Saturday, July 26, 2014

Game of the Day (7/25/14)

Cubs 7, Cardinals 6. St. Louis sent Joe Kelly, recently back from injury, against Chicago's Travis Wood, who was an All-Star last year and has not remotely lived up to that status this season.

The Cards seized the early lead in the top of the first. Matt Carpenter led off with a single, and Matt Holliday singled as well one out later. Matt Adams then reached on an Arismendy Alcantara throwing error, allowing Carpenter to score. After the second out, Jon Jay (finally, a Cardinal not named Matt!) doubled to bring two more runs across the plate.

Alcantara singled with one out in the first and took second on a wild pitch, but was left there. Tony Cruz led off the top of the second with a single and was caught stealing; St. Louis then got a Carpenter single and a Jhonny Peralta walk before Holliday struck out to strand them both. Chicago rallied in the bottom of the second when Luis Valbuena walked, Welington Castillo singled, and Ryan Sweeney launched a game-tying three-run homer.

Wood threw a perfect third, and the Cubs scored again in the bottom of the inning. Anthony Rizzo led off with a single, but was caught stealing. Valbuena drew a two-out walk, however, and Castillo and Sweeney both singled to put the Cubs in front 4-3. Wood was spotless again in the top of the fourth, and then led off the bottom of the inning with a homer to pad his lead to 5-3.

That advantage proved highly ephemeral. Carpenter led off the top of the fifth with a homer, and Holliday matched him one out later to even the score at 5. Kelly allowed a Starlin Castro single to start the bottom of the inning; two outs later, he was pulled for Randy Choate, who retired Sweeney. Jay greeted Wesley Wright with a single in the top of the sixth. Mark Ellis bunted into a force, but moved to second on a passed ball, and scored the go-ahead run on a two-out pinch single by Oscar Taveras.

Kevin Siegrist allowed a leadoff single to Emilio Bonifacio in the bottom of the sixth, but stranded him at first. Justin Grimm yielded a Peralta single and walked Allen Craig in the top of the seventh before leaving both men on. In the bottom of the inning, Siegrist hit Rizzo with a pitch, and one out later, allowed a go-ahead two-run homer to Valbuena.

The Cardinals attempted a rally in the eighth, starting when pinch hitter Kolten Wong greeted Neil Ramirez with a single and stole second. Cruz then grounded to short; Wong was thrown out in a rundown between second and third, but Cruz took his place at second, then moved to third on a wild pitch. Ramirez bore down from there, getting Peter Bourjos to foul out to the catcher and striking out Carpenter to strand the tying run at third. Pat Neshek recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, then allowed a Chris Coghlan single and was pulled for Sam Freeman; Freeman promptly walked Alcantara and plunked Rizzo to load the bases. Seth Maness took over and struck out Castro to end the inning and keep the Cards within a run, but Hector Rondon made that run stand up, allowing a Holliday single and nothing else in the ninth.

Ryan Sweeney and Travis Wood both hit home runs for the Cubs in this game. It was Sweeney's second homer of the year... and Wood's third. In case it's not clear, that does in fact mean that an outfielder who has been on the big league roster for a majority of the season has been out-homered by a starting pitcher. Wood also has a higher average than Sweeney, and despite not having drawn a single walk, also holds a superior OBP. Slugging is no contest - the difference is over 200 points in Wood's favor.

Something that I always find rather remarkable when looking at single games is that any player can be the hero for one day. That has rarely been clearer than it is in this game. Sweeney entered the day hitting .214/.258/.276 in semi-regular playing time, but he produced a homer, four RBI, and +.264 WPA in this one, setting his team up to take advantage of Luis Valbuena's fifth career three-run game (+.432 WPA for him) and come out with the win. When it comes from one of the worst-hitting outfielders in the league, that's exactly the kind of effort that helps you improve your record to 42-59.

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