A Tip of the Recap: 9/7 (Villar 2, Rizzo 1)

Cubs Record: 89-50 (1st Place NL Central; magic number: 9)  

W: Corey Knebel (1-2, 4.56)

L: Joe Smith (2-5, 3.88)

S: Tyler Thornburg (9)

MVP: Jonathan Villar (2-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R)

Things looked pretty good for the Cubs when Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo notched back-to-back singles before Ben Zobrist walked to load the bases with one out in the 1st. But Addison Russell and Chris Coghlan grounded out to end the inning and the Cubs would put only two more men on base the rest of the game.

Jonathan Villar homered to lead off the 4th and 8th innings to provide all of the offense for the Brewers, though Rizzo almost matched him blow for blow. After hitting a pair of homers Tuesday night, the Cubs first baseman crushed a 2-2 slider from Matt Garza in the 6th that just barely stayed inside the foul pole in right. Despite his best efforts, Garza’s body language was not enough to convince the ball to hook foul. You can see the lean in the featured image, along with the sunflower seed Garza expectorated while he watched the ball soar into the seats.

Perhaps Keon Broxton saw that and realized that you’ve got to take a more hands-on approach when dealing with potential home run balls. So when Rizzo launched a shot out to the deepest part of the park that would have tied the game in the 9th, Broxton leaped up and pulled it back to preserve the win. It was an incredible play that ended up trumping another really slick maneuver on a double play that also involved Rizzo.

Despite the loss, the Cubs still saw their magic number reduced to 9 with a Cardinals loss. It’s possible for the Central to be clinched when those two teams square off in St. Louis next week, which I’m sure won’t generate any unnecessarily dumb stuff online from both sides.

The Good

Here’s that play from Rizzo and Russell to turn two:

And here’s Broxton’s leaping snag:

The Bad

I want to like Joe Smith, I really do. I dig the funky style and I like that he’s a Midwesterner who gets to be closer to his ailing mother. After a few rough outings to begin his Cubs tenure (6 hits, 4 walks to 20 batters in 3.2 IP), Smith went to the DL and looked like a new pitcher. In is three most recent appearances prior to Wednesday, he went a total of 4 innings, striking out 7 and allowing no hits, walks, or runs.

Then he allowed a homer to Villar on the first pitch he threw Thursday. He also gave up a hard-hit single to Ryan Braun before managing to escape the inning without any further damage. I’ll withhold further judgment until seeing him a few more times, but there’s a growing concern that Smith’s delivery is the only thing that’s deceptive about him. He’s like Bald Bull in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out; if you don’t let the weird movement fool you, he’s no problem.

The Ugly

Justin Grimm came on in the 6th to relieve starter Mike Montgomery and threw only five pitches, giving up a single to Jake Elmore before being lifted after a trip to the mound by Joe Maddon and trainer PJ Mainville. There hadn’t been any noticeable hitch in Grimm’s delivery and the righty wasn’t wincing or massaging his arm in any way, but none of the five fastballs he threw reached even 93 mph.

It appeared as though Grimm was telling the staff that he was fine, but at this point in the season it’s all about being safe instead of sorry. The official word from the Cubs was that Grimm left with an “illness,” and reports online said that he’d been up much of the night with a stomach bug. Seems odd, then, that he wouldn’t have a little extra gas on the heater, but I guess he’s smart not to trust it under the circumstances.

Coming Attractions

The Cubs are off Thursday before opening a three-game set with their former NL Central opponents in Houston. Jon Lester (15-4, 2.61 ERA) will oppose Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06) in to open the series at 8:10pm CT. Houston is only 2 games out of the AL Wild Card at this point, so you can bet they’ll be pulling out all the stops to stay afloat in that race. I’m generally pretty meh on interleague play, but I’m really looking forward to seeing their talented young stars like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, not to mention Jose Altuve.

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