On the morning of April 19, the Cubs were 7-7. As you’ll surely recall, the Cubs spent a lot of time at .500 in the first half of the season. In fact, it wasn’t until July 23 that the Cubs were finally five games over. They never got lower than two games under. That was nearly 100 games played all more or less at .500.
Ironically, Al just covered this game for the second time. But I’ll give it my spin. The game was started by Kyle Hendricks. As you likely recall, Kyle had a rough start to his 2017 season and just wasn’t anywhere near the pitcher we saw in 2016 in the beginning of the year. This game wasn’t much of an exception. Travis Shaw followed an Eric Thames first inning walk with a two run homer. Jett Bandy led off the second inning with a solo home run and the Cubs were quickly down 3-0.
Albert Almora Jr. hit a home run with out out in the bottom of the second to cut the deficit to 3-1. Hendricks walked two in the top of the third but didn’t allow any further damages. However in the fourth he allowed two singles sandwiched around a walk and that lead to another run. Hendricks lasted just five innings on the day allowing four hits, four walks and four earned runs. He was the game’s Kid for his (-.179) WPA.
Interestingly, Almora hit that home run to start the Cubs scoring and still ended up being the Goat for the game. How is that possible? With a three run second inning deficit, the home run was worth (.086). A fourth inning fly out with a runner on second and two outs was worth (-.032), and a sixth inning ground out with runners at first and third and two outs and the Cubs down 4-2 was worth (-.076). The real killer though was his eighth inning strike out with runners on second and third and only one out (-.213).
It was an even rougher day for Javier Baez who didn’t have the benefit of a positive event and ended up as the Billy Goat. Baez struck out in the second (-.017), grounded out in the fifth (-.027) and struck out in the seventh (-.040). All of those at bats came with the bases empty and either no outs or one. But Baez followed Almora’s eighth inning strike out with one of his own to leave runners on second and third (-.173). The Cubs dropped from a 14.3% favorite to win to a 17.3% favorite to lose in just those two batters.
On this day, the Cubs bullpen was superb though. Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, and Wade Davis combined on four innings of two hit, three walk, no run baseball to keep the Brewers at just a 4-3 lead. Kyle Schwarber led off the bottom of the ninth with a pop up to second. Jon Jay walked and Miguel Montero singled to right, sending Jay to third. Kris Bryant had an RBI single to center to tie the game and put the winning run on second base with only one out with Anthony Rizzo due up next. Rizzo had singled and walked earlier in the game and comes through so often that it was easy to think that victory was certain in this situation, but Rizzo grounded back to the pitcher advancing the runners to second and third, but making the second out.
Addison Russell stepped to the plate. The opposing pitcher was Neftali Feliz. Feliz had been the Brewers closer at that point in the season and had in fact picked up his fifth save of the year earlier in the series. Addison Russell needed a single for the win, otherwise the Cubs would head to extra innings. But the result was no single. Addison Russell crushed a Feliz pitch and the Cubs walked off as 7-4 winners. The play was worth .362 by itself and combined with the RBI single Russell had in the eighth inning, gave Russell a total of .476 on the day which was good enough for the Superhero on the day and the eighth biggest WPA of the season.
The win pushed the Cubs back over .500 and just a single game back in the division. It was for me one of the more memorable wins of the season and the game that felt most like 2016 for me. The 2017 Cubs for whatever reason didn’t seem to be having as much fun as their 2016 selves, but on this day and in that victory celebration, it seemed like they were having the time of their lives.
Some quotes from the comments that day that I think bear re-post:
The final two innings had tons of great battles
The Brewers have got some good young hurlers in the pen. Should see a lot more of these battles in the months and years to come.
Mickkelleher pointed this out and of course there were a number of tough battles with the Brewers in 2017 and there figure to be more to come in the near future.
And then there was this gem:
with each passing day
I become more convinced that Baez eventually goes the way of Castro. similar non-Theo guys at the plate. Baez buys time with his glove and baseball instincts. I’m not convinced that stellar second base defensive value is that huge of an add. it’s different for sure than say adding GG value at SS of CF. it’s not nothing. but Happ will likely eventually be able to provide similar value with offense over defense. if you can get him to be adequate through positioning and good fundamentals, I’d think that would wash. and eventually you are going to want to get Jimenez’ bat into the outfield too. it’s a crowded deck and isn’t slowing down.
Yeah, that one was by me. Oops. Javy of course continued to have some issues at the plate. And also by August, I was arguing with anyone who had too much negative to say about Baez’ contributions. Javy was clearly one of the top performers on the Cubs in 2017. He’ll definitely make you pull your hair out at times, but then he flat out steals a game here and there. And to double down, Castro made the All Star team. And it wasn’t out of some obligatory the Yankees needed a body on the team either.
This one was fun for me too:
Good: Davis, Rondon, Edwards.
Improving: Uehara, Montgomery
Bad: Grimm, Strop
I’m hoping we can sort Duensing out, when he’s on, he’s good. But he’s got nothing now.
Of course Rondon ended up more bad than good, Edwards was mostly up with some oh my God bads, Uehara went away, Strop became one of the steadier arms and of course so did Duensing. My quote above and this one by erikvo both highlight that it is a marathon and not a sprint and not to read too much into a small sample size.
That’s it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Next time we’ll be back looking at negative WPA and the number 7 worst WPA of the season. And of course, later this week I’ll continue my look at the 1984 season as we dive into a nine game homestand against National League West foes as the Cubs look to build on their division lead.