I’m a shameless shill for attention so I’ll start off by saying it’s my birthday. Yesterday’s Cubs game was like getting a really good sized box when you were a kid and you thought it was that perfect gift you’d been hoping for. Then you open the present and it was totally not even something you were really interested in. So it was kind of fun while the present was sitting there all wrapped and you had that anticipation and excitement and you were imagining what it was going to be like after you opened that gift and it was yours to do with.
All right, I probably over-killed the analogy. You get the picture. Coming back from down 9-0 was super fun and exciting. Potentially losing Jon Lester to one of those weird injuries that is a little difficult to figure out exactly the right time table for properly healing and still getting geared up for (hopefully) a play off run is no fun at all. The fact that outside of Wade Davis Joe Maddon really has no one totally reliable to hand the ball to is particularly terrifying. Mike Montgomery did throw four and a third really strong relief innings, but he’d almost certainly be handed any starts that Lester will miss.
The good news was the offense. They fought back from that huge deficit. I hated to be Debbie Downer yesterday, but there was such excitement when we got into the Reds bullpen. But the Reds are an odd team. Their bullpen is actually pretty decent. I saw the other day on the broadcast that the Reds are on pace for one of the worst 10 starting rotation ERAs of all time. Their starters have thrown 611 innings with a 6.11 ERA and an opponent OPS of .897. On the other hand, their relievers have a 4.33 ERA (exactly NL average) with an opponent OPS of .739. So when the Cubs play the Reds next week, think of the game backwards, you want the game won before it gets to the bullpen.
The Brewers were off and the Cardinals won, so I’m not giving you any real silver linings today. The Cubs managed to score 33 runs in a four game series and only win two games. The reason why? It was a lot of things. The bullpen was bad in the series, but it didn’t directly lead to any losses. You can’t pin yesterday’s loss on the bullpen when the starting pitcher allowed nine runs and the bullpen was asked to throw more than seven innings. Montgomery is part of the bullpen and was literally the only reason the Cubs were able to come from behind. The offense was good, but as has been the case almost universally this year, they still don’t always rise to the occasion. That feels harsh after battling back from a nine run deficit but again they couldn’t string together enough hits to sustain a rally.
Once more, I’m going to just turn the page and hope better days are ahead. At least the Cubs are still in sole possession of first place. 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 Thursday, August 17:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Alex Avila (.180). Alex had two hits and a walk. One of his two hits was a two run home run (.038) and the other was an RBI double (.110) that tied the game at nine. The walk was actually worth (.051) as it put runners at the corners in the seventh with the Cubs down by two.
- Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.156). Anthony capped off a brilliant series at the plate (.529/.556/1.059) with three hits. The hits included a double in the fourth (.016), an RBI double in the fifth (.168), and a single in the ninth (.027). On the season, Anthony has his OPS back up to .906 after coming into the series at .878 after a tough road trip at the plate.
- Sidekick - Kyle Schwarber (.153). Kyle’s home run in the fifth cut it to 9-7 and was worth (.097). The bigger news is that Kyle finished the game at .204. It’s still unsightly, but a long stretch from a low water mark of .162 (through 218 plate appearances up to June 5). June 7 to present the line is (.261/.365/.575), July 6 to present (.278/.381/.968 in 113 plate appearances), and for August it is (.317/.440/.561 in 50 plate appearances). We are starting to see the production that many dreamed on with him in larger doses.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jon Lester (-.422). This season has not been pretty for Jon. Yesterday he was charged with seven earned runs (nine total), seven hits and a walk. He only recorded five outs. Hopefully the injury isn’t too bad. Despite a below average ERA of 4.37 on the season, Jon still has a FIP of 3.79 and he’s one of the team leaders. With Willson Contreras already out, not to mention Addison Russell, this would be a tough pill to swallow.
- Goat - Justin Grimm (-.286). Justin pitched an inning and allowed two walks and a two run home run to hand the lead back to the Reds. For whatever reason, Justin has been extremely inconsistent this year. I have to advocate for sending him down today and bringing a fresh arm from Iowa. With three more games before an off day and a growing number of not dependable arms, replacing Grimm on the roster is probably necessary.
- Kid - Kris Bryant (-.112). I’m only going to be half kidding when I say that the Cincinnati Reds figured out how to stop 2017 Kris Bryant... they let him bat all series with men on base. In reality, the Reds worked around Kris a fair amount early in the series and then as the series wore on, either through impatience or some really fine pitches, they retired him quite a number of times. His home run came while the Cubs were down eight and was only worth (.014). His hit by pitch in the fifth was worth (.053). Kris is here largely because of his line out in the sixth on which Kyle Schwarber was doubled off.
For the second day in a row, I’ll point out the failures of the bullpen. Not making the podium were Justin Wilson who faced two batters and walked both on a total of eight pitches. Somehow Wilson broke during the trade. I can’t understand this at all. Hector Rondon also pitched an inning and walked two and allowed a hit and a run. Increasingly, there just aren’t a lot of good options out of the pen. I have to wonder how soon Koji Uehara will be ready to pitch. Perhaps he can stabilize some of the eighth inning woes. He was effective quite a bit in the first half of the season and has experience in playoff races.
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 31
- Kris Bryant 19
- Wade Davis 14
- Jon Jay 11
- Kyle Hendricks 8
- Mike Montgomery 6
- Miguel Montero 5
- Tommy La Stella 4
- Alex Avila 4
- Justin Grimm 3
- Jake Arrieta 3
- Kyle Schwarber 3
- Pedro Strop 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 -4
- Ian Happ -4
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Albert Almora Jr. -6
- Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Victor Caratini -10
- Jon Lester -11
- Koji Uehara -11
- Jason Heyward -13
- Addison Russell -15
- Ben Zobrist -15
- Javier Baez -17
- John Lackey -18
Anthony Rizzo moves within one point of taking the lead back. Kris Bryant falls out of the positive 20 club. Alex Avila moves into the top 10 at the expense of Justin Grimm who falls out of the top 10.
Next up the Cubs face the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game set opening this afternoon at Wrigley Field. In a pleasant change, all three games will be 1:20 starts. It seems like the starting times on weekends recently have usually been at least two and often three different times.
Friday’s game is a very good pitching matchup with J.A. Happ against Jake Arrieta. Jake has been on a little bit of a roll so the Cubs might have a slight upper hand in this one. Saturday’s game features Jose Quintana who threw a very strong game in June with the White Sox beating the Blue Jays with seven innings of two run ball. Nick Tepesch is one of those guys who has been around for a long time that you’ve never heard of. He last started a game against the Cubs in 2013. Sunday features Kyle Hendricks against Marco Estrada. The Cubs should be favored in all three. Hopefully they win at least two.
As always, we’ll finish with a poll. Yesterday Anthony Rizzo won a close vote with 38% of the vote against 31% for Javier Baez. Today we’ll vote on Goat of the Game. Sadly, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
Who was the Cubs Goat of the Game Thursday?
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Other (please leave your suggestion below)