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A breakdown of Saturday’s wild ninth inning Cubs comeback

And why defense still matters in the world of the three outcome hitter

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers
Jon Lester bunts in an insurance run in the 9th inning
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot written in about the three true outcome hitter. Baseball-reference gives us the most concise definition:

The Three True Outcomes are a walk, strikeout or home run. They are called this because the three supposedly are the only events that do not involve the defensive team (other than the pitcher and catcher). This ignores outfielders taking away potential homers at the wall, and inside-the-park home runs, and the like; however, over a career those events make up a very small portion of the total.

Prominent recent “TTO” players include Rob Deer, Jack Cust, Russell Branyan, Ryan Howard, and Adam Dunn. Many all-time greats display this skill set as well, like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jim Thome.

I’m not going to lie, I get a bit cranky when people tout the three true outcome approach. No offense to the launch angle revolution guys, but there are a lot of times where swinging for the fences won’t win you the ball game, and you might just swing your way right out of a chance to win. The Cubs got one of those wins Saturday in the ninth inning, and it was as exciting as any home run.

It’s worth taking a closer look at how a Cubs team that has been struggling with putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position (RISP) put the ball in play and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Wrigley North.

Let’s start with this video compilation of the highlights from the Cubs’ four-run ninth inning [VIDEO].

First pivotal moment: Orlando Arcia misplays Victor Caratini’s grounder

Arcia barehands a Caratini infield single

I want to be fair to Arcia, this is a tough play. The ground ball takes a weird little bounce. The Brewers are shifted towards right so it sort of squibs to no man’s land where the only hope of a play is for either Arcia or Travis Shaw to field the ball and hold it. I guess you could say that Shaw has a slightly better angle on the play since he would be able to throw in the same direction he’s already moving, but I really think either guy should just grab the ball and hold it. Victor Caratini isn’t the fastest guy on the Cubs and he likely beats the ball to the bag even with a good throw, as you can see below:

Caratini beats the ball to the bag

That decision to throw the ball despite a low chance to get Caratini becomes important because the ball doesn’t just get away, it skirts out of play which puts Caratini on second. He’s then promptly lifted for pinch runner Addison Russell.

Jett Bandy chases Arcia’s errant throw as it skirts out of play

Cubs small ball: 1 Brewers defense: 0

Second pivotal moment: Travis Shaw channels his inner Ron Santo

One of my favorite Cubs moments of all time is this Ron Santo heel click, it’s a moment of pure Cubs joy from one of the Cubs most iconic players. You know what I’m talking about:

Now I’m sure you’re going to be like, but Sara, Shaw booted a ball and that was Santo in a moment of joy. Why are you talking about this? On first glance you’d be right, but let’s take a closer look at how Shaw booted this ball:

Javy’s grounder goes right through Shaw’s legs

I couldn’t quite figure out how this ball went through Shaw’s legs at first, it was odd that it happened at all. Shaw isn’t the best defensive third baseman in the league, but he certainly isn’t bad. In fact, a lot of his 2017 metrics look like Kris Bryant.

So I had to take a closer look at this one because it seemed odd that he’d boot this ball, and on closer look, it appears that Shaw may have been momentarily possessed by the ghost of Ron Santo:

Maybe the second greatest heel click in a Cubs game of all time

Do you see it? I see it. Shaw clearly boots the ball because of a random heel click in the middle of the play. In all seriousness I’m only mildly superstitious, but can we agree that a heel click that results in the ball going through a good third baseman’s legs is a super weird error?

Okay, fine. The heel click is likely the result of him playing the ball awkwardly because he really wants there to be a double play on this ball. In anticipating the double play, he doesn’t get any outs at all.

I still like the Santo explanation better.

The bases are now clogged with Cubs. There is one out. The Cubs are down 2-1 and the guy I want up in every spot that matters, Ben Zobrist, comes to the plate.

Cubs small ball: 2 Brewers defense: 0

Third pivotal moment: The options are overwhelming for Eric Thames

The Brewers had a weird defensive alignment to start this play. They were playing to try and keep the tying run from scoring. That makes sense in a way, but when you see what happened next, it really doesn’t.

That decision means that when Zobrist hits an infield dribbler that should be a pretty easy game-ending double play ball, this happens instead:

Thames lays out for Zobrist’s “single”

Zobrist is credited with a single on this play, but take a look at a few things. Thames lays out to stop the ball from...getting to Jonathan Villar, I guess? I mean, that’s a possible 4-6-3 double play if Thames is in his traditional position and the Brewers are out of the inning. It’s been suggested to me by a few people that the ball might not have been hit hard enough to turn two. In that case, the run scores, but now the Cubs are down a runner and the whole inning changes. Who knows, maybe the Brewers get out of it with just a tie game.

Before I move on, look at a few things in this picture: First base has been abandoned. Barnes isn’t heading there particularly quickly, Thames’ momentum is headed in the wrong direction and Villar is backing up Thames.

It’s worth going back to the video and watching Thames on this play. If you go to the video link at the top of this post, you can see this play from seconds 32-39. The following things happen, Thames makes a diving stop to grab the ball.

He glances home, nothing. Looks to second, also nothing. Throws to first, where honestly he had a chance but Barnes was slow to the bag and he had to move his foot to make the tag.

Zobrist respects 90

They could have had two. They definitely should have had one. They got nothing. The game is tied. The bases are still loaded. There is still only one out.

Interestingly, there are no errors on this play.It’s the right scoring decision, but the defensive setup was wrong, and it was costly for the Brewers. The Cubs have now tied the game in the ninth without a single hit leaving the infield.

Cubs small ball: 3 Brewers defense: 0

Fourth pivotal moment: Happ breaks through

It’s been a rough start to 2018 for Ian Happ. After taking the first pitch of 2018 deep in Miami he’s struck out a lot. Seventeen times in 30 at bats for those counting at home. That’s a 56.7% K rate.

The good news is that that has to be a statistical aberration. He’s always had a high K rate, but it’s never looked like that. The extra good news is that Happ came up huge with a single in this game when the Cubs needed it most.

Happ comes up big

Hopefully this two-run single is exactly what Happ needs to break through and get back on track. It was the only ball hit out of the infield in the entire inning.

This doesn’t count as small ball and the Brewers defense didn’t do anything wrong here, so it’s still:

Cubs small ball: 3 Brewers defense: 0

Fifth pivotal moment: Lester bunts

I love when Jon Lester enters the game as a pinch hitter. You know he’s there to bunt, but there is always a thought that maybe, just maybe, he won’t. This time he even seemed to play to that a little bit, swinging away at a pinch and making everyone wonder if he was really going to bunt this time.

A perfectly placed bunt

Obviously, he bunted.

Zobrist comes in to score on this play, which really is just a perfectly placed bunt. In fact, Lester should give bunting tips to a few of our guys (I’m looking at you, Javy) who can’t quite master the art of the bunt.

There is something a little magical about this play succeeding. After all, you never know if a pinch hitter will get a hit or a home run. Everyone watching this game knew Lester was going to bunt, and it still worked. He’s just that good at it.


The Cubs scored four runs to come from behind in the top of the ninth at Wrigley North on Saturday. They only had a single ball leave the infield.

And, it was more fun than any home run I saw over the course of the weekend.