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Heyward Down, But Everything is Jake for Cubs

Photo credit: Eric Risberg/AP

Photo credit: Eric Risberg/AP

The odds were excellent that someone named Jake would rack up a win on a windy Friday night (May 20th) at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The Giants Jake Peavy squared off against the Chicago Cubs Jake Arrieta, with the latter claiming the win in the Cubs’ 8-1 victory. The win had a price, however, as the Cubs lost starting right fielder Jason Heyward to a painful injury.

The three game series matches the hottest team in baseball against the most successful. Entering the three-game set, the 25-19 Giants have just ended an eight-game winning streak and sit atop the National League West while the Cubs sport Major League Baseball’s best record (29-11) and lead the National League Central.

The Friday pitching matchup featured two Cy Young Award winners (Peavy 2007, Arrieta 2015) trending in different directions. Jake Peavy, who is also a three-time All-Star, has struggled this year and is now 1-5 with a 8.21 ERA in 41.2 innings, while Cubs ace Jake Arrieta continues his improbable winning streak of 19 games dating from mid-season 2015. Arrieta is now 8-0 with a league-leading 1.29 ERA this season. He is the epitome of a “stopper”: The Cubs have won 22 consecutive games that Arrieta has started.

The game took a scary turn in the bottom of the first when star right fielder Jason Heyward slid head-first into the right field fence as he robbed Denard Span of an extra base hit. Span hit a screaming line drive to the right field gap and Heyward sprinted after it, laying out to catch and hold on to the ball even as his head and shoulders struck the padded fence near the 421-foot marker. A catch like that in a capacious Giants park – over the shoulder, in a full sprint – simply has to draw comparisons to Willie Mays. Only a handful of professional ballplayers would have had the ability to snare that drive.

Photo credit: Eric Risberg/AP

Photo credit: Eric Risberg/AP

As the game wore on, media described Heyward’s condition as an apparent abdominal injury. Post-game, Heyward commented that he felt his hip contact his ribs as he skidded across the warning track. That he was able to walk off the field with just a little assistance offered some reassurance to the Cubs. An evaluation including an MRI, and the estimated recovery time news, will follow.

Jake Peavy may have felt that he struck a wall himself in the second inning. The Cubs chased him after scoring five runs, including an RBI single by Arrieta and a three-run blast off the bat of Kris Bryant. Peavy finished with five runs, seven hits and two walks in between the first five outs of the game.

The Giants scored their lone run off Arrieta in the third inning after Angel Pagan singled, stole second, and Joe Panik drove him home.

After quiet middle innings, the Cubs added three more in the eighth and ninth. Ben Zobrist hit a solo shot into McCovey Cove followed by a Jorge Soler long ball in the very next at-bat, both off George Kontos. Kris Bryant added his fourth run batted in during the ninth.

Peavy has won 148 and lost 123 games in his illustrious career. He has twice led the league in ERA. Now days away from 35, he is in the back of one of the most accomplished starting rotations in baseball with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Cain. Given their depth of quality arms and potent lineup, the Giants could be patient with Peavy as he looks to find ways to get batters out. If he is healthy, expect him to overcome the poor beginning and get some quality starts in this year.

Speaking of quality starts, Jake Arrieta booked yet another one, allowing just one run and four hits (two walks) with eight punch outs over seven innings. The 30 year old right-hander’s story is now well-documented. Arrieta is the poster for the benefits of a “change of scenery” as his career has taken off since his trade from the Baltimote Orioles to the Cubs.

The Cubs will continue to worry about Heyward, whose injury occurred as he began to emerge from an early-season slump. Though his defensive runs-saved skills have been on full display and never more so than in his first-inning mishap, his work in the batter’s box has been characteristically slow in April-May. He entered Friday’s game, for example, with a slugging percentage of just .282. His single at-bat Friday night, a ten-pitch walk in the first, provides a glimpse of his potential value at the top of the lineup.

The team offensive outburst was eerily reminiscent of the April 7th game against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, when Chicago lost left fielder Kyle Schwarber with torn knee ligaments early in a game Chicago won 14-6. The injury in San Francisco, like the Schwarber injury in Phoenix last month, momentarily appeared to galvanize the team.

Though only one game, the Cubs have an organizational culture that is built to handle adversity (see Sports Illustrated March 1, 2016 “Three Strikes” feature by Tom Verducci, naming both the Cubs and Giants among the five best cultures in Major League Baseball. Injuries create holes in lineups but they also create opportunities for teammates to pick up the slack. Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, for example, always seems to be on base or hitting rockets to the outfield, as if to pick up his slow-starting outfield companions Heyward and Soler.

Should Heyward lose significant playing time, he will be the second left-handed batting outfielder the Cubs have lost. The team barely skipped a beat after losing Schwarber, can the Cubs step up as befits their “culture” and continue their winning pace without Heyward?

Update (May 21, 2016, 6:35 P.M.): Cubs media is reporting that Jason Heyward has a right side contusion that will require three to five days of rest but not a trip to the disabled list. That means the Cubs will be light one position player for up to five days, then all should be “Jake” again.

Tim is a lifelong baseball (especially Cubs) fan, member of SABR, and player of Out of the Park Baseball. Recently he caught the genealogy bug and is researching his family history. He is originally from Chicago, but now lives in Columbia, MO, with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs.

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