TOP PLAY (WPA)
Having already thrown 19 pitches in the top of the 3rd inning on Saturday, Matt Garza served up a fastball at the top of the zone to Anthony Rizzo, who promptly deposited it in the right field seats (+.298 WPA).
The inning started pretty easily for Garza, who seemed to be settling into a groove after needing 39 pitches to get through the first two innings. Garza got Addison Russell to fly-out on four pitches, and then bested that by getting Dexter Fowler to pop a bunt up for a shallow fly-out on the very next pitch. Kyle Schwarber followed up those two quick outs by working an 11-pitch battle, ripping a liner to shallow center for a single. Chris Coghlan then was gifted a four-pitch walk from the likely-fatigued Garza, paving the way for Rizzo to swing at the first fastball he liked.
Despite having two-out and none on-base, the top of the Cubbies lineup showed their ability to stay in the game as Matt Garza let this game slip away.
BOTTOM PLAY (WPA)
In the bottom of the second inning, after drawing a very rare walk from Kyle Hendricks, Khris Davis got caught leaning toward second base (-.061 WPA).
Davis, who is not known for his theft abilities, was granted a free-pass to first base but was promptly picked off by the not-very-deceptive pickoff move of Hendricks. Khris Davis is now 8-for-10 stealing bases in his career and 50% (1-for-2) this season.
While this by no means ended the game for the Brewers, the last thing they wanted to do with a leadoff baserunner was have them picked off stealing to begin the next at-bat. Khris Davis did look a bit confused on the basepath when it happened, leading me to believe the stolen base call might have come from the dugout. Regardless, with Jean Segura at the plate, one would want to see the batter work with a runner on base as opposed to the alternative. That being said, Segura has grounded into quite a few double plays this season. Not that that entirely rests on Segura’s shoulders, but it could have helped force Counsell’s hand.
When Michael Blazek gave up his first home run of the season was pretty ‘key.’ It was also really deflating as a viewer. Matt Garza pitches one of the most-labored quality starts a pitcher can possibly work but, hey, a quality start is a quality start, right? His final line was 6IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 3 ER on 107 pitches. The point is, not a lot of people are buying stock in Garza after this one.
Regardless, the Brewers were actually in Saturday’s game when he left the mound in a 3-1 ball game. Then Michael Blazek comes into the game in the seventh, tasked with facing the top of the Cubs lineup, gets two quick outs and then Kyle Schwarber comes up. One could be noticing a pattern by this point, right?
Schwarber took Blazek’s two-seamer (which wasn’t even poorly located) to dead centerfield.
Michael Blazek has thrown his two-seam fastball 114 times this season and opponents are batting .172 against it. It’s been one of his most valuable pitches in what has been an extremely valuable season for him.
TREND TO WATCH
To start off the game something really annoying happened. Scooter Gennett hit a line drive single to centerfield on the second pitch Hendricks threw. That’s not the annoying part. That means the number-two hitter — presumably one of the best in the lineup — gets to come up with one-on and nobody out; this is the exact spot you’ve designed your batting order to deal with most effectively to generate runs early in the game by swinging the bat. And Shane Peterson promptly drops the bunt down. In the first inning. With no one out.
There are two ways to explain how this could happen. First, Peterson took it upon himself to bunt. In doing so, Peterson’s actions should speak loudly to Counsell; he is not a number-two hitter, and the manager should stop placing him there in the lineup. It could mean that Peterson doesn’t understand the ideas of run creation and needs to be placed elsewhere in the lineup.
Alternatively, the bunt call could have come from the dugout. This one is far more damning. Counsell is telling the Brewers fans that he is the one that doesn’t understand the tenants of run creation. He doesn’t understand what a number-two hitter is employed to do. Most importantly, though, in calling for the bunt, Counsell is telling his number-two hitter “I shouldn’t have put you here.”
Regardless, I’m hoping the trend to emerge from this is that no more bunts happen from the number-two spot in the lineup. I also don’t expect Shane Peterson to bat in that location in the lineup. But maybe those expectations are too high.
COMING UP NEXT
In the finale of this four-game set, Kyle Lohse (5-12, 6.24 ERA) hits the bump trying to get at least one win from the stingy Cubs. Lohse has allowed at least one run since May 15, 14 starts ago. In fact, in that same time frame, the right-hander hasn’t allowed fewer than 2 runs at all and has given up 52 runs total, all of which have been earned. Clayton Richard (1-0, 5.40 ERA) will start for the visitors making just his third start this season. Likely only a spot start while Dan Haren gets re-acquainted with his new-old team, the left-hander will have to face tough righties Segura, Lucroy, and Braun to start off the game. Let’s just hope none of them bunt each other over.