That was certainly a weird night at the ballpark. First there were showers. Then the game opened as a slugfest with each team loading the bases and then having the next hitter hit a long fly ball. Not a huge difference except that Anthony Rizzo’s ball carried into the bleachers for a grand slam and the ball hit by Eugenio Suarez came up short. The Cubs put up four in the first while the Reds put only one on the board after a fantastic play by Kyle Schwarber.
The game took an odd turn and a bit of a pitcher’s duel broke out and the game moved along for the next few innings. The Cubs tacked on a couple of insurance runs and the game was moving along as a comfortable Cubs win. But 2017 is anything but comfortable. That’s just not how this team operates. The generally dependable Cubs bullpen allowed five runs during the seventh and eighth innings. Suddenly it was a tie game.
The Cubs bullpen has not been great this month. Carl Edwards Jr. is having a rough month. Wade Davis is having his worst month as a Cub. Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop have both lost long scoreless streaks. Hector Rondon struggled last night and hasn’t been used much in August. Justin Wilson has struggled as a Cub. There were a lot of games early this year where the bullpen was full out lights out. Lately there has been less of that and a lot more shaky. Your mileage may vary, but I’m not concerned about the bullpen group. There is a lot of talent out there and particularly as we get into the post season, I believe those guys will answer the bell. Slumps happen. This too shall pass.
Fortunately, Javier Baez is a guy who doesn’t carry around his tough nights at the plate. Javy struck out in his first three at bats last night. It was looking like a rough night at the plate. Then he had a hustle double. Following a walk and a de facto sacrifice he was on third with less than two outs. Albert Almora Jr. of course struck out because these Cubs are terrible at getting Cubs home from third with less than two outs. Last in baseball bad. Then Blake Wood uncorked a seriously wild pitch and as you all know, Javy Baez does not need a large window to be aggressive. He took off like a sprinter chasing a gold medal and slid in easily with the winning run.
You might enjoy pretty. Pretty doesn’t matter. The Cubs won another game. Another day ticked off the calendar. If you are concerned about the Brewers, then the Cubs reduced their magic number by just one. If you believe the Brewers are about to get buried as they fly west while the Cubs are playing last place teams then you’ll be happy to know that the Cardinals lost and the Cubs reduced their magic number by two. Thank you Boston. It is too early to me for counting magic numbers, but it is encouraging to know even without looking at the precise number, that it is going down by at least one most days and two on others. With each passing day, this team moves closer to the post season. None of us were alive the last time the Cubs played in three consecutive post seasons. These Cubs have at least a puncher’s chance of playing in three consecutive League Championship Series. This isn’t the season any of us expected or hoped for, but slowly and surely it is coming into focus.
With that thought, we’ll get to the heart of the column and take a look at what WPA had to say 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 Wednesday, August 16:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.517). This is truly crazy. Due to the game getting lopsided early, Javy’s three strikeouts cost him (-.022) for the day. Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, the double was worth (.173). Scoring on a wild pitch was worth (.365). The two events combined were worth (.538). By WPA, Javy basically won this game by himself. You, the reader, as consumer of Cubs content, will have whatever opinion of Javier. His line on the season is now up to .269/.308/.494. He has an OPS+ of 104 meaning his bat is 4% better than the average hitter. bWAR has him at 1.7 with a bit less than 1⁄3 of the season left, on pace for close to 2.5. Javy has been a vital component on this team. Particularly this month when he is playing every day at shortstop.
- Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.189). I thought this column was going to be about Anthony early on. A grand slam in the first inning was worth the same (.189) as his total score, so his net effect on the game afterwards was neutral. That score is often good enough for the top podium. The Reds woke Anthony up. So far in the series he is .500/.538/1.083 with two home runs and nine driven in. Kris Bryant carried the offense over the weekend and now Anthony has picked it up this series.
- Sidekick - Wade Davis (.137). Wade recorded a three up, three down ninth inning in a tie game. For what the stat is worth, he picks up a win for his effort. Given the enormity of the lead that was wasted and that the fourth batter due up was Joey Votto, this was not all that different than a save situation. Wade has by and large been awesome with the game on the line and this one was just what the doctor ordered.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Carl Edwards Jr. (-.236). Carl came in with one out and a runner on second in a 6-4 game. The first batter he faced hit a two run home run to tie the game (-.296). The next two batters were retired, but the damage was done. Carl is such an enigma. Going back to June 2, over his last 32 appearances and 29 innings, Carl has allowed only 16 hits while striking out 44 batters. Those numbers are not bad. Despite allowing four home runs over that stretch which is slightly uncomfortably high, he’s only allowed an opponent slugging percentage of .309. However, Carl has allowed 23 walks, two hit batters and 18 runs (all earned). He has an ERA of 5.59 over that stretch.
- Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-209). Maybe the Cubs struggles with runners at third and less than two outs are just a season long bad luck event. Regardless, I imagine being able to have a short swing and just put the ball in play are going to have to be a huge focus next spring. This is beyond just a small problem. Almora was the latest to fail in this situation as he struck out in the ninth inning with the winning run on third and one out. Albert struggles against right handed pitching. With Javy on third, I thought this was a good squeeze situation.
- Kid - Hector Rondon (-.093). Hector had a terrible inning, allowing two home runs and surrendering three runs in total. Dating back to May 5, in 35 games and 33.2 innings, Hector has a 5.61 ERA. He’s allowed six home runs and an opponent slugging percentage of .473. He does have 42 strike outs against 13 walks and a hit by pitch. But overall, the results just aren’t there.
Edwards and Rondon figured to be two of the key setup options. There isn’t a lot of time for them to regain their form or meet their expectations. Hopefully, things will turn around. More importantly, hopefully Koji Uehara comes back healthy and Justin Wilson can get things back moving in the right direction. Again, I believe they’ll answer the bell and Joe will find a few of these guys to bridge the gap between the starters and Davis. But it isn’t pretty of late.
Next, we take a look at the cumulative standings. 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 29
- Kris Bryant 20
- Wade Davis 14
- Jon Jay 11
- Kyle Hendricks 8
- Mike Montgomery 6
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 5
- Tommy La Stella 4
- Jake Arrieta 3
- Pedro Strop 2
- Kyle Schwarber 2
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Alex Avila 1
- 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 -4
- Ian Happ -4
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Albert Almora Jr. -6
- Jon Lester -8
- Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Victor Caratini -10
- Koji Uehara -11
- Jason Heyward -13
- Addison Russell -15
- Ben Zobrist -15
- Javier Baez -17
- John Lackey -18
Javier Baez literally ran himself out of the cellar. Prior to the ninth inning, John Lackey would have been in the sidekick spot and Javier would have been off the podium. Lackey would have gained a point and Javy wouldn’t have gained three points. That’s a four point swing in the standings and results in Javy finally getting out of the cellar. With all due respect to John, let’s hope Javy stays out. Right now with him playing every day, the Cubs need his bat.
This afternoon the Cubs wrap up their four game series with the Reds. Jon Lester takes the ball for the Cubs. Jon hasn’t had a particularly good August allowing three earned runs in each of his last three starts and 10 runs in all over 16.2 innings. Jon has faced the Reds twice already this year and allowed eight runs over 11.2 innings in those two games. So let’s hope the Cubs bats come ready for action today. It looks like they’ll need to put some runs on the board in this one.
The Reds send ex-Cub Scott Feldman to the mound. Scott’s last really good start was on June 30 against the Cubs. That day he threw seven shut out innings, only allowing two hits and two walks while striking out seven. Two starts ago Scott left after one inning against the Nationals after allowing five runs. Scott missed some time with a knee injury following that start and this is only his second game back. The Cubs did knock him around pretty good in May. So let’s hope this is more like the May game than the June one.
As always, we’ll wrap up with a poll. Yesterday, Victor Caratini was the poll winner with 33% of the voting. The largest secondary choice was other, with consensus being that Joe Maddon was the target of that. Today I expect a landslide. Let’s see if you guys agree.
Who was the Cubs Hero of the Game for Wednesday?
This poll is closed
Other (please leave your answer in the comments)