The Cubs and Mariners locked up on Monday night in a tightly contested pitching duel. For a short while, this looked like a game that had some shot of finishing in about two hours. I know it’s a minority opinion, but as an East coaster watching the Cubs and wanting to write about it before bed, a snappy game is just what the doctor ordered.
The key thing is that it wasn’t bad baseball either. Drew Smyly and Luis Castillo locked horns and matched zeroes for three innings. Then the Mariners put one on the board in the fourth and the Cubs came right back with two of their own. The two starters combined for 11 innings of work, allowing a total of eight hits and three walks while striking out 12.
Neither team could be disappointed with the performance of their starter. The Mariners were looking for some length out of Castillo after using their bullpen heavily in recent games. They got six from him. The Cubs were content to get five solid from Drew and then bring in Adbert Alzolay to face the all right handed lineup the Mariners deployed against the left-handed Smyly.
Not to be outdone, the Mariners treated the seventh inning like a line shift in hockey, largely emptying his bench to get left-handed hitters in to face the Cubs totally right-handed baseball. Don’t let it be said that the faster paced game or the designated hitter eliminates the opportunity for strategy in the game.
Let’s get to the good parts of this exciting win. First, I have to give you three key performances in the game.
- Lots of choices here, but I’m going to go with Nick Madrigal. I’m also going to tip my cap. I assume, to the Cubs scouting department. Matt Brash has some pretty electric stuff, but as the inning progressed, we saw that catcher Cal Raleigh had some trouble catching it cleanly. Nick was in the game as a pinch runner. I don’t normally think of him as particularly fast or daring. But there he was breaking for third while Brash was still holding the ball. A potentially bone headed decision, but it paid off with Brash throwing to second rather than third. Getting to third with no outs places maximum pressure on the defense. I presume the theory was that on an 0-2 pitch, Brash would tend to drop a breaking pitch below the strike zone, not a particularly good pitch for a catcher to make a clean throw on a base stealer. All’s well that ends well, even if I’m certain the math says that the risk/reward isn’t there for the move.
- Nico Hoerner comes up with the hit to win the game. If Madrigal is on second, do I think there is any chance that Kolten Wong goes back and catches the ball that drifted into right? I’m going to say most likely not. But, with Wong’s instincts and athleticism defensively, I would think Madrigal would have had to pause just long enough to keep him from scoring. I’m not positive I put Hoerner in this spot if he’d been 0-4 heading into that last at bat. But I’m all about performances that produce repeatable results. The single for Hoerner was his third of the game. He also stole a base. I often used the words ascending star for Nico last year and I don’t think he is everything he can be yet. A couple of games into the season, I had some fun with “pace” stats. Through nine games, Nico is on pace for 252 hits.
- I very badly wanted to go with Keegan Thompson for righting the ship after a nearly disastrous 10th inning. Adbert Alzolay’s four up, four down appearance is a fair choice. But the performance of Drew Smyly would have netted the top spot if this had been a nine-inning Cubs 2-1 win. Smyly threw five innings, yielding two hits and a walk. He struck out seven and only allowed the one run. Part of me wonders if Drew’s stuff almost played up a little the way stuff can when you move to the bullpen. It was clearly designed that Drew would only face 18 hitters. All the better that that was exactly five innings. Drew looked very sharp and I wonder if they attacked a bit more knowing that hitters weren’t going to get three looks at him.
With that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats.
Game 9, April 10: Cubs 3, Mariners 2 (5-4)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nick Madrigal (.298). R, SB
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.178). 3-4, RBI, SB, K
- Sidekick: Drew Smyly (.142). 5IP (18 batters), 2H, BB, R, 7K
- Billy Goat: Michael Fulmer (-.207). IP (4 batters), 2H, R, K
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.157). 0-4, K
- Kid: Patrick Wisdom (-.136). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: Jarred Kelenic hit a one-out, game-tying homer in the ninth inning off of Michael Fulmer. The ball looked like it might enter into orbit. (.355)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Nick Madrigal stole third with no out in the tenth inning. WPA gave this enormous value on that base and I moved Nick up to my top spot above. (.298)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Eric Hosmer (2-3, BB, RBI)
Adbert Alzolay (1 1⁄3IP, 4 batters)
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Edwin Rios (Superhero is 7-1)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 3)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Marcus Stroman/Justin Steele +6
- Dansby Swanson/Ian Happ +4
- Jameson Taillon -5
- Cody Bellinger -6
- Yan Gomes -9
Up Next: The Cubs now have two shots to win a second consecutive series. Tomorrow, they’ll also have a chance to move two games over .500 for the first time this year. Hayden Wesneski (0-0, 5.79 ERA) will look to bounce back from a shaky first start. The Mariners will counter with right-handed starter Chris Flexen (0-1, 3.00). Flexen has two appearances, but one came out of the pen. Last year he made 22 starts for the Mariners after making 31 the year before.