Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Cubs went 4-2 this week -- their fourth consecutive winning week, winning two of three against both the Pirates and the Cardinals. The Cubs haven't had a losing week since the week of June 18. The trade deadline is creeping up on us and the Cubs have been unexpectedly quiet, especially considering the rumors regarding them wanting to trade Ryan Dempster a couple of weeks ago to free up the market for Matt Garza. These next couple of days are huge for the future of the team -- let's hope Theo and Jed can take advantage of some desperate teams to help them continue revamping the farm system.
Runs Scored: 22 | Runs Scored per Game: 3.67 | Runs Allowed: 17 | Runs Allowed per Game: 2.83
The Cubs pitching staff was tremendous -- it needed to be considering how anemic the offense was. Aside from the nine-run game against the Cardinals, the staff allowed eight runs in five games, and kept the best offense in baseball at bay for two of the three games. Cubs starters pitched 39⅔ of the 55 innings played this week, or 72 percent of the innings pitched. I don't know how that stacks up on a week-by-week basis, but I'd bet that's on the higher end of the spectrum for our starting staff. I'll try and keep track of this number each week for the rest of the season.
The Three Most Important Plays
7/29 Bot 10, man at 1st base with 0 outs, 2-2 Tie: Anthony Rizzo hits a walk-off homer off Trevor Rosenthal, resulting in a .294 WPA. The Cubs had a 70.6% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 100.0% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/29 Top 8, bases empty with 1 out, 2-1 Cubs: Carlos Beltran homers off Shawn Camp to tie the game, resulting in a -.264 WPA. The Cubs had a 81.0% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 54.6% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
7/24 Bot 5, bases loaded with 2 outs, 1-1 Tie: David DeJesus doubles off James McDonald to give the Cubs the lead, resulting in a .246 WPA. The Cubs had a 53.3% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 77.9% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub Hitter*
Alfonso Soriano: According to FanGraphs, Soriano is almost on pace to match his 2008 season, which is incredible considering that between 2009 and 2011 combined, Soriano was worth barely more than his 2008 season. Here is his production for each year he's been a Cub:
As Al mentioned, barring a sufficient trade offer, Soriano may be worth keeping around until next summer when he has less money left on his contract, and when the offers may consequently be a little more lucrative. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the production.
Anthony Rizzo: After going without an extra-base hit for 12 consecutive games, Rizzo broke out in a big way by clubbing three home runs in his last four games -- none of them as big as his two-run walk-off home run against the Cardinals on Sunday. It's been a while since I've heard Len call a play with that much excitement in his voice. The Ramirez home run against the Brewers comes to mind, but I'm sure I'm missing something in between. It's great to see Rizzo breaking out of his mini power slump, and it could be a sign that he's making adjustments.
Most Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Paul Maholm: Maholm continued his terrific run this past week by going 14⅔ innings and giving up only 2 runs. That's now six straight starts in which he has given up one run or less and gone longer than six innings. He struggled a bit with his control in his start on Sunday, surrendering four walks, but that's been the exception in his recent streak -- prior to Sunday, he gave up five walks in his previous five starts. Maholm has now gone 5-0 in his last six starts, all of which are games the Cubs ultimately won, and has posted a 1.02 ERA and averaged 7⅓ innings per start. I'm shocked that I haven't heard of more teams calling in on Mahlom - he's been playing some of his best baseball of his career over the past month, and could be a relatively inexpensive option for some contenders looking for a fourth or fifth starter.
Jeff Samardzija: Samardzija looked unhittable in Pittsburgh -- the only hit he gave up was a dribbler to first base that he forgot to cover first on. Had the Cubs not taken so long to bat in the top of the ninth, Samardzija would have likely gone the distance. He followed that up with a less-than-stellar outing against the Cardinals, issuing six walks in six innings, but only gave up three hits, four fly balls, and struck out seven batters. After a horrendous June, Samardzija posted a 1.91 ERA in five July starts, averaging 6 2/3 innings per start.
Least Valuable Cub Hitter*
Bryan LaHair: LaHair started the season off red-hot and gave us all the impression that he was an everyday player. Unfortunately, since his torrid April, LaHair has regressed in each of the past three months. With July almost coming to a close, here are LaHair's monthly OPS figures: 1.251 in April, .792 in May, .686 in June, and .569 in July. Expecting him to post a 1.251 OPS through the entire season was unreasonable, but I thought he could settle in as an .800/.850 OPS player. Unfortunately, this didn't happen, and isn't likely to happen in the future. Maybe we were right to think he was a Quad-A player.
Least Valuable Cub Pitcher*
Travis Wood: After the horrendous week that Wood had last week, you'd think he had nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, Travis hit a new low, giving up five home runs, one in each of the five innings that he pitched. This start was arguable worse than his last start against the Cardinals -- he wasn't fooling anyone, recording just two strikeouts, which marks the fewest number of strikeouts he's recorded in a start this season. Travis has had an issue with the long ball -- in his past four starts, he has given up ten home runs. In his previous nine starts, he gave up only seven home runs.
While some of it is probably the result of bad luck, a lot of it has to do with his GB%. In the month of June, Wood recorded a 42% ground ball rate, and posted a 2.27 ERA in the process. In the month of July, Wood recorded a 31% ground ball rate, and posted a 7.36 ERA -- that's including his 7 2/3 inning start against Houston in which he allowed zero runs. The more fly balls a pitcher gives up, the more likely he is to give up a greater number of home runs -- in other words, keep the ball on the ground, and there's less of a chance that the other team hits home runs off you. It's pretty simple, but Wood didn't do that, and he paid the price. I'm sure Chris Bosio has noticed this -- we'll see how they adjust moving forward.
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 play Pittsburgh at home in a three-game series starting tonight, and then head to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers over the weekend. Go Cubs!
* The WPA for most and least valuable Cubs is the cumulative WPA over the course of the week.