The Cubs No-Hit the Dodgers. It Wasn’t Pretty, but It Counts

Thursday night’s game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers was Joc Pederson’s first trip back to Dodger Stadium since the team won the World Series in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Cubs starting left fielder received his ring before the game. It was a beautiful ceremony. It was a show of strength. It was the Dodgers best moment all night.

The Dodgers were understandably favorites going into the game, with a -250 line in Vegas. The Cubs were the underdogs at +200 and while I’m not really a gambler, those odds seemed a bit light. Toeing the mound for the Cubs was Zach Davies, fresh on the heels of a 10-2 drubbing by the Marlins that saw him leave the game after six innings pitched, seven hits, three walks and eight earned runs. Walker Buehler was the Dodgers starter, in search of his 24th straight start without a loss.

Baseball is a funny game.

And this was something of a funny no-hitter. The 2021 Dodgers are the first team to be no-hit the year after winning the World Series since the 2013 Giants were no hit by Homer Bailey, then of the Cincinnati Reds. Interestingly, while the 2020 Dodgers were not no-hit, the club’s previous two championship teams were the year they won it all. The 1988 Dodgers won the World Series, but before Kirk Gibson hit that epic home run, the team fell to the Reds’ in Tom Browning’s perfect game on September 16, 1988. The 1981 Dodgers team was no-hit by the Houston Astros Nolan Ryan on their way to a World Series Championship. Perhaps, then, the Dodgers shouldn’t worry too much about being no-hit in the regular season, though you can forgive their fans for feeling some concern today despite that history.

While injuries have impacted most teams during the 2021 season, the lineup the Dodgers ran out against the Cubs was stacked, with only Corey Seager not being available among the Dodgers’ big names. There were three former MVP winners in last night’s lineup in Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Albert Pujols. Incidentally, it was the first time in MLB history a lineup with three former MVPs was no-hit. For Pujols, who has played 2,992 regular and postseason major league games, it was the first time he’d ever been on a team that was no-hit.

But let’s be real: facts like that are just circumstantial, quirks of history that we’ll all try to recall in some trivia game someday. They are not definitive and they were not predictive. We all know the Dodgers offense is still great, even if it had an off night. We all know that the Dodgers being no-hit doesn’t preclude them from being the 2021 World Series Champions (despite the NL West being led by the Giants, our playoff projections still have them in the playoff driver’s seat, with a major-league best 97.4% chance to make the playoffs and a 15.8% chance to win the World Series).

We also all know that the Cubs pitching had some problems over the course of the night. Cubs pitchers gave up eight walks over the course of the game, hardly the model of command and control. In fact, if you were watching as Zach Davies threw 24 pitches to put two batters on base for Pujols in the first inning, you were probably wondering how he’d make it through that frame, let alone five more. That trepidation was well-founded; Davies has had the highest BB/9 in baseball among qualified pitchers going into last night and he didn’t fix that problem even a little bit after giving up five walks in six innings on Thursday night:

Highest BB/9 Among Qualified Starters, 2021
Name Team IP BB/9
Zach Davies CHC 79.1 4.65
Garrett Richards BOS 76 4.62
Brad Keller KCR 76 4.38
Nick Pivetta BOS 81 4.22
Germán Márquez COL 90.1 3.89
Luis Castillo CIN 77 3.86
Dylan Cease CHW 75.2 3.81
Freddy Peralta MIL 81 3.67
Rich Hill TBR 76.2 3.4
Ian Anderson ATL 75.2 3.33

Yet somehow despite the walks, Davies managed to pitch an effectively wild quality start and the lion’s share of a no-hitter. He left the game after some gamesmanship by Cubs manager David Ross, who brought him into the on-deck circle in the seventh inning as if he might return to face the Dodgers line-up a dreaded third time through the order despite having thrown 94 pitches. Ross was clearly bluffing and pulled Davies for pinch hitter Jake Marisnick as soon as Cubs were at the corners with nobody out. And once Davies got through six innings and his pitch count made clear that he couldn’t go a full nine, the wheels in my brain started turning. It may surprise some, but the Cubs have one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2021. Below are the top bullpens by ERA this season:

Top Bullpens 2021 by ERA
CHC 23 290.2 10.93 4.58 0.74 .252 80.9% 2.60 3.58 3.2
SDP 26 318.1 9.95 3.28 1.07 .262 79.6% 2.80 3.83 2.0
TBR 22 326.1 9.40 2.92 0.91 .280 74.6% 3.09 3.48 3.5
NYY 20 270.2 9.54 3.23 0.96 .264 73.3% 3.19 3.62 3.8
SFG 27 258 8.48 2.93 1.19 .255 71.1% 3.35 4.07 0.4
CLE 22 263.1 11.18 4.24 1.03 .288 78.2% 3.38 3.72 2.5
MIA 13 270.2 8.58 2.83 0.70 .282 68.3% 3.66 3.42 2.7
BOS 22 271.1 10.55 4.35 1.09 .316 75.9% 3.68 4.04 2.3
CHW 21 226 10.63 3.15 1.12 .312 73.5% 3.70 3.54 3.3
NYM 21 243 10.30 3.59 1.00 .307 73.7% 3.78 3.68 2.5

They’ve already set the franchise mark for most innings without an earned run (since, you know, earned runs became a thing). It honestly didn’t seem that far fetched that the back end of the Cubs bullpen might be able to close out the game without surrendering a hit, even against the Dodgers lineup. After all, Craig Kimbrel has seemed to recall the magic that made him so effective for so long. Indeed, if Thursday’s game had been a save situation, he would have passed Jonathan Papelbon and taken sole possession of ninth on the all-time career saves list with that inning. When you couple that with lefty Andrew Chafin having the best season of his career and a similarly standout year from righty Ryan Tepera, well, hits in the late innings against the Cubs haven’t exactly been easy.

But despite their admirable performance so far this season, no member of the Cubs’ triple-headed bullpen monster will count Thursday night’s line as their best appearance of the season, though; they all walked at least one batter. On the whole, the game was one Chicago’s staff might be inclined to forget if it weren’t for how it ended:

Perhaps then, this no-hitter belonged as much to the rest of the team as the pitchers. Kris Bryant made an exceptional catch with one out in the fourth inning to save a hit. Chafin got a pop-up and this slick double play from Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez in the eighth to erase his walk:

As Ross mentioned in his postgame remarks, catcher Willson Contreras deserved a ton of credit for the game. Despite being the Cubs starting backstop since 2017, Contreras wasn’t behind the plate for Jake Arrieta or Alec Mills‘ no-hitters during that time. Contreras, who has improved his framing and game calling considerably in the past three seasons certainly made a difference as he managed pitchers as diverse as Davies, Kimbrel, Tepera and Chafin last night. (Somewhat incredibly, according to Ross, neither Chafin nor Kimbrel seemed to be aware they were throwing in a combo no-hitter when they appeared in the game.)

The record tying seventh no-hitter of 2021 will win no awards for aesthetics, with eight walks juxtaposed with seven strikeouts. But maybe it’s appropriate that the Cubs seized the no-hitter mantel in a year where sticky stuff and spin rate have taken center stage. On Monday, the league began searching pitchers for the goo and gunk that was ostensibly at the core of 2021’s lack of offense and spike in strike outs. The Cubs built their rotation not on spin, but on location. They’ve managed to climb to the top of the NL Central with pitchers like Davies maxing out at 88 while he fools batters with command as opposed to stuff. At times that decision has looked foolish (this Sunday Night Baseball display with Hendricks facing the Atlanta Braves comes to mind) but on Thursday night as the Cubs threw the first combined no-hitter (and 17th no-no overall) in a franchise history that dates back to 1876, it looked inspired. Baseball is a funny game.

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1 year ago

I wonder if there will be a combined no hitter in the post season this year.