The Cubs opened the season by winning two out of three from the Cardinals and Brewers on the road and then coming home and taking two of three from the Dodgers. It seemed like the high from 2016 would carry right on and things would all continue to be awesome. It wasn’t alarming then when the Cubs lost on April 14 in a well-pitched game by Gerrit Cole. That dropped the Cubs to 6-3, but Jake Arrieta took the mound on April 15. Tyler Glasnow was his opponent in a matchup that seemed to feature the Cubs.
The script looked good as the Pirates were set down in order in the first. Kyle Schwarber doubled to get things started for the Cubs and then Kris Bryant hit a home run to give the Cubs the lead. One out later, Ben Zobrist reached on an error and then Addison Russell tripled and Jason Heyward singled and just like that the Cubs batted around in the first and had a 4-0 lead to show for it.
Francisco Cervelli homered in the second to make it 4-1 but that was it for the Pirates in the inning. The Cubs went down in order and then Adam Frazier had a two out triple for the Pirates in the third. Starling Marte singled him in and it was 4-2.
The Cubs answered in the bottom of the third with an Anthony Rizzo double, Ben Zobrist reached on a dropped third strike advancing Rizzo to third and Addison Russell had a double to score both runners and make it 6-2 Cubs. That score would hold until the top of the sixth inning when Starling Marte hit a home run off of Arrieta to make it 6-3.
The Cubs didn’t score in their half of the sixth and the Cubs bullpen went out looking to hold a three run lead. Brian Duensing had recorded the third out of the sixth inning. He stayed in and retired Francisco Cervelli to start the inning. He then allowed a Josh Harrison home run. Alen Hanson singled and John Jaso flew out. Hanson stole second and with two outs Adam Frazier lined a single to right to make it 6-5 and that was it for Duensing. For his one inning of work, Brian Duensing registered a -.141 WPA for allowing three hits and three runs. That was good to land him as the Goat of the game.
The inning wasn’t over though and this column doesn’t look at Goats, it looks at Billy Goats. Pedro Strop relieved Duensing with the score 6-5 Cubs and a runner on second with two outs. He proceeded to walk Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen stepped to the plate. The last few years have been tough on McCutchen and Strop is usually pretty steady. But on this occasion, he didn’t get it done. McCutchen took him deep to give the Pirates an 8-6 lead. The McCutchen homer was worth (-.488) WPA. Strop did retire David Freese to get out of the inning, but the damage was done.
Kris Bryant hit a second home run in the ninth off of Tony Watson and Ben Zobrist walked with two outs, but the Cubs could do more damage and dropped their second straight to the Pirates.
Strop’s effort was good for a (-.517) WPA. Sadly, it wasn’t his worst outing of the year. We’ll cover that one in about a month. Also unfortunately, this wasn’t even the worst WPA performance of the series. We’ll cover that one in two weeks.
Strop remains under contract for 2018. The Cubs also have an option on him in 2019. Pedro is a guy who often seems like he isn’t really all that effective. But that is mostly a mirage. He has a 2.72 ERA over 301 games and 271⅔ innings as a Cub. In 2017 he had a 2.83 ERA over 60⅓ innings. His WHIP ticked up a bit in 2017, due to upticks in both his hits per nine (5.1 to 6.7) and walks per nine (2.9 to 3.9). His strike out rate also dropped (11.4 to 9.7). Those are not great trends. Hopefully he can be as good as he was in 2016. But even with the decreased peripherals, he was still just about as effective in 2017. It’s hard to believe, but Pedro will be entering his sixth season as a Cub in 2018. He figures to still have a fairly decent sized role in the pen.
That’s all I have for this week’s look at the biggest WPA games of the 2017 season. Next week we’ll have another look at the biggest positive games of the year. I’ll also return later this week with another look at the 1984 season through the eyes of WPA and Heroes and Goats.