Star of the Game – Carlos Villanueva (.346 WPA)
Thankfully, after the Cubs’ heartbreaker in 13 on Monday night, they were able to come right back and win a ten inning squeaker on Tuesday night. Also, I’d like to note that the Cubs are 2-0 in games that I have recapped and 4-13 in games that anyone else has. And, no, I refuse to believe this is coincidence. This is clearly the one situation where 2 games is a significant sample size.
But poor Carlos Villanueva. The Cubs’ right hander has put together just a phenomenal start to the season, posting a 2.16 ERA over his first four starts only to get very little support from either the hitters or the bullpen. As a result, Villanueva only has a 1-0 record to start the season. The way Villanueva is finding success right now is actually interesting. Compared to career averages, he is getting less strikeouts, but has cut his walk rate even more. What I find even more interesting is that Villanueva, who for his career has been fly ball pitcher (39.2% ground ball rate), has been an extreme ground ball pitcher so far this year (56%). And when he’s allowed a fly ball, he’s getting hammered (20% HR/FB rate). It will be interesting to watch if this is just an aberration or a change in the plan of attack.
Unfortunately for Villanueva, after leaving the game with a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth, a runner on second and Joey Votto up to bat, he was replaced by Carlos Marmol, and Votto knocked in the run from second. Before everyone screams about how awful Marmol is, just remember he pitched two innings yesterday and was facing one of the best hitters in baseball. He got out of the inning with the score tied, and the Cubs won it in the 10th.
The Cubs got their power supplied by two fairly unlikely sources: infielder Cody Ransom scored the Cubs’ first run of the game on a solo home run in the second inning. Ransom, a recent pickup off the waiver wire, got his first start of the season. Then, Darwin Barney broke the tie game with a solo shot of his own in the 10th.
Then, just to bring you back to 2009, Kevin Gregg got the save opportunity in the bottom of the 10th. Thankfully, unlike too many of his appearances in 2009, Gregg pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the game.
Alfonso Soriano had a good game, going 3 for 4 and, in another adventure through the time machine, stealing 2 bases in one inning. He’s not hitting for much power at this point, but the average and OBP are close to what you would have expected from the left fielder.
On another note, Keith Law thinks the Cubs have changed Anthony Rizzo’s swing again, and that it’s affecting his contact ability. I’m not really buying this at this point. Rizzo had a rough week to start the season, then a couple of pretty good weeks after starting the Reds’ series with another rough stretch. He’s also been a big victim of some unlucky BABIP (at .171 before last night’s game). It is something to keep an eye on, though.