I tend to look at the Cubs schedule in blocks of games. Usually one home stand and one road trip. The Cubs just finished a block of 12 games that featured a six-game homestand against the Diamondbacks and Nationals and a six-game road trip against the Giants and those same Diamondbacks. Optimistically, I had hoped the Cubs who had been off to such a hot start to the post-All Star break schedule would split the twelve games. Given that the competition lowers in caliber from here until the end, it felt like if they could win six of those games that they’d be in great shape to win the division.
Of course we all know what happened was a two win home stand. So then we had to hope that the Cubs could win two or three in San Francisco. Alas, California remains a house of horrors for the Cubs this year (not the greatest omen when the road to repeating runs right through Los Angeles). Injury was added to insult when Willson Contreras injured himself running out a grounder in the last game in San Francisco. The Cubs were heading to Arizona having suddenly lost six of nine and easily one of their best players and of course an Arizona team that had just beaten them two out of three at Wrigley.
Kris Bryant picked up the slack over the weekend and had his strongest weekend of the season (more on this later). His bat lifted the offense and the pitching and defense, save for one inning Saturday night, were very good. So it that the Cubs won two of three over the weekend and five of twelve over that stretch.
The next stretch of games covers 13 games. Seven of those are at home this week and then six more on the road next week. The first team up will be the last place Cincinnati Reds. We’ll talk more about that at the end of this column. The Toronto Blue Jays come in this weekend and then next week the Cubs travel to Cincinnati for three and to Philadelphia to play the Phillies for three. I’m hoping for the Cubs to win at least eight of these 13 games. Surely they could win 10 or more, but I think they’ll be in pretty good shape if they grab at least eight of them.
One note on getting into the playoffs this year. It has been said over and over throughout the year that the NL Central teams would only be competing for one spot. That isn’t necessarily set in stone. This morning the Cubs sit three and a half games behind the Diamondbacks and Rockies who are tied. I haven’t and won’t go look at their schedules, because rightly the focus is on the NL Central crown. But intuitively those two teams will not only be seeing each other for multiple series before the end of the year, they’ll also both be facing the juggernaut Dodgers team. To be fair they’ll also see the Padres and Giants who are both largely playing out the strain. At this point though, I’m not accepting it as a given that three NL West teams will make the playoffs. Probably, but not definitely.
With that, let’s turn our attention to the main focus of this column and take a look at what WPA had to say this weekend about Heroes and Goats. As a reminder, the Heroes and Goats themselves 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 Friday, August 11:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Alex Avila (.186). This wasn’t his first start as a Cub, but it was his first start as the de facto Cubs starter at catcher following the Contreras injury. Alex reached base on two walks and also hit a solo home run. the first walk came with the bases loaded in the first inning and drove in a run that was his biggest WPA contribution (.090). Very much like Kyle Schwarber, Alex’s line so far with the Cubs looks funny, but has been very productive (thanks to two home runs in only 19 plate appearances) at .200/.333/.600. Hopefully as that slugging percentage comes back down to Earth, the batting average can come up and he can settle in at the kind of production he has had across the whole season (.269/.390/.483).
- Hero - Kyle Schwarber (.133). In his return to the location where his regular season ended prematurely last season, Kyle had a walk and a home run of his own. Kyle’s walk was in front of the Avila walk in the first and his home run in the sixth was in front of Avila’s home run. Kyle gets most of his WPA from the home run (.117). Kyle is now hitting .241/.327/.552 over 98 plate appearances since returning from the minor leagues. I still see a lot of people groaning when his name is in the lineup because of the .191 season batting average and 38 strike outs in those 98 plate appearances. But make no mistake, that’s pretty good performance since he’s been back.
- Sidekick - Kris Bryant (.118). Kris started his assault on the Diamondbacks on Friday night with three hits and three walks and a hit by pitch in five plate appearances. His high WPA contribution of the day was an RBI single (.060) in the second that made it 3-0. If you didn’t follow the weekend action, I’ll spoil you and let you know this will not be the last time we talk about Kris in this column.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jason Heyward (-.097). On a night when the Cubs had eleven hits and five walks, Jason had none of either. Of his four hitless at bats, the one with the most negative WPA was his fly out that ended the first with runners on second and third (-.046).
- Goat - Justin Wilson (-.073). It’s been a tough start to Justin’s Cubs career. He faced three batters on Friday, struck out one, walked one and allowed a hit to the other. Fortunately, Brian Duensing and Pedro strop retired the last two batters of the seventh inning and no damage was done. In four and a third innings over five appearances, Justin sports a nightmarish 2.538 WHIP.
- Kid - Anthony Rizzo (-.041). Without being too harsh, one of the things that caused the Cubs to not put crazy numbers on the board this weekend was that Anthony Rizzo did close to nothing behind the blistering weekend of Kris Bryant. On Friday, he only reached base once, that on a walk, in five plate appearances.
Game Chart Saturday, August 12:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.056). Javy had a bit of a rough night in the field, but he did have two hits at the plate. Had he been ruled safe at the plate in the fifth inning, it is easy to wonder how the game might have played out differently. In the 11 games Javy has played so far in August, he has a .317/.364/.659 line. Going back further, since the All-Star break, Javy has played like one with a .310/.356/.607 over 90 plate appearances.
- Hero - Kris Bryant (.054). Kris followed up on his five times reaching base Friday night by reaching four more on Saturday. His single in the ninth inning made things interesting as it drove in two runs to cut the deficit to 6-2. Dating back to July 7, Kris has a .374/.439/.600 line in 132 plate appearances.
- Sidekick - Alex Avila (.029). Alex had only one hit in the game, but that one came with Baez on first and nobody out in a 0-0 game. The hit was worth .069. In six games as a Cub, he’s appeared on one of the positive podiums three times.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-154). Albert led off for the Cubs for the first time and was hitless in three tries. Albert has mashed lefty pitchers this year, but Saturday night he didn’t get it done. The biggest negative event was his ground ball to short with runners on second and third and one out that Javier Baez was narrowly thrown out at home (-.112).
- Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.117). The top four spots in the batting order are so important to an offense. Albert was up top in the first spot and here is Ben in the fourth slot. Ben was hitless in five tries. The largest negative WPA event was when he reached on a fielders choice in the first inning (-.037) with runners on first and second and one out. Ben was also called out on strikes to end the game.
- Kid - Anthony Rizzo (-.100). Anthony was of course the third hitter and he had just one hit in five plate appearances. That hit came in the ninth inning with the game 6-2. Anthony was kept from appearing even higher on the podiums because he actually reached on an error in the first inning. His fly out with the bases loaded in the fifth was (-.096) his biggest negative WPA of the game.
Game Chart Sunday, August 13:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jake Arrieta (.275). Facing a pitcher who had dominated the Cubs a little over a week earlier, this performance was just what the doctor ordered. Jake threw six innings and allowed just three hits and three walks. Over Jake’s last 16 starts, or about half of a seasons with of starts, he has a 2.93 ERA and has held opponents to a .203/.282/.352 line in 95.1 innings. On the downside, he has allowed 10 home runs and seven unearned runs, so his run average is actually 3.59. But in a season with inflated scoring, that’s still a very good number.
- Hero - Kris Bryant (.182). For whatever reason, Kris Bryant always seems to show up big in Jake’s starts and Sunday was no exception. Kris capped his weekend with three more hits and a walk. Included was a home run. Amusingly, his biggest WPA moment of the day and the weekend was scoring on a wild pitch (.099) in the first inning for the game’s first run. In all, Kris had a line of .818/.867/1.273 over the three games. Those numbers are beyond any vaguely realistic video game and yet I’m certain there are Diamondback fans who are hoping there is some reset button they can hit.
- Sidekick - Javier Baez (.162). Javy added two more hits and a home run on Sunday and drove in three. Javy had a weekend that would highlight many weekends with a .417/.417/.667 line of his own.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.099). On the upside, the numbers I listed earlier in the column included this game in them. On the downside, in this game Kyle batted three times in this game and struck out in all of them. The biggest negative event was his strike out to end the first inning (-.045) with runners on first and third.
- Goat - Victor Caratini (-.065). Victor did get a hit and score a run in this one. But he was hitless in the other four at bats. The biggest negative event for Victor was a ground out to end the fifth with runners on second and third (-.049).
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.056). In a rare start for Tommy, he had no hits in three tries before leaving the game. The biggest negative event for him was his ground out to end the second with Jon Jay on second after Jon had driven in the second run of the game with a double.
Let’s take a look at the season standings following the weekend’s action. 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. Here then are the standings.
Cumulative Standings (Italics indicates no longer with the organization):
- Willson Contreras 32
- Anthony Rizzo 27
- Kris Bryant 18
- Wade Davis 13
- Jon Jay 8
- Kyle Hendricks 7
- Mike Montgomery 6
- Alex Avila 6
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 5
- Tommy La Stella 3
- Pedro Strop 3
- Jake Arrieta 3
- Kyle Schwarber 2
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Jose Quintana 1
- Eddie Butler 1
- Brian Duensing 0
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Justin Wilson -2
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Hector Rondon -3
- Albert Almora Jr. -4
- Ian Happ -4
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Victor Caratini -6
- Carl Edwards Jr. -8
- Jon Lester -8
- Koji Uehara -11
- Jason Heyward -13
- Addison Russell -15
- Ben Zobrist -18
- Jon Lackey -18
- Javier Baez -18
For a long time this season, two things that looked to be pretty set in these standings. One was that Anthony Rizzo would be the top dog and the other was that Javier Baez would be at the bottom. But Willson Contreras had a torrid July to catch Rizzo. I suspect Rizzo will move back past him with Willson’s injury, but that was a remarkable run. Javier Baez is also on one of those hot stretches and is now in a three way tie with Jon Lackey and Ben Zobrist at the bottom of this list.
With that, we look ahead. Tonight the Cubs open a four-game series with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have actually split their last ten games, largely due to taking three of four from the San Diego Padres. The Reds are on the second stop of a road trip that started Friday in Milwaukee where the Reds dropped two of three over the weekend. The Reds haven’t had a day off yet this month and have played 13 straight days and will play all seven days this week to bring it to 20 straight days with games before an off day Monday ahead of hosting the Cubs next Tuesday. So far the Reds are 7-6 in these games. Hopefully they’ll start to show signs of fatigue and the Cubs can jump on them for three or four wins.
Jose Quintana will be the starter for the Cubs tonight. He’s had back to back rough starts and will be looking to bounce back. He’s never started a game against the Reds. Asher Wojciechowski is the Reds pitcher. If you are like me, you’ve never heard of him before. He made a handful of appearances for the Reds in 2015 and has been in their starting rotation off and on this year. He features a 6.75 ERA over his last seven starts. He did have a pretty decent start against the Cardinals back on August 4 and has won his last two starts. He has yet to get out of the seventh inning though, so expect to see plenty of the Reds bullpen tonight. But their bullpen ERA of 4.26 is actually a fair bit better than their starter ERA of 6.02.
As always, we finish with a poll. I gave you guys two polls Thursday and Friday. On Thursday you voted Brian Duensing as Goat of Wednesday’s game. On Friday, you guys voted for me to write some bonus columns in the off season. Thanks for that vote of support, I will definitely do so. Today, we’ll vote on the Player of the Week.
Who was the Cubs Hero of the Week?
This poll is closed
Kris Bryant .609/.679/.913
Ian Happ .333/.357/.667
Albert Almora .375/.412/.563
Alex Avila .222/.364/.556
Pedro Strop 4 G, 4.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 4 K
Carl Edwards 3 G, 2.2 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 3K
Jake Arrieta 2 G, 12.1 IP, 4 R, 12 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 2 W