Coming into tonight, the 2018 Cubs did not have a walk-off win.
They still don’t.
I feel like I should give Hunter Strickland more credit for a 1-2-3 ninth inning with the game on the line, but his fastball command gave me the heebies and the Cubs’ offense gives me the jeebies. Together, they combined for a big ole bout of the heebie jeebies in the ninth inning.
Strickland worked two 3-2 counts, one to Tommy La Stella and the other to Jason Heyward. Neither are the Cubs’ best hitters, but I had visions of doom. I foresaw the Cubs jumping around home plate and splashing water on each other. I heard the refrain of “Go Cubs Go” echoing hollowly on a chill wind.
It’s fine, though. Everything’s fine. The Giants won even though Hunter Strickland threw Tommy La Stella a belt-high fastball with a one-run lead. They won even though they missed two huge opportunities for insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings. They won even though Jose Quintana had an air-bending curveball he could strike out the world with.
Since joining the Cubs last summer, Quintana has ultimately been a disappointment, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he opened the game tonight.
Quintana’s struggles can be largely attributed to problems with his curveball. If he can’t throw his curve for strikes, he doesn’t have a put-away pitch and that’s when he gets hit hard. If he has control of the curve, he can virtually unhittable.
First time through the order Quintana had five strikeouts though he only finished with six on the night. He got whiffs on over a third of the curves he threw. Because he could throw it for strikes, he was able to get the Giants to chase down below the zone.
Fortunately, Quintana elected not to throw his curve in a few key moments.
Take for instance, his approach to Brandon Crawford in the fourth inning. Crawford worked him to a 3-2 count, and Quintana kept throwing him fastballs. And Crawford kept fouling them off. As far as I can tell, Willson Contreras never suggested anything else so I don’t know whether to attribute this to Contreras’ poor pitch calling or Quintana not having confidence in his best pitch in a 3-2 count, Quintana threw him five fastballs in a row and Crawford put the fifth one in the left field bleachers.
This homer off the bat of Crawford also allowed for a hallowed Wrigley Field tradition: throwing back a ball you brought from home and keeping the dingerball.
Cubes fans: we’re wise to you.— Productive Outs (@ProductiveOuts) May 27, 2018
now can we retire this horseshit tradition? pic.twitter.com/MC3SM2DWM0
Quintana also didn’t throw a curve to Andrew McCutchen in the fifth inning. McCutchen eventually doubled over the head of Ian Happ to tie the game. It’s hard to tell if Contreras ever called for anything other than a fastball because FOX’s cameras showed everything but Contreras (and there was a runner on second) but it doesn’t appear Quintana ever shook anything off.
Considering how well Quintana was throwing the ball, it’s a bit of a miracle the Giants got him out of the game before the sixth inning. Joe Maddon decided to take Quintana out after 4.1 IP, and though it makes sense from an analytical standpoint (eliminate the third time through the order penalty), it also seemed like an overreaction to a ball hit down the line and Happ taking a bad first step on McCutchen’s double.
Meanwhile, Chris Stratton oscillated from dominant to narrowly avoiding disaster. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Stratton loaded the bases with nobody out. Stratton misplayed a comebacker off the bat of Javier Baez, missing out on an opportunity for a double play. He eventually walked Jason Heyward on four pitches for the Cubs’ first run.
Stratton later threw a hanging changeup to Kyle Schwarber, and I’m surprised it only went into the bleachers and not onto Sheffield. Baez hit another dinger off a pitch up and out of the strike zone which is exactly where you’re supposed to throw pitches to a guy who hasn’t walked since April 7. Other than that, Stratton looked sharp. He struck out Kris Bryant three times and six Cubs overall in five innings. Walks were still a problem; he finished the night with three. But Stratton pitched well enough to annoy Cubs fans, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
I am here for the Gorkys Hernandez Renaissance. Andrew Baggarly has been comparing Hernandez to 2010 Andres Torres and lest you forget, 2010 Andres Torres was rad. Tonight, Hernandez had two doubles (that weren’t hit particularly hard but they were doubles, dang it) and he singled off a push bunt. At present, Hernandez has an OPS above .800 and a wRC+ above 120. Can he keep this up over an entire season? My mind is telling me no. But my body. My body is telling me yes.
Brandon Crawford continued his campaign of excellence with his aforementioned dinger off Quintana, a double off Justin Wilson, and this play in the fourth:
The two exceptional plays Brandon Crawford has made in this series have been unbelievable. So unbelievable that the umpires assume it shouldn’t have been possible to do this twice and called the runner safe. But replay revealed what we knew all along. Brandon Crawford rules.
The Giants are a much better team with a good Brandon Crawford. When they don’t get offensive production from the outfield, they need to make up for it somewhere. Brandon Belt can’t do everything even if it seems like he can.
Crawford had such a good night that I don’t feel the need to talk about him getting picked off second in the eighth. (But boy, if the Giants could have scored that run it would have done wonders for my heart rate.)
Tomorrow night, the Giants have a chance to win their first series at Wrigley Field since 2014. I predicted in my series preview that the one game the Giants would win this series would come on the back of Ty Blach. Unfortunately, I forgot it’s the ESPN game of the week, so they’re going to lose 8-1. The one run will be a Gorkys Hernandez solo home run and it will be on the first pitch of the game.