About midway through the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Brewers, Jim Deshaies made a comparison of Brewers lefthander Brent Suter to Jim Kaat.
You probably know Kaat, who will turn 79 later this year, from his on-air work with MLB Network, but back in the 1970s, Kaat and White Sox pitching coach Johnny Sain developed this style of pitching for Kaat, who had once been a workhorse of 260-plus innings a year with the Twins.
That’s from the 1975 All-Star Game, coincidentally in Milwaukee, and it looks an awful lot like Brent Suter looked against the Cubs. Kaat, who the Twins gave up on as done at age 34, was claimed on waivers by the White Sox and had two 20-win seasons for them pitching like that, and was a useful relief arm at age 43 for the 1982 World Series-winning Cardinals.
Incidentally, check out the time of game on this 1976 contest at Wrigley Field in which Kaat, then with the Phillies, faced Rick Reuschel of the Cubs. Also, I think Kaat should get Hall of Fame consideration. He was a 16-time Gold Glove winner; the only better-fielding pitcher I ever saw was Greg Maddux. He reinvented himself several times and pitched for 25 seasons and ranks 25th all-time in innings, won 20+ games three times back when that actually meant something, and has 283 career victories.
Why am I talking so much about Kaat here? Because JD was correct. Suter’s style is very much like Kaat’s as shown in that video, and modern hitters simply aren’t used to pitchers working that fast. It throws them off balance, and Cubs hitters were completely baffled by Suter, who allowed just four singles and a walk in seven shutout innings. He threw only 82 pitches and almost certainly could have continued, but his batting-order spot came up and the Brewers were looking for more runs, which they didn’t get.
Jose Quintana threw a credible six innings, allowing four hits, three walks and a pair of runs. Starters who have had comparable outings to that one have won about 60 percent of the time this year, but of course you can’t win if your team doesn’t score for you. It did continue a streak for the Cubs:
#Cubs starting pitching in 14 games since all-star break:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 29, 2017
2.54 ERA, 85.0 IP, 58 Hits, 77 K, 19 BB, 0.906 WHIP
10 quality starts
And the score could have been larger for the Brewers off Quintana if not for a couple of outstanding defensive plays by Jason Heyward. The first was a nice running catch off a drive by Ryan Braun with one out in the first that looked like it was headed for the right-center field gap.
The other one, with the Brewers leading 1-0 and a runner on second base in the third inning — now, that’s the one you really want to see:
That, right there, saved two runs, as Heyward reached over and stole a home run from Braun, who slammed his helmet down in disbelief.
In the top of that inning, Quintana registered his first big-league hit:
That was the second hit of the inning, but unfortunately, a double play came after Addison Russell’s single, and so when Jon Jay also singled after Quintana, all it did was strand runners on first and second when Kris Bryant hit a line drive to Braun.
The Brewers scored their second run when they loaded the bases on two infield hits and a walk with nobody out in the fourth. Orlando Arcia grounded to Bryant, who elected to try for a double play [VIDEO].
Should Bryant have gone home for a force? It’s not clear from that video whether he would have gotten it or not. Javier Baez dropped the relay, although the out was registered at second base, so no double play happened. A run would have scored anyway even if the Cubs had completed the DP.
But that turned out to be the deciding run of the game.
Anthony Swarzak, who had shut the Cubs down just four days ago in the series opener against the White Sox, faced Baez with one out in the eighth, and Javy hit a baseball a long, long way:
Javy hit that ball really, really hard and it went really, really far:
That's the hardest and longest HR by Baez that Statcast has ever tracked. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 29, 2017
Wish there were video of the one that Javy hit in spring training 2013 when the Cubs were at old HoHoKam Park. That one cleared the scoreboard in left field and landed six cars deep in the parking lot, a blast that had to be close to 500 feet.
Anyway, now it’s 2-1 and there’s at least a chance. Hector Rondon, Brian Duensing and Justin Grimm retired all six batters they faced in the seventh and eighth, making this the seventh straight game Cubs pitching had allowed three runs or fewer.
Thus in the ninth it was up to the middle of the Cubs order against Brewers closer Corey Knebel.
Anthony Rizzo led off with a walk. Willson Contreras struck out. While Heyward was batting, Knebel wild-pitched Rizzo to second, and then Anthony took third on Heyward’s groundout.
90 feet away. Kyle Schwarber pinch-hitting for Albert Almora Jr. Stage set for heroics!
Unfortunately, mighty Kyle whiffed on a 96 mile per hour fastball from Knebel, strength against strength. The Cubs had their shot, but it wasn’t quite enough and the Brewers took the first game of the set, moving to within half a game of first place.
One more thing about Javy, who was starting for the first time since striking out five times Tuesday afternoon. In this one he went 1-for-3 (the home run) and struck out once. Some here wondered what kind of split is making Javy the hottest hitter in baseball at times, and at other times he can’t buy a hit. This could possibly explain that:
Javy Báez this season— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 29, 2017
41 Day games .234/.275/.395, 4 HR
48 Night games .295/.329/.538, 9 HR#Cubs
That’s a pretty significant split. FWIW, that’s 132 plate appearances in day games, 170 in night games, so it’s a fairly equal sample size. It was just the reverse last year:
Javy, day games, 2016: 289/.321/.436, six HR, 215 PA
Javy, night games, 2016: .258/.308/410, eight HR, 235 PA
Javy, day games: .249/.290/.404, 16 HR, 481 PA
Javy, night games: .251/.297/.419, 20 HR, 577 PA
That’s a very, very slight bias toward hitting better in night games, but not really that significant. It’s only this season that he’s hit much better at night, which suggests... I honestly don’t know. Usually when a player has extreme day/night splits, it means he’s seeing the ball better in sunlight and he hits better in day games, but this is just the reverse.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. Hopefully Joe Maddon and the coaching staff will figure it out and put Javy in games where he has the best chance to succeed.
In any case, the Cubs and Brewers will go at it again Saturday night, an hour earlier, 6:10 p.m. CT. Kyle Hendricks will go for the Cubs and Junior Guerra for the Brewers.