There’s nothing quite like watching an elite pitcher make adjustments. On Thursday night, we saw Kyle Hendricks do it both in a larger season-long sense and also in-game. Kyle has had a ton of trouble with the long ball. He’s been consistently leading the majors in homers allowed this year. At the top of this post, the photo shows an all too familiar sight here in 2021. It’s Kyle Hendricks watching a fly ball. But in this instance, the ball didn’t leave the yard. Kyle used a much larger dose of curveballs, particularly early in the game. Mets hitters were just a little off balance.
But only a little. For the first three innings, they fouled off pitch after pitch. If I recall the numbers, Hendricks was throwing about one-quarter of his offerings for curveballs (more or less), but seeing about a third of his pitches fouled off. The result? He ended up striking out six batters through three innings. But he was also hovering around 60 pitches by then and it looked like he might only last five innings. After a couple of rough starts, that was the last thing the Cubs needed. Then things got worse! He walked the first two batters of the fourth inning. The Mets were in business to turn the Cubs’ early lead around. We’d seen that scenario all too often on the previous trip when the Cubs were in San Francisco: An early two-run homer only to see the lead evaporate into a puff of smoke.
But then Hendricks flipped a lever. He relentlessly went after James McCann low in the zone with sinking pitches, seeking a double play, and he got one. Wow, that Baez to Alcantara to Rizzo double play combo looks so smooth. I know Nico Hoerner plays a really great second base, but Alcantara has got some skills up the middle too. It’s an embarrassment of riches the Cubs have with middle infield defense. Even the much-maligned Eric Sogard and David Bote probably both check in at least one notch above steady.
Hendricks got the double play that he needed. Then he pounced on a tapper to the left side of the infield to record the final out. That’s a spot in the infield that can sometimes become a bit of a Bermuda Triangle, but Hendricks fielded it aggressively and recorded the out, escaping the jam.
Amazingly, that was the last base runner for the Mets. Cubs pitchers retired the final 17 batters of the game, accounting for 18 outs. The last hit for the Mets was a one-out double in the second inning. Between that and Jacob deGrom leaving Wednesday’s game after only three innings (more than enough to put the Mets into position to win), the Mets can’t be ecstatic despite winning three games in the series.
Tiebreakers don’t come into play all that often when postseason seeding comes up, but they do happen. The Cubs won four of seven in the season series and have secured that tiebreaker should it matter. The Cubs now return home to play Miami and Cleveland before heading out on a really tough road trip that ends the month of June and starts the month of July. They’ll play five games in a row at Wrigley before an off day ahead of a four-game series in Los Angeles against a Dodgers team they swept earlier this year at Wrigley Field.
But before all of that, we have to wrap this one up. Not much to spoil here, the pitchers are all over the positive side and the hitters almost managed to all land on the goat side of the ledger. Let’s go to the numbers. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high-leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 69, June 17: Cubs 2 at Mets 0 (39-30)
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.335). 6IP (21 batters faced), 2H, 2BB, 0R, 7K (W 8-4)
- Hero: Javier Baez (.139). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Craig Kimbrel/Ryan Tepera (.078). Kimbrel: IP (3 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, 2K (Sv 19); Tepera IP (3 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, K
- Billy Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.050). 0-4, K
- Goat: Kris Bryant (-.038). 1-4, R, 2K, DP
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.032). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez batted with a runner on in the first and one out. It was just the fifth pitch of the game and Javy launched it deep into the night, landing in the big apple in centerfield. (.185)
*Mets Play of the Game: Dominic Smith batted with no outs and a runner on first in the fourth inning. He drew a walk, the second and final walk of the night for Kyle Hendricks (and Cubs pitchers) and the fourth and final baserunner (for both Kyle and the Cubs). (.078)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +18
- Kris Bryant/Patrick Wisdom +14 (last Cubs Rookie of the Year, next ROY?)
- Jason Heyward/PJ Higgins -9.5
- Eric Sogard -11.5
Up Next: As noted above, the Cubs return home on Friday. They’ll play a rare Wrigley Field night game against the Marlins on Friday. They’ll have Zach Davies on the mound. I wrote a lot of words Monday about just how hot Zach and Kyle have been for the Cubs. Zach has won his last three starts and has a 12⅔-inning scoreless streak. He’s had some struggles against the Marlins in his career, so this one won’t be easy. But I think the Cubs can make it two in a row behind their dynamic duo.