A couple of nice diversions for tonight’s game were that it was scheduled to go at least 9 innings, and I’ve heard of both of the starting pitchers. Nice!
Daniel Ponce de Leon climbed back atop the hill after last doing so 20 days ago in a July 29 start against the Twins. He didn’t have good results, but it wasn’t a dumpster fire, either. He showed flashes of why the Cards remain positive about him, as he had 8 Ks in just 3.2 IP that day. But the bad with the good was erratic control that produced 3 BBs and 1 HBP over his 85 pitches.
Always known as a high-percentage 4-seam thrower, as seen from his 2019 Baseball Savant Pitch Distribution, in his lone start this season, he actually significantly altered the mix, throwing 56% 4-seamers and 25% curves.
With another DH tomorrow, the Cards were hoping Ponce could give them some extended innings.
His well-known counterpart tonight was the 34-year-old veteran Yu Darvish, who has pitched well so far, giving up just 4 runs in 24 IP over 4 starts, giving up just 1 HR and walking but 4 while striking out 27.
While strolling through Yu’s career splits (below from FanGraphs), it was obvious lefties have done better over across many categories, with one oddity.
Looking to leverage as many as those numbers as possible, Manager Mike Shildt countered with a lefty-heavy lineup and instructed the boys not to strike out so much. See? (Hi, Brad!)
Note: Canadian Strongman Tyler O’Neill originally was in the lineup in LF as DH, with Dylan Carlson in CF and Dexter Fowler in RF. But Shildt made a late change, removing Tyler from the line-up, moving Dylan to LF and putting Harrison Bader in CF. No word as to why Tyler was replaced.
In a counter-counter move, the Cubs adjusted the knobs on their weather machine, dialing up a 9 mph wind blowing in from CF.
The Bird’s-Eye View
It was a lonnnggg game, even by usual MLB 9-inning game standards.
Clocking in at 4:09, the duration was due to lots of strikeouts, walks, and pitching changes, all things that leave gaping holes of inaction that made the game seem even more sloth-like. Down 4-1 in the 5th and 6-1 by the 7th, the Cards halved the lead to 6-3 in the 8th, but it was too little, too late.
The Birds’ bats made good contact against Yu early on, notching 4 hits (all singles) in the first 3 innings. Problem is, only 2 were sequenced, and 2 double plays erased once-promising innings, including a first and third one-out situation in the 2nd that went nowhere.
But things looked suh-weet in the 4th, though, as the hitters ambushed Yu by getting the bases loaded and nobody out via single, double, and walk. Problem was, Darvish doesn’t scare easily, and he promptly got a come-backer (force-out at home), strikeout, and fly out to get out of the inning.
The Cards came back immediately to get on the board finally in the 5th using a pair of singles by Wong and Goldschmidt to make it a 2-1 game.
Ponce’s night ended up eerily similar to his last outing, with slight improvement! He went from 85 pitches, 3 runs, and 8 Ks in 3.2 IP), to 63 pitches, 2 runs, and through 3 innings, giving up just a solo home run in the third. But then he got dinged again with a single tally based on the Cubs taking advantage of a lead-of walk followed by a triple. Baby steps, Ponce.
Shildt then fired up the conveyor belt of new pitchers, with 2 of the additional 4 relievers making their Major League debut. The slim one-run lead quickly embiggened on a pair of sequenced extra base hits, a double by Baez and homer by Schwarber to make it 4-1.
For good measure, the Cubs tacked on 2 more runs in the 7th, as they honed in on the inexperienced Cards’ relievers, using 2 singles, a double, and a sac fly. Sequencing, see?
After Darvish made it through the 6th, he was up to 98 pitches and was done for the night. While the Cubs then used three relievers of their own to cover the final 3 innings, the Cards didn’t have enough innings left to get closer than a 3-run deficit.
The Flight Path
Top of 1st - No No-Hitter for Yu!
Back in the starting lineup after watching Max Shrock hit a home run last night, Kolten Wong hit a liner on an 0-2 fastball that seemed harder off the bat than it was (only 73 mph EV), plus it flew right into Anthony Rizzo’s glove for a hard-luck out.
Tommy Edman battled Darvish to a 3-2 count then played into his hands, unable to stop his swing on a darting down-and-in knuckle curve for out 2.
Paul Goldschmidt became the Cards’ first base runner, inside-outing a down-and-in 1-1 sinker, lining it to right-center for a 2-out single.
After next batter Matt Carpenter watched a 97 mph 1-2 fastball just skirt the outside of the zone for a called ball (that annoyed Yu, but it was outside), he watched the next one as well, a splitter down and in, this pitch called for strike 3.
Bottom of 1st - Ponce brushed off a lead-off single to totally not need his defense at all the rest of the inning.
Ian Happ started things off for the Cubs by beating the shift, shooting a grounder to the unoccupied shortstop area.
LOL. So Rizzo crowds the plate so much that he swung at a 1-2 cutter running in on him, missed it, and the pitch hit him in the leg for a strikeout dead ball. The ball caromed away from Matt Wieters, but again, dead ball, so Happ had to stay put.
Now against Javier Baez, Ponce got his first 2 cutters as called strikes then went back to the 4-seam gas, getting Baez to swing through it for another K.
Ponce liked the look of that, so what the heck, he gave Kyle Schwarber a similar treatment, striking him out with high heat to strike out the side.
Top of 2nd - A 1st and 3rd, 1-out opportunity did not bear fruit. (By fruit, I mean runs.)
Stepping in batting 5th, “Ball Killer Brad Miller” got a reward start after his 2-dinger night last night. He got under a low slider, however, golfing it into CF for the first out. Next, young Dylan Carlson, slammed an 0-2 cutter up the middle for a single.
Dexter Fowler, realizing sequencing is important in baseball, beat the shift, singling the opposite way through the vacated shortstop area, as Dylan motored to third with no play.
Now with first and third and 1 out, Matt Wieters got ahead 2-0 but couldn’t cash in, as Darvish didn’t give in, jamming Matt with a cutter that he grounded to short for an easy inning-ending/rally-killing double play.
Bottom of 2nd - Ponce continued to pitch well, with good help from a plucky shortstop.
Willson Contrerars seemed to get wood one a too-good fastball, skying it to deep-ish center, but the wind knocked it down for Harrison Bader to camp under for an easy out 1. Jason Heyward next rapped a curve that hung all the way at the top of the zone, banging a hard, sinking liner to short. But Super Tommy Edman reacted quickly, diving to his right to snag it just off the dirt for a snazzy second out.
Then after going to a full count on David Bote, Ponce held onto a fastball too long, flinging it way outside for a walk.
Now Victor Caratini stepped in with 2 outs. [As Dannny Mac discussed during the entire at-bat, Victor was the one that hit the ball that struck Ponce in the head during a AAA game in 2018. He and Ponce have become good friends since. ]
Ponce got Victor to pop out to shallow right the Wong actually ran down for the third out.
Top of 3rd - The Cubs got their 2nd inning-ending double play.
Bader did a good job battling Yu Darvish’s steady diet of cutters to get the count full. Alas, he couldn’t get good enough wood on the 5th cutter of the at-bat, lifting a harmless, shallow fly-out to LF.
Now with the lineup turned over, Yu left a 1-1 knuckle curve up in the zone, and Kolten jumped on it, sending a sharp single to RF.
Tommy couldn’t add to that, however. In fact, he subtracted by 2, bouncing a grounder to 3B for an around-the-horn double play.
Bottom of 3rd (In Play, Run(s)) - Ponce flinched. It was my fault.
Ponce dispatched first batter Jason Kipnis swinging through high heat. I made the mistake of thinking how good Ponce was looking, as naturally, next batter Ian Happ cranked an oppo home run on a middle-away 92 mph fastball to put the Cubs on the board 1-0.
Ponce possibly carried that frustration to the next batter Rizzo, almost nailing him twice and ultimately walking him on 4-straight pitches.
With a runner on first and 1 out, you’d like to root for a get-me-out-of-the-inning double play, but Ponce isn’t exactly a ground ball-getter.
Slipping back into No Command Ponce, he next went to a full count to Baez, missing badly with the three balls. BUT! He bowed his neck and threw a pretty cutter on the outer edge to get Baez swinging for out 2.
Then against Schwarber, after two curve balls outside of the zone, he went back to nothing but fastballs, throwing 6 in a row. Whith Rizzo running, Ponce’s next fastball was in off the plate that Kyle offered just enough at, getting rung up on a check-swing strikeout.
Top of 4th - The team that laid the golden opportunity goose egg.
Pauly G didn’t try to do too much with a 1-0 cutter at the bottom of the zone, as he went down to get it and shot it back up the middle for a line single to center.
Matt Carpenter followed that up by getting around on an inside cutter, hooking it down the RF line into the corner for a double, advancing Godly to third.
Now with “Seat-Filler Brad Miller” up in the Cards’ best run-scoring opportunity, he ignored Darvish’s attempt to get him to fish at 3 cutters off the plate inside. But Yu got the count full and went right back a down and in breaking ball, this time a slider, that wasn’t close to walk the bases loaded.
Up now came Dylan with a great chance for damage. Alas, he perhaps was a bit too aggressive, and he tapped a cutter right back to Darvish, who forced Goldy at home. Dylan, though, was safe at first to re-load the bases with 1 out.
Now veteran Dex came in for his shot. He immediately got down 0-2, then whiffed on a 1-2 slider that dove down sharply for out 2.
Wieters offered the next hope to get something out of this golden opportunity inning. The burly veteran got a great pitch to hit, a hanging 0-1 curve. He banged it to RF at 95 mph EV, but Heyward barely had to move to catch it.
Bottom of 4th (In Play, Run(s))- Ponce got dinged again. Rookie Righty Reliever “Sensational Seth” Elledge came in. He made his own trouble but got himself out of it.
Ponce added to his 63 pitches coming in to this inning by giving a free pass to Contreras on 5 pitches. Things got worse, as on a full count and Contrerars running, Heyward ripped a dropped his bat head on a down-and-in cutter, tripling into the corner to make it 2-0 Cubs.
Ponce came back, though to strike out Bote on a his high fastball calling card for his 7th K of the night. Turns out, that was his last pitch of the night, as Shildt came out to give him the news.
Seth Elledge, fresh off a fantastic 5 strikeout debut Saturday, attempted to get out of the inning. Perhaps a bit too pumped, he walked the first two batters he faced, Caratini and Kipnis to load the bases with 1 out. The youngster came back, though to strike out Happ looking at a zippy fastball that dotted the inside corner for out 2.
Now facing Rizzo, Seth struck out the dangerous hitter with a 95 mph laser that bore in on his hands to escape the jam.
Fox Sports Midwest loves them some Elledge:
Top of 5th (In Play, Run(s)) - Perfect Goldy came through.
Darvish pitched Bader backward and Harrison was no match, striking out on three straight pitches: slider, curve ball, elevated fastball for out 1.
Making good contact in his previous 2 at-bats (with 1 single to show for it), Kolten went the other way and got his second hit, a single to left.
Tommy battled Yu hard in a 9-pitch at-bat, but he rolled over on a slider, grounding to 2B. But Kolten was running before the pitch, so he advanced while the throw went to first for the second out.
Now Goldy, 2-2- on the night, had a 2-out RISP chance to get the Birds on the board finally. He came through, shooting an inside fastball the other way down the RF line for a single, as Wong scampered home to make it 2-1!
On a 2-2 pitch, Carpenter check-swung at a pitch in the dirt and was ruled to have held up. But Goldy had broken for second and was tagged out for the final out.
Bottom of 5th (In Play, Run(s)) - Elledge remained in. Circumstances made his stay in the 5th brief.
Seth gave up a lead-off double to Baez on a sinker that stayed up too much to immediately give the Cubs another scoring chance. But something worse happened next, as he tried to sneak a high fastball by him, and he rocketed a no-doubter deep into the RF seats (416 ft) to make it 4-1 Cubs and knock Seth out of the game.
Another new guy, righty Ryan Meisinger, came in to get him some hot MLB action. He got Contreras swinging on a well-placed down-and-away fastball for out 1. After nicking Heyward on the right triceps to put him on, he did induce a grounder from Bote, for the first double play of the night for the Cards, 6-4-3 to end the inning.
Top of 6th - Darvish set the Cards down in order with little effort.
Brad Miller became Yu’s 6th strikeout victim on the night for out 1. Dylan then popped a lazy fly to shallow right for the 2nd out. Dex made it a 3-up, 3-down inning by showing an inability to lay off a nasty knuckle curve in the dirt to strike out swinging on Yu’s 98th pitch.
Bottom of 6th - Meisinger got 2 quick outs then had to work harder, but couldn’t finish the job. We also found out that Jesus doesn’t save, he relieves.
Young Ryan broke off a lovely 1-2 curve to freeze Caratini on a called strike 3 for out 1. He then used a change-up to get Kipnis to pound one in the dirt to 2B that Kolten took care of for an easy out 2. Happ walked, then Rizzo reached down to hit one off the end of the bat, floating a cheap single to center that allowed Happ to motor to third.
Now with first and third 2 outs, Baez walked to load the bases, so Meisinger was pulled for Jesus Cruz to face Schwarber. Cruz bucked up to strike out Kyle with a change-up. Perhaps Jesus does save.
Top of 7th - Darvish was replaced by righty Casey Sadler, who made quick work of the Cards.
Matt Wieters, looking like the walking wounded after attempting to block countless pitches from young arms tonight, struck out on a curve using barely a swing and limped back to the dugout. Bader got good wood on an outer-half curve and actually took it to right, but he lined it right at Heyward for out 2.
Kolten ended the quiet inning quietly, by striking out on a curve in the dirt.
Bottom of 7th (In Play, Run(s)) - Jesus rose again out of the dugout to take the hill for another inning. The Cubs were blasphemous. The inning took ages.
Contreras became Cruz’ second strikeout victim, waiving over a change-up for out 1. Then on an 0-2 mistake change-up that was left up and out over the plate too much Heyward banged a single to left-center, and Bote followed that with an opposite-field single of his own to make it first and third, 1 out.
Caratini kept the inning going, skying a double off the top of the ivy in right, just missing a homer, having to setting for a run-scoring double to make it 5-1. Now with second and third and still just 1 out, Kipnis flied to deep right, scoring Bote on a sac fly and moving Caratini to third, bumping the score to 6-1.
Finally at 2 outs, Cruz next walked Happ, and his night was done.
Old friend Nabil Crismatt entered to face Rizzo. He got him to reach on a curve ball and fly out to left to finally end the inning.
Top of 8th (In Play Run(s)) - Nico Hoerner replaced Kipnis at 2B. The Cards suddenly remembered they were allowed to walk, which—shocker!—produced runs.
Edman and Goldschmidt led off with back-to-back walks, only the Cards’ second and third of those on the night. That knocked Casey Sadler out and brought in righty Dan Winkler. Matt Carpenter greeted him with a single to right to score Tommy and move Goldy to third, making it 6-2.
Miller drew the third walk of the inning to load the bases for Carlson. He swung at the first pitch, a cutter, grounding it to short for the 6-4-3 double play, scoring Goldy to now halve the score to 6-3.
Fowler then got plunked on the right hand to make it first and third. It was reviewed to see if the ball hit his bat, but the HBP stood, and Fowler stayed in the game.
Winkler was removed, replaced with Rowan Wick to face Knizner. Wick dispatched him via strikeout looking.
Bottom of 8th - Crismatt set the Cubs down in order quickly. Huzzah!
Baez flew out to Dex in right; Almora grounded out on a sharp come-backer to Crismatt. Contreras got the backward K watching a fastball catch the outer edge.
Top of 9th - Wick remained in to earn his Closer title. He closed.
Max Schrock came in to hit for Bader and popped out to short on the first pitch. Wong worked a walk on 7 pitches. Edman battled in an 8-pitch at-bat but succumbed to striking out swinging. Kolten advanced to second on defensive indifference.
The Cards’ final hope was Goldschmidt, a perfect 3-3 on the day to this point. Alas, he ended it imperfectly, striking out swinging to end the game.
Bottom of 9th
Cubs won, 6-3.
The Bottom Line
- 18 Hits: 9 for the Cubs; 9 for the Cards.
- 13 Walks: 8 for the Cubs; 5 for the Cards.
- 26(!) Strikeouts: 14 for the Cubs; 12 for the Cards.
- The difference?
- The Cubs had 5 XBHs (2 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B) and good sequencing.
- The Cards had 1 XBH (2B) and little sequencing.
- But hey, that lone XBH was Matt Carpenter’s double in the 4th, which was his 286th, tying him with Frankie Frisch for 13th place all time for the Cards.
- New reliever Ryan Meisinger wore #84, the first use of that number on a Cards jersey, ever. (Except that shersey you bought when you graduated high school in 1984.)
- 23 of the 40 runs Cards have given up have been via the home run
- That bases loaded, no-out situation in the 4th inning held such promise: