Brandon Morrow got the call Saturday night. It was a call nine days in the making.
The Chicago Cubs‘ closer had not pitched since June 7, due to his team either winning games in lopsided fashion or losing them. It was only natural that he started out a bit rusty against the Cardinals, allowing singles to Jairo Munoz and Kolten Wong to begin the bottom of the ninth.
But Morrow clicked into rhythm after that. Following an infield out, Morrow threw 99 mph fastballs by Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham to end Chicago’s 6-3 win over St. Louis and give him his 16th save in 17 chances.
Despite a 25-pitch inning in his return, Morrow should be available if needed for Sunday night’s series finale at Busch Stadium, where the Cubs will try to score a sweep and win for the 15th time in 20 games.
“I’d like to keep him sharp,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said, “but guys like that can normally throw on the side and stay sharp.”
Morrow has been everything the Cubs could have asked for in his first year with the team. Tasked with replacing Wade Davis as the ninth inning man, Morrow has pitched to a 1.59 earned run average, allowing just over one baserunner per inning and whiffing 25 hitters over 22 2/3 innings.
His ninth inning helped spotlight one of the biggest differences between Chicago and St. Louis. While the Cubs have a reliable back end of the bullpen, the Cardinals do not. They have basically two reliable relievers, and Jordan Hicks proved mortal in the eighth inning Saturday night when he ceded his first runs of June on Jason Heyward‘s two-run homer.
That’s put the pressure on St. Louis starters, who for the most part have handled it. The burden now falls on rookie Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.96) to match his outing from a 5-2 win Monday night over San Diego and keep the Cardinals (36-32) from a fifth straight defeat.
Flaherty gave up just three hits and a run in 6 1/3 innings against the Padres, walking one and striking out six to claim his first win since May 20. This will be his first career start against Chicago, although he did pitch a scoreless inning of relief against the Cubs last year.
“We were just throwing with more conviction tonight,” Flaherty told mlb.com. “Last time out, I said I really didn’t execute well. I feel like it had a lot to do with execution and conviction behind everything, just throwing everything with intent.”
The Cubs (40-27) will counter with lefthander Jose Quintana (6-4, 4.09), whose up-and-down season is trending more in a positive direction of late. Quintana is coming off a no-decision Monday night in Milwaukee, where he allowed two runs on four hits in six innings as Chicago won 7-2 in 11 innings.
Quintana has permitted only four runs in his last three starts, covering 17 2/3 innings. He’s 3-1 in five career starts against the Cardinals with a 2.67 ERA, beating them twice last year after his mid-July acquisition from the Chicago White Sox.
Despite a fabulous spring, Ian Happ has become a somewhat unpopular Cub. I don’t think it is anything personal against him. However, Ian had a massive number of strikeouts in April. His early season numbers were terrible for the most part and also when Ian plays, it usually means that Albert Almora Jr. has been relegated to the bench. On a team where 10 players merit regular playing time (and that assumes you don’t actually think that Tommy La Stella merits regular playing time), a lot of fans are going to be happy that one of their favorite Cubs sits out on a given night.
Here’s the thing though. There should be more people wondering where Ian Happ is on a given day. Since April 21, Ian Happ has registered 141 plate appearances or pretty close to a quarter of a season for a full time player. Ian Happ has a line of .246/.390/.500. He has a wOBA of .369 and an wRC+ of 134. That is only a couple of notches below an All-Star player. Included in that line is an 18.4% walk rate (yes, I know there were a pretty good handful of intentional walks in there) and a 36.2% strike out rate. That strike rate needs work to be sure. But that is some fairly elite production.
That is really the deal with the 2018 Cubs. I’ll say it again, there are 10 players that merit regular playing time. Joe Maddon and the stats guys who give him information every day ahead of lineup creation work to get the best eight guys in there on a given day. Do they misfire sometimes? You bet. Do the Cubs lead the National League in scoring? Yes they do. By OPS+, Jason Heyward is the only one of the 10 with a below average score. Jason is at 99 just below dead on average. Jason is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in baseball, and an above average baserunner. Ian Happ actually has the third highest OPS+ on the team on a full season basis at 117.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) 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. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 68, June 16 – Cubs come from behind to win second straight (40-27)
THE THREE HEROES:
Superhero – Ian Happ (.225). Ian had two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. His seventh inning RBI double gave the Cubs their first lead of the day at 4-3.
Hero –Kyle Schwarber (.195). Kyle had two walks and an RBI single in his five at bats. The RBI single tied the game at 3-3.
Sidekick –Ben Zobrist (.118). Ben had two hits and a walk in his six trips to the plate. He scored two runs. Ben trails only Kris Bryant on the team in on base percentage this year at .379. To date, he has a .278/.381/.433 line when leading off.
THE THREE GOATS:
Billy Goat –Addison Russell (-.094). Sometimes, I have to go looking for why a guy is here. This is one of them, Addison had a game tying home run in the fourth inning (good to see some power out of Addy!). Not a massive game change that early, but still a hefty (.127) for that event. His strike out after Schwarber’s RBI single with runners on second and third with one out in the fifth was (-.104) and his pop out in the seventh with runners on first and second and one out was (-.073).
Goat – Tommy La Stella (-.063). Tommy had a pinch hit ground out in the seventh with runners on second and third and two outs. Tommy probably wasn’t going to sustain the .432 on base percentage or .354 batting average he started the month of June with.
Kid – Jason Heyward (-.052). Tough love night continues. Jason hit a fairly significant two-run homer to make it 6-3 in the eighth inning (.149). Jason grounded into a double play with runners on first and second to end the fourth (-.106). He also reached base just the one time in five plate appearances.
WPA Play of the Game – With the game tied at three, the Cubs got a single to start the seventh. After a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk put runners on first and second with one out. Russell popped up and it looked like the Cubs might squander the opportunity. But Ian Happ doubled to score the go ahead run. (.218)
*Cardinals Play of the Game – With two outs and a runner on first in the first inning, Marcell Ozuna hit a two-run home-run. (.188)
Finally, the “+10” Club opens its doors and now three people have entered in the last two days.
Up Next: The two teams finish their threegame set with the Father’s Day Sunday Night Baseball game. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mound looking to complete the sweep. Jose is 6-4 with a 4.09 ERA. Over his last seven starts, it is better than that at 3-2 with a 3.40 ERA. Last time out he lasted six innings against the Brewers and allowed four hits, two walks and two runs. He only struck out three. The only real downer was two solo homers allowed. Jose had an odd game against the Cardinals in St. Louis back in May. In that one he took a loss without allowing an earned run. He did allow five hits and four walks, so he wasn’t without blame but the defense let him down and it lead to a big inning. Overall, dating all of the way back to 2012, Jose is 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals counter with Jack Flaherty. Jack is 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA. Jack has never started a game against the Cubs and only Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have ever even batted against him (both are 0-1 against him). Jack is coming off of a strong performance against the Padres. He picked up the win with 6.⅓ innings of three-hit, one-walk, one-run ball. The start before that, he was knocked around by the Marlins. In an oddity, he’s already made three starts against the Pirates. They hit him hard twice. So far in his 45⅔ innings of work, he has very pronounced splits. He has allowed a .575 OPS to righties and a .730 to lefties. Included in those numbers are a 10.33 K/BB against righties as opposed to just a 2.13 mark against lefties. Expect to see a lot of guys swinging from the left side tonight.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks (5-6) gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings, snapping a career-high three game losing streak. Brandon Morrow got the last three outs for his 16th save in 17 chances.
Chicago trailed 2-0 and then 3-2 before Kyle Schwarber‘s RBI single in the fifth tied the score for the second time. Happ’s double off Sam Tuivailala (1-2) in the seventh gave the Cubs their first lead.
Happ has three hits, including a homer, with two RBI and two runs scored in the last two games against the Cardinals, who dropped their season-high fourth in a row.
Heyward’s 410-foot, two-run homer in the eighth landed in the right field bullpen. It was the first career dinger allowed by Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks.
Addison Russell’s leadoff home run in the fourth tied it at 2-2, snapping Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez‘s 47 inning homerless streak.
Martinez struggled for third time since returning from a lat strain, giving up three runs and seven hits. He walked six, at least one in each inning, and needed 98 pitches to get through five innings. He was able to wriggle out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth as the Cubs stranded nine runners against him.
Martinez helped himself with a two-out RBI single that broke a 2-2 tie in the fourth. Martinez’ liner fell just short of the outstretched glove of a diving Heyward, scoring Dexter Fowler.
Marcell Ozuna‘s two-run homer gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the first. The blast extended Ozuna’s home run streak to three games and his RBI streak to a career-high seven games. He is the first Cardinal to drive in a run in seven straight since Matt Holliday in 2013.
Willson Contreras got the Cubs on the scoreboard in the third on a sharp infield single that deflected off first baseman Matt Carpenter. Ben Zobrist scored from third on the play.
Cubs: RHP Yu Darvish (right triceps tendinitis) threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Friday and is scheduled to throw another when the team returns home next week.
Cardinals: SS Paul DeJong (left hand fracture) underwent a CT scan and hit off a tee. He will accompany the team on its next road trip.
Cubs: LHP Jose Quintana (6-4, 4.09 ERA) is 3-1 in five career starts against St. Louis.
Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.96 ERA) has won three of his last four decisions and is making his first career start against Chicago.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Ian Happ‘s two-out double in the top of the seventh inning Saturday night snapped a 3-3 tie as the Chicago Cubs overcame early 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to beat the Cardinals 6-3 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
Happ’s liner into the right field corner scored Anthony Rizzo, who led off with a single against Sam Tuivailala (1-2) and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Willson Contreras. Happ’s hit also made a winner of starter Kyle Hendricks (5-6), who allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings, walking four and fanning three.
Four relievers protected the lead for Hendricks, Brandon Morrow pitching the ninth for his 16th save. Morrow worked around leadoff singles by Yairo Munoz and Kolten Wong, fanning Tommy Pham to end it.
It was the fifth loss in six games for the Cardinals, who got off to a good start. Marcell Ozuna drilled a 416-foot homer to center with two out and Pham aboard in the first inning. It was the 10th homer for Ozuna and his third in as many games.
But starter Carlos Martinez again found trouble in the form of walks, which have plagued him since he was activated June 5 from a four-week stint on the 10-day disabled list. One of Martinez’s six walks in five innings set the stage for a two-out infield single by Contreras that scored Ben Zobrist with Chicago’s first run in the third.
Addison Russell didn’t wait for a walk to begin the fourth. He clocked Martinez’s first pitch on a line and barely cleared the wall in center for his third homer, tying the game.
Martinez helped his cause in the bottom of the fourth with a two-out RBI single just in front of diving right fielder Jason Heyward that restored a one-run edge. But Martinez lost that lead in the top of the fifth as Kyle Schwarber laced a run-scoring single to center.
Heyward tacked on insurance in the eighth when he ripped a 99 mph sinker from Jordan Hicks over the wall in right for a two-run homer, his fourth of the year.