.2 runs allowed per game.
Pythagorean records have the Cubs at 10-2 and Cardinals at 9-3.
Also, check out the pitching match-ups:
- Monday, 7:09 PM – [CHC] Lackey (2-0, 5.68) @ [STL] Leake (0-1, 6.97)
- Tuesday, 7:15 PM – [CHC] Hammel (1-0, 0.75) @ [STL] Garcia (1-0, 2.40)
- Wednesday, 12:45 PM – [CHC] Hendricks (1-1, 2.84) @ [STL] Martinez (2-0, 3.46)
Note that the Redbirds get to avoid facing the Cubs 1-2 punch of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Meanwhile, they get to put Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez out there.
It could line up for a pretty happy start to the week for Cardinals fans.
We’ll dissect game one over here tomorrow morning.