I doubt anyone’s glass is half full at this point. But to use that analogy, I’ll look at this in a half full, half empty way. The Cubs have lost the first two games of the NLCS. The Dodgers won 104 games (one more than the Cubs did last year) and had the best record is baseball. But for a horrendous losing streak in August, these Dodgers looked like they were headed for a challenge of the highest regular season win totals in baseball history. The team is loaded, particularly its pitching staff, but its offense while not particularly top heavy, has a large number of above average major league hitters. This Dodgers team will be a tough out for any team. Add to that, they swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS and had several days off while the Cubs were playing Wednesday and Thursday. This was always going to be a monumental task, and now that the Cubs have dropped the first two games, it is even more so.
That is the empty part of the equation. The full part of the equation is that last night’s game was 1-1 heading to the ninth, Saturday night’s game was 2-2 when the ball was handed to Hector Rondon who was basically on the roster as a fresh arm. The bats have been non-existent and the series has been very close. IF the offense can come back to life, the team is still alive. I’d be much more concerned if the Cubs were losing these games 8-1 and 6-0. The Cubs pitchers have shown an ability to get Dodgers hitters out. Jose Quintana and Jon Lester were both pitching on an unusual rest cycle. That’s not going to be a factor the rest of the series. And even at that, Jose Quintana and Jon Lester matched results pretty evenly with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, one of whom is considered a generational talent and the other of which has been a fantastic pitcher for the last few years.
Absolutely, positively, the Dodgers have to be prohibitive favorites to win this series. They should have been before the first pitch was thrown and before the first home run was hit. Make no mistake though, this Cubs team has gotten off of the mat before. They looked dead at this time last year too after struggling to hit Kershaw, Hill and Jansen. How did that one end? Yes, this Dodgers team is better than that one. They worked hard at patching holes as they try to end what the Dodgers consider an unacceptable championship drought by Dodger standards. Don’t give up hope yet. The Cubs figure to on paper have slight advantages the next two games on pitching matchups. Perhaps, the Cubs bats can come to life and momentum can turn.
Whatever happens, it has been the best three-year run in any of our lifetimes. And it isn’t over yet.
On that note, let’s take a look back on two painful losses and see what WPA has to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game Chart Saturday, October 14 (Cubs lose 5-2):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Albert Almora Jr. (.146). Albert’s home run in the fourth (.204) gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
- Hero - Ian Happ (-.003). Yep. It was this bad. Taking Jose Quintana the hitter out of the mix, Ian Happ’s one at-bat strikeout to end the game registers as a hero. Ugh.
- Sidekick - Ben Zobrist (-.020). And so Ben’s one at-bat groundout leading off the eighth is here too. If you had Albert Almora as the only contributor on Saturday night, you were unfortunately right on.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Hector Rondon (-.161). I can’t tell you how much I miss first four months of 2016 Hector Rondon. What we’ve seen since then is so often not good that I think a lot of people forget that he was a dominant closer despite not getting a ton of opportunity on a team that was demolishing the opposition. He faced two batters in his return to the bullpen and one of them hit a home run that gave the Dodgers the lead.
- Goat - Mike Montgomery (-.089). Mike is still evolving into what will hopefully be a very good pitcher, perhaps a part of the rotation for the Cubs in 2018. This year, he remains inconsistent and this post season, he’s had a rough go of it. Mike threw in parts of the sixth and seventh innings on Saturday. He faced eight hitters, allowed two singles, a double, a homer and a walk. One of the three outs he recorded was a sacrifice bunt by a relief pitcher. He allowed two runs in all.
- Kid - Addison Russell (-.081). The hero of game five of the NLDS is on the Goat podium to start this series. He batted three times and was retired three times. There isn’t anything particularly awful about his performance, the biggest negative was his fly out leading off the seventh (-.042).
Game Chart Sunday, October 15 (Cubs lose 4-1):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Carl Edwards Jr. (.128). Carl faced four batters, struck out three and retired the other one. And I envision him holding his middle finger high in the air to the morons who attacked him on Twitter over the last week because he wasn’t sharp a couple of times.
- Hero - Brian Duensing (.125). Brian faced seven batters. He allowed a single, two walks, two sacrifices, recorded a strike out and a ground ball double play and that all added up to a positive number, largely because the second walk didn’t come around to score the winning run until after Brian had left the game. The Cubs walked nine batters on Sunday and that ranks just behind the ineffective offense as reasons why the Cubs lost.
- Sidekick - Addison Russell (.109). For the second consecutive day, one home run was all of the offense the Cubs mustered. On Sunday it was Addison. Addison hit a solo home run in the fifth (.152).
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - John Lackey (-.398). John faced two batters, walked one and allowed a three run walk off home run to the other. It never made any sense to me why a starting pitcher who often struggles in the first inning would be any great help to the bullpen.
- Goat - Kris Bryant (-.163). By and large this has been a terrible post season for Kris Bryant. I suspect if that doesn’t change in a big way, this will be the end of the road for the Cubs. Kris was hitless in four tries including two more strike outs. The biggest negative was his strike out leading off the ninth (-.055).
- Kid - Albert Almora Jr. (-.133). Albert had a similar hitless in four at bats day. His biggest negative was his ground out to end the game (-.060).
Next, we take a look at the cumulative standings for the playoffs. As a reminder, we award three points for Superhero, two for Hero, and one for Sidekick. And we deduct three points for Billy Goat, two for Goat and one for Kid.
- Jon Lester 6
- Anthony Rizzo 3
- Jose Quintana 3
- Albert Almora Jr. 3
- Willson Contreras 2
- Jake Arrieta 2
- Ian Happ 2
- Brian Duensing 2
- Jon Jay 1
- Kyle Hendricks 0
- Wade Davis 0
- Carl Edwards Jr. 0
- Pedro Strop -1
- Addison Russell -1
- Jason Heyward -2
- Kyle Schwarber -2
- Javier Baez -2
- Ben Zobrist -2
- Kris Bryant -3
- Hector Rondon -3
- John Lackey -3
- Mike Montgomery -5
Next up, the series moves to Wrigley Field for game three on Tuesday night. Yu Darvish will be on the mound for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks. Yu Darvish has made three career post season starts. In those games he has a 4.32 ERA, but he threw five innings of one run ball in his only start this year. He’s made one career start against the Cubs in 2016 and he allowed two runs in 4⅓ innings in that one. He did strike out nine though and allow only two hits while walking four. Most of the Cubs regulars from this year appeared in that game. Still, not a lot of experience to go off.
Kyle Hendricks has started nine games in his postseason career and has a 2.60 ERA across those starts including an 0.71 ERA in 12⅔ innings against these Dodgers last year (which is his best ERA and his most innings against an opponent). In the regular season, Kyle has started three games against the Dodgers and has a 2-1 record and a 3.15 ERA against them. Kyle was masterful against the Dodgers in the post season last year and the Cubs are going to need more of the same tomorrow along with a revived offensive attack.
As always, we’ll end with a poll. On Friday, we had two polls. In the first, you guys voted Wade Davis as the Superhero of Game 5 in perhaps the narrowest vote since I’ve been running this column. Wade received two more votes than Addison Russell. In the second poll, Wade Davis was also named Superhero of the series. Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo finished second and third. Today we’ll vote on Goat of the weekend games.
Who was the Cubs Goat of the Weekend?
This poll is closed
Javier Baez (.167 OPS)
Anthony Rizzo (.250 OPS)
Willson Contreras (.250 OPS)
Kris Bryant (.250 OPS)
Mike Montgomery (five baserunners, two runs allowed with 1 IP)
Hector Rondon (two batters faced, one home run)
John Lackey (nine batters faced, two walks, two hits, one home run, two runs allowed)
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments below)