On the morning of June 16, the Cubs found themselves 33-33 and 2½ games out of first place in the division. They were set to play a game in Pittsburgh to start a three-game series after having dropped two out of three against the Mets in New York. Eddie Butler was on the mound for the Cubs and the opponent was Trevor Williams.
You may remember that this was the period of time where Anthony Rizzo was leading off games for the Cubs in their endless quest for a leadoff hitter. He started the game with a walk and Ian Happ followed with a single. Kyle Schwarber grounded into a fielder’s choice, erasing Rizzo at third. Addison Russell also grounded into a fielder’s choice with Schwarber being erased at second and a once promising start looked like it might fizzle out.
But, Jason Heyward followed with a walk and that loaded the bases with two outs. Trevor Williams then had a wild pitch, scoring the first run for the Cubs. Willson Contreras followed that with a two out, two run double giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead (.131). That WPA would be a little bit higher, but Willson was thrown out trying to make it to third on the play. But the Cubs had a 3-0 lead before Butler even took the mound.
The Pirates were retired 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first and the Cubs started the second with a La Stella double and a Butler single and it looked like the rout was on. And then Williams settled down, retiring the next three hitters in order. Butler went back out and got the first two hitters out before issuing a walk to Andrew McCutchen who was then picked off first.
Both teams were retired in order in the third and the Cubs again in the fourth. The Pirates got a one out single from Josh Harrison and then Contreras had a wild pick off throw to move him to second. a ground out moved him to third, but that’s where he’d be stranded as the Cubs got out of another inning. Williams retired the Cubs in order in the fifth, marking 12 consecutive hitters recorded. Josh Bell homered leading off the fifth, and you could feel the momentum changing in this one.
The Cubs were retired in order in the sixth, running the total to 15 consecutive outs. Adam Frazier then lead off the bottom of the sixth with a single. Butler battled back and retired the next two hitters but then he issued a two out walk ahead of Josh Bell. Bell stepped up with two outs and runners on first and second and came up with the big hit to chase the Cubs’ starter and tie the game as he hit a triple. Pedro Strop came into the game to try to stop the bleeding but he was greeted by an Andrew McCutchen single to make it 4-3 Pirates.
Willson Contreras lead off the seventh with a walk (.070) to end the string of consecutive outs, but the next three hitters were retired and it was now 19 consecutive batters without a hit.
Justin Grimm threw a perfect seventh. The Cubs got a one out double from Ian Happ in the eighth, but stranded him at third. Koji Uehara faced four batters with the only one to reach being on an Addison Russell error and the game moved to the ninth inning with the Cubs trailing by one.
Juan Nicasio started the ninth inning for the Pirates as Felipe Rivero had pitched the eighth. Jason Heyward lead off the inning with a double and Willson Contreras stepped to the plate. Contreras had a double of his own and the game was tied at 4-4 (.312). The flood gates opened at that point. La Stella singled and then Kris Bryant was intentionally walked to get to Jon Jay. Tony Watson came in to face Jay who then singled in Willson with the go ahead run. Anthony Rizzo followed with a single of his own and that one drove in two. Ian Happ popped out and Kyle Schwarber grounded into a fielder’s choice, erasing Rizzo. But then Addison Russell Doubled in two more runs and it was 9-4 Cubs.
Wade Davis pitched the bottom of the ninth and didn’t make it easy. He allowed a double, an RBI single and another single to start the inning. But Davis retired three of the next four hitters around a walk and the Cubs were 9-5 winners.
Willson Contreras had a .500 WPA on the day. That was good for the seventh largest positive WPA event of the Cubs season. That was part of a fantastic season at the plate for Willson when men were on base, hitting at a .288/.376/.965 clip. But when they were in scoring position, it went up even further. With runners in scoring position, Willson hit .363/.464/.780. With two outs and Runners in scoring position, it amazingly nudged up even further .378/.500/.784. It is of course unrealistic to expect those numbers to be even a little bit sustainable, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of Willson in 2018. He’s definitely one of my favorite players to watch.
This won’t be the last time we see Willson on this list. But next week, we’ll be looking at the number 6 negative event of the year. From here on out, all of those are relievers. Today’s superhero in a sense won a game for the Cubs in that he added .500 to the Cubs chances of winning, exactly the number you need to add as a team to win a game. From here out, we’ll be covering people who produced more WPA (either positive or negative) than .500. So basically these people either helped turn a likely loss into a win or the opposite. As always, I’ll also be bringing you another installment of the 1984 Cubs by Heroes and Goats later in the week as we help pass the time waiting for Cubs baseball to return.