Kris Bubic has had a very up-and-down season in 2021. He was initially assigned to AAA Omaha to start the season after a poor Spring Training, was recalled to pitch out of the bullpen, pitched so well there that he forced himself back into the rotation, and since rejoining the rotation has had some good starts and some bad starts with the only guarantee that no one has any idea how good the next one will be. It is fitting, then, that Bubic followed up the worst start of his career last weekend in St. Louis with what is likely the best start of his career today in Chicago.
Hopefully, fellow sophomore Brady Singer was watching because this is what can happen when a pitcher has three pitches and all three are working. Through six innings Bubic allowed a single baserunner; he walked Frank “The Tank” Schwindel in the first inning and then the Cubs could do nothing. Bubic set a career-high in strikeouts at nine in six innings; five on changeups, two on fastballs, and two on curves. And he did it while only throwing 81 pitches in those 6 innings; it turns out that not allowing baserunners keeps your pitch count low much better than not striking guys out.
It’s basically impossible to impress upon you just how good Bubic looked for those first six innings; it’s one of those things you just have to see for yourselves. So here’s a video clip.
Then came the seventh inning. Between the top and bottom half, someone convinced homeplate umpire Jerry Meals that they needed to put the tarp on the field before the rain came. But the rain never came. A half-hour later the tarp was removed and play resumed; Bubic returned to the mound to continue to chase his no-hitter. Unfortunately, it was immediately obvious that Bubic was no longer in his groove. His first pitch was easily the worst curve he had thrown all day. He proceeded to walk Schwindel for the second time. Then he hung a changeup to Cubs third-baseman Patrick Wisdom and the lead was cut in half. It was the only hit the Cubs could muster all day.
There is no way of knowing if Bubic would have been able to throw the no-hitter without the “rain” delay but from the moment the tarp went on the field, it seemed a foregone conclusion that it was over.
Things on the offensive side were...weirder.
Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez did almost all of the damage for the offense. They each had three hits. Merrifield scored two runs and Lopez earned the only RBI of the game for KC. Andrew Benintendi and Emmanuel Rivera scored the other two runs. So now that we’ve got the stats, let’s talk about the situations.
- The Royals scored their first run in the top of the first inning. Merrifield and Lopez led off with singles. Lopez stole second. Merrifield scored on a wild pitch and Lopez went to third with no outs but could not score.
- They scored another in the second inning. Rivera led off with a walk and it seemed like he was going to be stranded at first. Merrifield hit an infield single and Lopez drove Rivera in with another single.
- The Royals next scored in the fifth. With two outs, Andrew Benintendi singled to right and Michael A. Taylor laced a double into left-center. Benintendi was sent home but stumbled around third and appeared to be thrown out at the plate. However, the Royals challenged successfully that catcher Robinson Chirinos had unnecessarily blocked the plate and the Royals were awarded the run on an E2.
- The Royals' final run was scored in the top of the seventh on a double-steal. Lopez and Merrifield were at first and third respectively; Lopez stole second and Merrifield took home on the throw which ended up in centerfield.
It was just a weird day on offense and it seems to have gone largely unnoticed because Bubic stole all of the attention.
- Merrifield has now stolen 37 bases and been caught only twice.
- Benintendi had an underrated day with a pair of hits and an excellent play on defense.
- With two outs in the first, Taylor and Ryan O’Hearn forced Cubs starter Keegan Thompson to throw a combined 19 pitches to them. It’s unclear how much that affected today’s game, but that’s the kind of thing you love to see, regardless.
- The Royals had four of the top five hardest-hit balls. Only Benintendi’s 103.5 MPH scorcher was worth a hit.
- Kris Bubic had an excellent 35% called-strike plus whiff ratio (CSW.) More than 40% of his curveballs and changeups went untouched by opposing bats.
- Bubic continued to unleash the heat with his fastball. His season average was 90.6 but today it was 92. He topped out at 95.8 while facing Matt Duffy in the fifth inning. His final pitch of the game was a 93.4 MPH heater.
- Bubic’s three best games for strikeouts have all come in Chicago, he has a pair of eight-strikeout games at the White Sox.
These Cubs may not be the dangerous threat they were in recent memory, but allowing no hits for six innings before a weather delay against a major league lineup is always extremely impressive. Carlos Hernández (3-1, 4.33 ERA) will attempt to pick up where Bubic left off and lead the Royals to a sweep tomorrow. Going for the Cubs will be old friend Alec Mills (5-5 4.19 ERA.) Mills started the year in the bullpen but has been much better as a starter. He has a 3.43 ERA and leads the Cubs’ starters with a 1.1 fWAR in 12 games started.