Hero & Goat
WPA Leader and Loser
Jason Hammel: +.436 WPA
Addison Russell: -.099 WPA
Strike One – The Jack of all Trades
Though his command was a bit shaky at times, Jason Hammel was able to grind out 6 innings of 5 hit, 1 run baseball. Hammel improves his record to 2 wins and 0 losses on the season. After a solid first inning, Hammel struggled to keep the ball down in the second while surrendering back-to-back singles to Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk. For reasons that I will never understand, the Cardinals decided to attempt at double steal with 0 outs and Yadier Molina at the plate. Hammel performed a slick inside turn toward second base, and the Cubs were able to execute a perfect rundown, and Adams would be tagged out between 2nd and 3rd. Molina would go on to hit a triple off the top of the fence in left field. Hammel worked around that triple, and kept the Cardinals lead at 1-0. Hammel also provided the Cubs only scoring in the ball game. With two outs and the bases full of Cubs, Hammel hit a ground ball between Ruben Tejada and Matt Carpenter that would plate two runs. Those runs would turn out to be the deciding factor in the ballgame. Hats off to Hammel, because after the second inning, I was convinced he would be out of the game quickly, but he improved the streak of Cubs starting pitchers throwing at least 6 innings to 14 straight games to start the 2016 season.
Strike Two – Defense
When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, I’m sure they envisioned him making plays like he has so far in this series. Tonight just added to this already impressive list of stellar defensive plays Heyward has made on this young 2016 season. In the 4th inning with the Cardinals threatening to take back the lead in a 2-1 ballgame, Matt Adams hit a ball off the right field wall, and had Addison Russell been able to hold onto the ball at second base, Heyward would have thrown Adams out by a step. No matter, though. After Jason Hammel induced a popup from Randal Grichuk, Heyward made a fantastic, run-saving play to end the inning. Yadier Molina hit a fly ball to medium-deep right field, Heyward got behind the ball, allowed himself to gain momentum heading toward home plate, and fired a one-hop strike to Miguel Montero to nail Matt Holliday at the plate. I realize that is only two plays, but Kris Bryant also made some nice plays down at third base (High chopped by Holliday in the 8th), and Matt Szczur also made a nice play in the 9th inning after the leadoff man had already reached base. This Cubs team is much improved on defense from a year ago, and it is showing early in the season.
Strike Three – Bullpen the Weak Link?
Coming into the season, many believed the bullpen would be the one area that could let the Cubs down. I wasn’t necessarily one of those people, but all the guys in the pen have answered the call so far this season. While I realize it is still very early, according to ESPN, coming into tonight’s game, the Cubs’ relievers have a 2.40 ERA, compared to the 3.38 mark the relievers posted during the 2015 season. Those numbers obviously will go down after a scoreless 3 innings from the pen tonight. Couple the 2.40 ERA with a starting pitchers’ ERA around 2.00, and you have the best pitching staff in baseball. It’s early. I understand that. But 2-1 ballgames in Busch Stadium are high leverage no matter what month it is. The bullpen guys have been solid when called upon all year, and I don’t expect that to change.