The Chicago Cubs kicked off play on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels feeling pretty good about themselves considering their 5-8 record. Over the last handful of games, the Cubs’ bullpen has been lights out, working 18.2 scoreless frames behind a starting rotation that is finally starting to turn a corner.
Eight of those innings came from Hamels on Friday as the southpaw limited the Angels to one run on four hits, striking out six and continuing his long history of success at Wrigley Field. Following that gem of a start, Hamels lowered his career ERA to 1.61 at Wrigley, a number he has amassed over 13 starts and 89.2 innings.
Another pitcher who has found plenty of success at Wrigley Field over the course of his career took the mound for the Cubs at Saturday in the form of Kyle Hendricks. Since breaking into the league, the soft-tossing right-hander has made 67 appearances (66 starts) at his home ballpark, working better than 400 innings. In those frames, Hendricks owns an ERA of 2.74 with a very respectable 7.8 K/9 rate and 1.081 WHIP.
Despite those numbers, Hendricks has struggled to find his rhythm this season, entering play on Saturday with a 6.48 ERA and an 0-2 record. Like in previous seasons, the young right-hander has run into problems in the opening innings of his outings, posting a 9.00 ERA in that split early in the season. Unlike in earlier seasons, however, Hendricks has rarely been able to limit the damage, posting a 9.00 ERA in the third inning of his starts, while at the same time allowing an opponent OPS of 1.182.
Thus far in 2019, Hendricks has been able to carry his strength of being strong in the second inning into the new season. For his career, the right-hander owns a 2.50 second inning ERA, a number he has lowered through the first two starts of 2019. Prior to Saturday, Hendricks was sporting a 0.00 ERA in the second inning, having allowed just two hits in eight at-bats with two strikeouts.
With all that being said, baseball is a weird game and sometimes, no matter how defined the splits, the in-game results do not always follow what has happened in the past. On Saturday, a perfect example of that transpired as Hendricks worked a quick, clean first frame against the Angels.
The right-hander needed just seven pitches to induce a strikeout and fly ball while also getting an out on the base paths with the help of Justin Bour. Unfortunately for Hendricks and the Cubs, the second inning was not as kind as Jonathan Lucroy wasted little time in singling into center field to lead-off the inning.
That reach by the opposing catcher kicked off four straight by the Angels that included four singles and an E2 (catcher’s interference). Following those reaches, Los Angeles was sporting a 2-0 lead, an advantage they would stretch to three runs on a ground out by Chris Stratton, the opposing pitcher.
Down early, which is where the Cubs often find themselves with Hendricks on the mound through his first three starts of the season, the Cubs began knocking on the door against Stratton in the third inning.
With the pitcher due up first, the Cubs were able to start their rally when Hendricks punched a ball through the center of the diamond for a base knock.
The pitch, which was an 0-2 slider, came off the bat at 98.1 MPH and represented the hardest hit ball by the Cubs in the inning. A ground out by Daniel Descalso moved Hendricks into scoring position, giving Chicago their second at-bat of the evening with a runner in scoring position.
Ben Zobrist followed Descalso’s ground ball with an easy five-pitch at-bat that featured four offerings off the plate, resulting in the veteran’s second walk of the day and ninth on the season versus just five strikeouts.
An Anthony Rizzo line out tabbed Javier Baez as the man of the hour with two outs in the frame. Prior to play on Saturday, Baez has been struggling of late, sporting a .200/.238/.250 slash line over the last seven days. Those lackluster numbers have lowered Baez’s overall tallies to .232/.271/.464 despite his four home runs and 10 RBI across 13 games played.
Nevertheless, the youngster entered Saturday with a 37.1 percent hard contact rate, a number that was slightly better than the 35.8 percent mark he posted during his MVP-caliber season of 2018. While slugging is a large part of Baez’s game and has resulted in an abundance of success for the 26-year-old, a bloop double into right field got the job done on Saturday in the third inning.
That knock, which exited the bat at 73.2 MPH, barely found outfield grass, but did, and plated the Cubs’ first run of the game, making it 3-1 Angels.
With only two outs in the inning, however, the Cubs seemed poised for more as Jason Heyward drew a walk to load the bases for Willson Contreras. Unlike Baez, Contreras entered play red-hot, sporting a .333/.463/.848/1.312 slash line after homering twice in a 5-1 Cubs win on Friday.
In his first at-bat of the evening on Saturday, though, Stratton was able to retire Contreras on a slider out of the zone, following that up with a nasty change-up in the third to strike out the young back-stop and end the threat.
Just two inning later, the Cubs continued putting pressure on the Angels’ pitching staff as Hendricks settled into the game. Descalso began the bottom of the fifth with a single into center-field, bringing the meat of the Cubs’ order up.
Zobrist, who is known across the game for his eye at the plate, was able to work a really good following Descalso’s reach. At 3-1, it seemed like Zobrist would be joining Descalso on the base paths when Stratton fired a four-seam fastball that ended up just off the plate away. Instead of taking his base, home plate umpire Jerry Meals called a strike, filling the count at 3-2.
On the very next offering, Zobrist swung through a 91 MPH fastball as Descalso ran toward second base. Clearly upset with Meals, Zobrist could only watch as the runner was cut down at second, resulting in two quick outs in what was once a very promising inning.
In the above pitch chart, one can see the orange dot just off the plate that was called a strike and the heater right down the middle that Zobrist swung through to end the at-bat.
Even with two outs in the frame and the bases clear, however, the Cubs still found a way to push across a run. Just as it took only two batters to manufacture two outs, it took just two batters for the Cubs to make it a 3-2 ballgame. A Rizzo walk preceded Baez’s second double of the contest, a ringing line drive into the left field corner that would have likely resulted in three RBI had Zobrist reached with a walk on a ball that was clearly off the plate.
Trailing heading into the sixth inning, Joe Maddon turned the game over to his bullpen, ending Hendricks’ evening on the mound.
While Hendricks was shaky early in the game, the right-hander was able to provide five solid innings in what will go down as his best (and longest) outing of the season thus far. Following the first two innings in which Hendricks allowed five singles, the youngster allowed just one additional hit over three innings.
Additionally, Hendricks issued only one free pass on Saturday, racking up 57 strikes on 87 total pitches. Of those pitches, the right-hander garnered a lackluster four swinging strikes on the evening while at the same time earning 20 called strikes (12 on the sinker).
All told, Hendricks once again struggled with keeping the ball down in the zone, leaving pitches up for Angel hitters to spray all over the ballpark. On the day, Los Angeles put 17 balls in play, nine on Hendricks’ change-up and another seven on his sinker.
Hendricks’ final line looked like this: five innings, six hits, three runs (two earned), one walk and two strikeouts on 87 pitches.
With the Cubs only down a run thanks to two RBI by Baez, the bullpen was tasked with keeping that lead in-check over the final three innings. Riding the aforementioned streak of 18.2 scoreless innings, there had to be mixed feelings about whether or not they would be able to keep the Angels off the board late.
Unfortunately, it did not take long to find out the answer as Brad Brach quickly loaded the bases after getting the first out of the frame. Of the four base runners allowed by the right-hander in the sixth, three reached on free passes, the latter of which resulted in the Angels’ fourth run of the contest.
That walk, which came with two away, ended the bullpen’s streak of consecutive outs at 19.1 innings and their shutout streak at 18.2 frames, not a bad run for a group that struggled so mightily through the first portion of the season. Back to owning a two-run advantage, the Angels tacked on another run with their fourth walk of the frame, this time courtesy of Randy Rosario, pushing their lead to 5-2.
Overall, eight Angel batters stepped to the plate in the visiting half of the sixth inning, with four reaching via the walk and only one able to record a hit.
After not yielding a run for more than two games worth of innings prior to Saturday, the Cubs’ bullpen gave up its third tally of the ballgame in the eighth. Another walk and base hit sat up a sac-fly for pinch-hitter Peter Bourjos to stretch the lead even further to 6-2.
At the end of the day, it seems the Cubs’ bullpen has slipped back into its old ways, even if it is just one game. Across four innings, the ‘pen gave up three hits, three earned runs and seven walks while garnering three strikeouts, allowing the Angels to gain even more control than they already had after five frames.
Into the eighth inning down a four spot, the Cubs were able to put together a rally with one away in the frame. A Heyward double, Contreras infield hit and David Bote walk filled the bases for pinch-hitter Mark Zagunis.
Zagunis, who began the contest on the bench with Schwarber and Zobrist manning the corner outfield positions, was tasked with facing hard-throwing right-hander Hansel Robles. To come off the bench with the bases loaded and face a pitcher who can regularly touch 98 MPH with his fastball is no easy task for a hitter.
Nevertheless, Zagunis, who has very limited time in the major leagues over the course of his career, was able to see eight pitches from Robles including five fastballs. Despite that, it was a 2-2 slider that the Angels reliever left in the middle of the zone that Zagunis punched into center field, scoring two runs and cutting Los Angeles’ lead to 6-4.
Still threatening with two runners on and two away, Descalso was retired in short order by Cody Allen, pushing the Cubs to the ninth still trailing by two.
In the ninth, the Cubs continued their rally, will Rizzo drawing a one-out walk and later moving to second on Baez’s third double of the game. That double, which was shot back through the middle of the diamond, did not look like a two-bagger off the bat. Instead, Baez turned on the jets and barely reached second base before the throw by the center field.
Following Javy’s magic on the base paths, Heyward worked Allen until he eventually lifted a ball down the left field line. With the wind swirling at Wrigley in typical fashion, the Angels’ left fielder left his feet as the ball headed for the foul line. Unable to make the catch, Heyward reached second base on the E7, plating the Cubs’ fifth run of the game in the process.
Trailing by only one run now, the Cubs had two shots to score either the tying or game-winning run, featuring two runners at second and third base with only one away. Instead, Allen induced strikeouts of both Contreras and Schwarber to end the game.
On the strikeout of Schwarber, however, there was no shortage of drama as the lefty slugger worked the count full at 3-2. It was on that count that Allen spun a breaking pitch down-and-in that Schwarber issued a half-swing at. Appealing to the third base umpire Gabe Morales, the Angels walked away with a favorable call as he rung Schwarber up, ending the game in a 6-5 victory for Los Angeles.
After trailing all game, the Cubs were able to score three runs in the final two innings, cutting the lead from four runs to a single tally. Unfortunately, a check-swing strike three cut the rally short by the home team, evening the series at one game apiece.
With the loss, the Cubs fall to 5-9 while the Angels improve to 8-7 on the season.
Next Up for the Cubs
The Cubs will wrap-up their three-game set with the Angels on Sunday at 1:20 pm at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be right-hander Tyler Chatwood (0-0, 6.00 ERA). Chatwood will be making his first start of the 2019 campaign, replacing Jon Lester in the rotation after the southpaw exited his last outing with a tight left hamstring.
While Chatwood was bumped out of the starting rotation late last season, the veteran has found a home in the bullpen. So far this season, Chatwood has worked six innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits while walking five batters versus six strikeouts.
Opposing Chatwood on the mound Sunday will be right-hander Trevor Cahill (1-1, 3.50 ERA). Cahill has made three starts this season, lasting six innings in each one of them. Over those 18 innings, the veteran has issued seven earned runs on 14 hits while walking two and striking out 16.
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