Last night the Cubs sent their best pitcher in 2016, Kyle Hendricks, against the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw. Both pitched great games; Kershaw was perfect through 4 2/3 innings, and ultimately gave up two hits and a walk in seven innings. The Dodgers then turned the game over to the best relief pitcher (by some measures, at least) in baseball, Kenley Jansen. He pitched two innings, struck out four, and didn’t allow a baserunner.
There was some fretting afterwards about the cold bats of some Cubs stars during the playoffs—Dexter Fowler has a .564 OPS, Rizzo .197, Zobrist .536, Russell .132—but last night the Dodgers ran arguably the best starter and closer out there and they did what they do. The Cubs just got beat by the best.
But they still came incredibly close to winning, even closer than it might look. Adrian Gonzalez and Javier Baez both got in good swings against good pitches. Gonzalez hit his well and it went out; Baez hit his pitch better, and it didn’t.
Here’s the pitch Gonzalez hit off Hendricks, via BrooksBaseball (from the catcher’s view).
Gonzalez is a good hitter, and hits low-inside pitches pretty well with decent power. It wasn’t a bad place to put it, though based on where Willson Contreras set up and where he received the ball, it looks like he wanted the ball further away from Gonzalez.
Had it landed there, it would have been harder for Gonzalez to hit it deep, but Hendricks didn’t throw a meatball (via Fangraphs).
The ball had an exit velocity of 100.8 miles per hour, with a 30-degree launch angle. Here’s what happens to balls hit that hard at that angle, via Baseball Savant.
So a 50-50 chance. Gonzalez got it into the first row in left-center, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
Now, Baez; another great pitch, another great swing.
Baez isn’t as good at hitting balls high and outside as Gonzalez is low and inside; he had his lowest slugging percentage within the strike zone on balls in that corner; his isolated power in that corner is also very low. But he got the bat on it, and hit it just slightly harder than Gonzalez (102.5 MPH versus 100.8 MPH), driving it three feet further, 387 feet versus 384 feet.
Balls hit 103 miles per hour at 24 degrees are home runs 67 percent of the time. They’re hits 90 percent of the time, compared to just 65 percent for balls hit like Gonzalez’s home run. But Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson was playing deep; here’s the first cut after Baez hit the ball.
It was a good pitch, a good swing, and good positioning. With a drive like that, the Cubs had a 70 percent chance to take the lead, and a 90 percent chance to tie—but it fell into that unlucky ten percent, into Pederson’s glove, and set the series back to even.