Wednesday night’s tilt against the Miami Marlins should have been focused on the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, and the awesome follow-up to his 81 pitch complete game against St. Louis last weekend. Attention instead shifted to the activation of Addison Russell, whose status on the roster remains polarizing — with all scrutiny toward him, the front office, and the state of the organization maintaining both validity and necessity.
We all knew this day would come given how the off-season unfolded, and still, bitterness and disgust remain. Theo Epstein maintains his status is “conditional”, and at least for the duration of Ben Zobrist‘s leave of absence (and most likely longer) we’ll see #27 on the roster. Theo’s “extensive list of conditions” for Russell is window dressing at best, Russell’s brief 40 game suspension a joke with regard to the seriousness of his transgressions.
Pragmatically speaking this roster move — at least in the long-term — makes little sense as well. Russell’s offense has spiraled since his breakout campaign in 2016, his elite defense at short the only attractive element to his game. Javier Baez has cemented himself as the team’s starting short stop and best player, with the platoon of David Bote and Daniel Descalso propelling the Cubs second basemen to a respectable .243/.343/.361 triple slash. In other words, Russell’s presence remains unnecessary given the success of the team, particularly at positions he’s expected to contribute.
While his presence may be polarizing to the fan base — and, indeed, fan reception was mixed at best as he was announced for his first plate appearance — the reality is cut and dry. Second chances should never be guaranteed, particularly after an offense as heinous as domestic violence. Even with Melisa Reidy’s consent this winter toward the Cubs working with Russell (albeit calling it “conditional”), Russell has not shown nearly enough to earn this chance. It’s a shame he’s back.
The negativity this organization receives for its inept handling of the situation, coupled with their continued insistence of making the right decisions when they’re clearly in the wrong will not be going away anytime soon.
That said, a baseball game was played Wednesday night.
The Marlins tallied an early run in the first, created by an uncharacteristic throwing error by Hendricks. A Starlin Castro hard-hit single (107.5 mph exit velocity) with two outs brought Curtis Granderson home, though error aside it was clear that Hendricks was dialed in. A 15 pitch first-inning, 13 of which going for strikes set the tone for Kyle.
Offensively the Cubs stalled early. Each of the first two innings witnessed rally-ending double plays, one off the bat of Baez with runners on the corners and just one out, another by Bote after Willson Contreras‘ leadoff single.
The offense picked up in the bottom half of the fourth, Baez redeeming himself with an RBI single that scored Kris Bryant (who reached on his second walk of the game) before Anthony Rizzo scored on a wild pitch to net the Cubs a 2-1 advantage.
Meanwhile, Hendricks continued to deal. Aside from a shaky fifth inning, in which the first two runners reached base, Hendricks kept hitters off balance, continued to generate weak contact, and upped his strikeout tally from his 81-pitch masterpiece.
Of interesting note is that Hendricks’ fastball velocity was up a tick this evening (87.9 mph) from his season average (86.3). With his changeup still sitting in its usual 79 mph range, the increased velocity differential allowed Kyle to do what he does best: locate and change speeds, keeping hitters guessing and unable to square him up consistently.
The best of Kyle came against Castro in the sixth, the tying run at third with two outs. Already with two singles against Hendricks, Starlin worked a 3-1 count before fouling off three straight fastballs on the outer half with the count full. While I thought a curveball would’ve been a brilliant 3-2 offering after those foul balls (his effective if little utilized pitch, Castro having yet to see one all evening) Hendricks went to his bread and butter, fooling Castro with a changeup at the knees over the heart of the plate:
This was Hendricks’ 6th punch out of the evening, to this point having walked zero batters while scattering five hits. It was also the only full count he allowed all evening. Needing just 75 pitches to get through six, with a bullpen that needed a deep outing by a starter, Kyle was staring down the opportunity to throw consecutive complete games.
For the Marlins, the electric-but-inconsistent Jose Urena‘s effort made this a classic pitcher’s duel. Aside from the two runs surrendered in the fourth he was solid, tossing seven innings of five hit ball, yielding just one earned run, walking and striking out three batters apiece. Miami’s young pitching staff has some quality talent; it’s not outrageous to think they could be one of the league’s better units in a few seasons.
After a six pitch eighth inning Maddon opted — unbelievably so — to pinch hit for Hendricks in the bottom half. While not quite as tidy as last weekend, Hendricks was once again dominant, surrendering just one unearned run, five hits, zero walks, and seven strikeouts. If you were worried about Hendricks to start the year, you can be rest assured his early season struggles have once again been left behind in April.
As if to prove Maddon’s handling of the pitching staff remains dubious, Kyle Ryan surrendered a leadoff single to Neil Walker. He was promptly pulled in favor of the veteran Steve Cishek — who ultimately yielded the tying run on a wild pitch. After an uneventful bottom of the 9th, the game was forced into extras.
The top of the 10th started in precarious fashion. Tyler Chatwood gave up a lead-off single, giving the Marlins a scoring threat with nobody out. Rizzo had other plans, however. A Jon Berti bunt attempt was popped toward Anthony at first, who faked catching the ball, confusing the base runner Rosell Herrera. After scooping the ball up and getting the out at first Rizzo forced Herrera into a rundown, ultimately securing the double play.
This was the second brilliant play on a bunt of the night for Rizzo, who in the fifth inning aggressively attacked a Urena bunt, cutting off the lead runner at third, helping Hendricks to escape the only real threat he faced after the first inning. Rizzo’s defensive IQ can not be overstated: his presence on the field is as important to this team as his bat.
Jason Heyward ended the evening in dramatic fashion, sending a high fastball into the left field basket. Wrigley’ electricity echoed Bryant’s walk-off last night, another awesome win in the Friendly Confines.
(For those curious Russell was 0-3 with a walk, and missed a hit-and-run sign in the bottom half of the seventh, hanging out to dry what proved to be an important insurance run opportunity.)
The win moves the Cubs to 21-13 on the season, hanging on to first place over a red-hot Brewers squad, who’ll visit for the Friendly Confines this weekend in a huge three game set.
Next Up for the Cubs
Tomorrow will wrap up the four game set with Miami, a classic 1:20 CST game time at Wrigley Field, on ABC7 (and on the radio, as always, on 670 The Score).
Yu Darvish will toe the rubber for the Cubs, looking to rebound from an ugly outing last time out when he only lasted four innings against St. Louis in a no decision. Health no longer a concern (velocity has been sitting in the mid 90’s on his four seamer) it’s paramount Yu turn the corner and revive his 2019 campaign. He relied too much on his cutter (51 pitches) last outing. As always, attacking the zone early and keeping hitters off balance with his preponderance of secondary offerings will be necessary in order for him to maintain a quality start.
For the Marlins, the talented Trevor Richards will counter Darvish. While he’s yet to win a game and maintains a pedestrian 4.10 ERA, he possesses a plus changeup and has been developing an effective cutter. Last outing against the Cubs he surrendered five runs in just 4.2 innings of work, yielding four walks in the abbreviated outing.