Apologies for not putting together a review last week. Since it was only three games, I figured I could add it to this week's review, so this week will be a nine-game review of all the action that has taken place since the All-Star Game.
The Cubs went 5-4 in this extended week -- their third consecutive winning week. The Cubs swept the Diamondbacks, won two of three against the Marlins team, and were swept by the Cardinals. Since being swept by the Diamondbacks in late June, the Cubs are 14-8. If the Cubs kept up this pace for the rest of the season, they would end up with 81 wins - significantly better than what we all would have expected, but not playoff worthy. That said, I don't think they'll be anywhere near that mark given the impending talent drain that the team will experience over the next week and a half.
The draft signing deadline passed a while ago, but to quickly recap what happened: the Cubs signed 28 of their 42 draftees, (not sure how this stacks up historically - anyone have an idea?). The highest unsigned pick was 19th-rounder Damek Tomscha, so the Cubs did a good job of locking up their highest picks. Here's a complete list of draft signees.
Runs Scored: 30 | Runs Scored per Game: 3.33 | Runs Allowed: 38 | Runs Allowed per Game: 4.22
The Cubs pitching staff gave up one run on four occasions, two runs once, and four or more runs in the other four games. They were very good right out of the All-Star Break as they pitched three straight one-run games, but tailed off more recently, giving up twelve runs in one inning against the Cardinals, and then seven runs on Sunday. Still, 4.22 runs a game is a decent average, and aside from the Cardinals series, the offense was scoring at a 4.83 runs per game average (and the pitching was giving up 3.0 runs per game). At that rate, it's no wonder the Cubs were winning so frequently right out of the break.
The Three Most Important Plays
7/13 Bot 5, men at 1st and 3rd base with 2 outs, 2-1 Cubs: Alfonso Soriano homers off Ian Kennedy to extend the Cubs' lead, resulting in a .213 WPA. The Cubs had a 71.6% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 93.0% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/17 Top 4, man at 1st base with 2 outs, 1-0 Marlins: Omar Infante homers off Travis Wood to extend the Marlins' lead, resulting in a -.201 WPA. The Cubs had a 39.5% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 19.4% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/22 Bot 1, bases loaded with 2 outs, 0-0 Tie: Jon Jay doubles off Travis Wood to give the Cardinals an early lead, resulting in a -.176 WPA. The Cubs had a 42.9% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 25.3% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub Hitter*
Alfonso Soriano: Soriano's first game after the All-Star Break was essentially good enough to win him this title. Soriano went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, and five RBI against the Diamondbacks in that July 13 game. He's cooled off since then, but the numbers above are still very good for a nine-game stretch. With only a handful of games left before the non-waiver trade deadline, Soriano's recent hot streak may have a couple of teams calling, but with most of the rumor mill focusing on Garza and Dempster, it's been a while since I ran into a Soriano rumor.
Most Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Paul Maholm: Maholm was tremendous in his past two starts, going deep into both games. Maholm threw 15 innings and allowed just 13 base runners and only two runs this past week and a half. Since his awful start against the Diamondbacks on June 23, Maholm has started four games, thrown 29⅓ innings -- averaging 7+ innings per start -- given up 27 base runners, and only three earned runs, which is good for a 0.93 ERA over that span. Part of me thinks Maholm might be on another team come July 31, but in the end, I think management will decide to keep him in an effort to field a major league team. If the Cubs do end up trading Dempster and Garza, trading Maholm would put them in a really rough spot for the rest of the season. While I wouldn't mind seeing three minor league starters every five games in return for the extra prospect or two that Maholm would garner, management may be concerned about attendance and the casual fan.
Least Valuable Cub Hitter*
Steve Clevenger: Sure, he didn't play a lot, but in the games he did play, Clevenger was pretty bad. He picked up two singles over the past week and a half, and while some of that has to do with the lack of playing time, he also had some issues behind the plate - he was charged with a passed ball in Sunday's game. A few years ago, it looked like we had our catcher of the future in Geovany Soto, but Soto's struggles over the past year and a half have soured that possibility, and the lack of a competent replacement despite great depth (Castillo and Clevenger) has now made catcher a position of need as well.
Least Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Travis Wood: Wood put together a great June and start to July, but in his past two starts, both of which came over the past week and half, he has been as bad as we've ever seen him be. He threw 10.2 innings, gave up 21 base runners, four home runs, and 14 earned runs. Two starts usually aren't cause for concern, especially when they were preceded by seven starts of three earned runs or fewer, so hopefully this is just a small hiccup in Wood's season. If Dempster and Garza are traded, the Cubs will definitely need Wood to post some quality innings to prevent both bullpen overuse and an embarrassing on-the-field product.
Please do keep the managerial decision comments coming - I think they're a great way to keep up to date on how people feel about Sveum's tenure thus far.
The Cubs are in Pittsburgh Monday to begin a series with the, essentially, first-place Pirates, and then come back home to face the Cardinals starting Friday. Go Cubs!
* The WPA for most and least valuable Cubs is the cumulative WPA over the course of the week.