Many, many words have been written about the Cubs woes with runners in scoring position this year. It was a problem that existed last year, but with the Cubs often steamrolling the opposition, there was less talk about it then. This year, as the team has been consistently inconsistent, it seems to come back around over and over again. If the Cubs don’t win this year’s World Series, something that many regular posters on this site have said was a given at various points in the season, it could be the lack of “clutch” hitting that sinks the team.
I suspect that is only one of two very likely culprits if this team doesn’t repeat. That is, internal culprits. Because of course the Los Angeles Dodgers are loaded, the Washington Nationals are a very strong team, the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox are all formidable opponents. So of course, the team that could ultimately beat the Cubs will be a very, very good team and that will likely be the primary reason they don’t advance. But getting back to what I suspect, the other looming problem is the Cubs bullpen.
During last year’s playoff run, we watches as Joe Maddon’s bullpen got smaller and smaller with each passing round. Not literally of course, there were still a lot of bodies out there, but increasingly guys like Pedro Strop, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon who had been cornerstones of the bullpen were no longer being used. Aroldis Chapman was used more frequently and for more innings than he was used to being used and if Joe needed someone else, more often than not he looked at Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery.
If the Cubs are going to repeat as champions, I suspect that one of Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing or Justin Wilson is going to have to emerge as Andrew Miller-lite. Maybe Montgomery or Duensing can do it, but I know the idea of Justin Wilson throwing meaningful October innings scares the daylights out of most of you. Carl Edwards looks to have maybe righted his own ship and can maybe be a guy who pitches a key inning to the middle of the order. But there will be nights when his control isn’t there and he certainly isn’t going to be an every day multi-inning reliever.
Jake Arrieta is the only starter who I can see trying to go all Madison Bumgarner and throwing a ton of innings, but the problem is he sometimes gets into throwing too many pitches as he did last night when he didn’t finish the sixth inning. Duensing and Edwards did a good job bridging the game to the eighth inning, but then Strop couldn’t get it to Davis in the ninth. Thus the Cubs winning streak came to an end. Hopefully the Cubs can get right back to their winning ways this weekend.
Before we look ahead to the weekend, let’s look at last night’s game and see what WPA says 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 24:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.159). Javy comes through again with the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth (.179). The hit game with two outs and runners on first and second after the Reds intentionally walked Happ to get to Baez. Happ had homered in the game, but this is a curious decision. Reds starter Sal Romano features better splits against left handed hitters than right handed and the Reds chose to walk a lefty to get to a righty. I think Javy is also a much better hitter right now, today, than Ian Happ is.
- Hero - Brian Duensing (.128). Brian inherited a bases loaded two out jam with Jesse Winker at the plate. Brian was able to coax a ground ball to first base and get out of the inning. Brian features a 2.47 ERA (3.13 FIP which is the lowest of any pitcher on the team with more than 1 inning of work). Brian has only faced 30 hitters this year in what Baseball Reference considers high leverage situations and another 30 in medium leverage situations. The other 150 batters he’s faced have been low leverage. Hopefully, we are seeing him start to be used in higher leverage situations as he has been the most dependable reliever this year not named Davis.
- Sidekick - Jake Arrieta (.120). Another strong outing for Jake. As noted, he came one out short of finishing the six innings necessary to qualify as yet another quality start. He did walk three hitters, but struck out eight and only allowed four hits. He allowed only one unearned run.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Pedro Strop (-.615). That’s quite a WPA score. The Cubs have not had a positive score higher than this one in 2017. They’ve had two negative scores that were larger, making this the third biggest goat performance of the year. One inning, three runs allowed. When he was handed the ball, WPA indicated the Cubs had a 69.1% chance of winning. When he walked off the mound, the Cubs had a 92.4% chance of losing.
- Goat - Jason Heyward (-.159). Jason had a very good first two games of the series, but last night he was hitless in four tries. The biggest negative at bat was in the sixth inning for Jason when he grounded out to second with runners on second and third and two outs (-.065).
- Kid - Anthony Rizzo (-.128). Anthony matched Heyward’s night. The biggest negative for him was a pop up to shortstop in the sixth with a runner on second and only one out (-.052).
That sixth inning placed four of the six podium appearances last night with two on each side. When the Cubs only plated one in the top of the sixth and then Jake left the game in the bottom of the sixth, I became concerned that this game was going to end exactly as it did. It’s been a couple of weeks since the Cubs bullpen turned in a scoreless performance and the Reds bullpen when it isn’t asked to throw six or seven innings in a game, isn’t that bad.
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.
Cumulative Standings: (italics indicates no longer with the organization)
- Willson Contreras 32
- Anthony Rizzo 31
- Wade Davis 16
- Kris Bryant 15
- Jon Jay 9
- Kyle Hendricks 8
- Mike Montgomery 8
- Jake Arrieta 7
- Miguel Montero 5
- Tommy La Stella 5
- Justin Grimm 3
- Kyle Schwarber 2
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Brian Duensing 2
- Alex Avila 1
- Jose Quintana 1
- Eddie Butler 1
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Justin Wilson -2
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Pedro Strop -4
- Hector Rondon -5
- Ian Happ -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Albert Almora Jr. -6
- Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Victor Caratini -9
- Jason Heyward -10
- Jon Lester -11
- Javier Baez -11
- Ben Zobrist -12
- Koji Uehara -14
- Addison Russell -15
- John Lackey -21
Anthony Rizzo drops back out of the first place tie and into sole possession of second place. Jason Heyward rejoins the negative 10 club. Javy Baez continues to move closer to escaping that club and the bottom five.
Tonight the Cubs open a three game series in Philadelphia. The Phillies have lost seven of 10. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mound. Jose has had two decent starts in a row, picking up wins in each and is 4-2 with a 3.73 ERA over his last seven starts, all with the Cubs. He’s not faced the Phillies since 2013. Jerad Eickhoff is on the mound for the Phillies. Jerad tends to not finish six innings due at least in part to high pitch counts. Statistically, he appears to be a pretty average pitcher. He has normal splits, with left handed hitters posting a .302/.373/.496, so expect a heavy left handed lineup again tonight.
As always, we finish with a poll. Yesterday, 71% of you voted Mike Montgomery as the Hero of Wednesday night’s game. Today, we’ll vote on the goat of last night’s game.
Who was the Goat of last night’s Cubs loss?
This poll is closed
Tommy La Stella
Other (please leave your choice in the comments below)