The weather cooperated, as the day was cloudy, windy and cool, with temperatures that didn’t get out of the 60s. (Not very nice for early August, though.)
And Daniel Murphy, who eviscerated Cubs pitching during the 2015 National League Championship Series while he was with the Mets, smacked two home runs off Kyle Hendricks to lead the Nats to a 4-2 win over the Cubs in the series opener.
The two home run balls were really the only mistakes Hendricks made. He allowed just three other hits, all singles, and a walk in going farther than any start since his return from the DL, seven innings and 103 pitches. According to the Wrigley pitch-speed meter, his velocity is still down from last year, peaking at around 86 on his fastball. One of the Murphy homers was hit on a hanging curveball. This is concerning:
Looked up curevball velo for Hendricks: 2015, 77.8 mph, 2016: 75.5 mph, 2017: 71.4 mph. Murphy HR today: 71.3 mph (@ESPNStatsInfo)— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 4, 2017
So it’s not just Kyle’s fastball velocity that’s down, it’s the speed on all his pitches. That’s a significant drop over the last two years. I wish I knew the reason for it, and I’m guessing Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio wish they knew, too. In the end, though, Kyle mostly got outs... except for the two homers.
The Cubs had a few chances off Tanner Roark over the first six innings, but one of them vanished when Ben Zobrist had to hold up on a short fly ball to center field by Jason Heyward. It got past Brian Goodwin, but Bryce Harper picked it up and forced Zobrist at second with Roark covering, a rare 9-1 fielder’s choice. Then with two on and one out in the third, Anthony Rizzo hit into an inning-ending double play.
So it went 3-0 into the seventh. Kyle Schwarber led off with a double, and one out later, Javier Baez connected:
That ball went a long, long way:
This would become important later.
As has been the case in many recent outings, Carl Edwards Jr. got himself in trouble with a leadoff walk. That gives him 29 walks in 44 innings, which is way too many. Two singles loaded the bases and Anthony Rendon hit a sac fly to make it 4-2.
The Cubs didn’t score in the eighth and Koji Uehara had a 1-2-3 ninth.
That brought in new Nats closer Sean Doolittle, just acquired from the Athletics.
Heyward led off with a single. That brought up Baez representing the tying run.
And this is why the 433-foot home run became important. Because you knew, just knew, that Javy was up there trying to hit a longer home run than the previous one.
If the score had still been 3-2, maybe you have Javy bunt the runner into scoring position, trying to tie the game. But at 4-2 that makes little sense.
Also making little sense was Javy’s approach in that at-bat against Doolittle. He nearly screwed himself into the ground swinging and missing strike one, and the next two swings weren’t much better. Mighty Javy struck out, and the crowd groaned.
Ian Happ, who’d entered the game batting for Hendricks in the seventh, was next. Impatiently, he swung at the first pitch and hit into an inning-ending double play and thus Doolittle wrapped up the game by throwing just six pitches.
Sean Doolittle had faced the Cubs before today just once, in 2013. Only Rizzo, Zobrist and Alex Avila had ever faced him, and none for more than three at-bats. You’d think the Cubs would have taken a better approach against someone they hadn’t seen before. Maybe the scouting report said to be aggressive, I don’t know.
There’s always tomorrow. The loss, the Cubs’ third in a row, puts them one game ahead of the Brewers in the N.L. Central, pending Milwaukee’s game against the Rays Friday evening in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Saturday, the Cubs and Nats will go at it again in an afternoon affair under much more August-like weather conditions (sunshine and temperatures near 80).
John Lackey goes for the Cubs and our old friend Edwin Jackson will be on the mound for Washington.