I’m always preaching not to get too high when things are going great or too low during a tough stretch. Hopefully most of the readers if this column were able to follow this advice over what was largely a frustrating weekend. Of course Saturday night was a lot of fun in the middle, but losing two out of three to one of the worst teams in baseball is painful. I spent enough time on Twitter Saturday and Sunday to know that Cubs nation as a whole did not weather the storm well.
Here’s what you need to know and remember. Yes, the Cubs blew an opportunity to put some wins in the book and make things easier down the stretch. Every game of cushion the Cubs add to their lead is a little bit of breathing room if either the Cardinals or Brewers gets crazy hot, particularly against the Cubs. That didn’t really happen though with the Cubs losing three of their last four and only winning eight of 13 games in a stretch of four series all against last-place teams. This week brings seven more games against teams well off the pace in the National League.
Despite last week’s struggles, the Cubs still maintain a two game lead on the Brewers (three in the loss column), and a four and a half game lead on the Cardinals (five in the loss column). The Cubs are still very likely to win the National League Central. I still believe they’ll ultimately wrap it up with at least a few days to spare and should be able to set up their rotation for their series with the Nationals to open the playoffs. So, if you were one of the people who took deeper meaning out of this weekend, I’m suggesting you take a step back from the ledge. It certainly isn’t great. It is certainly frustrating. It is almost certainly not a devastating setback. Just another frustration in a season that had a ton of them. Good news though, the Cubs should get Addison Russell back this coming weekend and Justin Grimm too. Jon Lester is close if not this weekend (and Mike Montgomery is doing fine). Willson Contreras should not be at the long end of the estimates on his time, though they are going to be very careful with him.
On that note, let’s take one more look back at this weekend and then try to forget about it as soon as we can afterwards (other than Saturday. Saturday was fun right? Can we remember that one without having to remember the other two?) 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 25:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Schwarber (.089). Kyle started the scoring on Friday with a first inning home run (.102). This season will never be what people hoped for Kyle, but since returning to the major leagues on July 6, Kyle has a .242/.338/.523 slash line. Hopefully, he’ll finish his season strong and can build on that next season. Kyle would not be the first player to experience a sophomore slump and then go on to have a very good career.
- Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.042). Anthony got his weekend started with two hits and a walk on Friday night. It is a symptom of how bad the night was offensively for the Cubs that he had neither a run nor an RBI in the game.
- Sidekick - Alex Avila (.021). Alex had quite a mixed night on Friday. He had two hits and two strike outs in four at bats.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jose Quintana (-.389). Aroldis Chapman was so great for the Cubs last year that you had to look forward to this year’s deadline acquisitions. To be fair, Alex Avila has been very effective filling in at catcher. Another of those pickups, Jose Quintana has made eight starts with the Cubs, allowed seven home runs in just 46 innings of work and had a 4.50 ERA (4.11 FIP). His strike out rate is up as a Cub and his hits per nine innings too, so I’m hopeful that he’ll get back into a groove.
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.087). Batting behind Rizzo, Ian went hitless in four tries with two strike outs including a strike out with the bases loaded and two outs (-.040) in the fifth inning when it looked like the Cubs might start to crawl back into the game. Ian Happ offers no protection for Anthony Rizzo in game situations at this point.
- Kid - Jason Heyward (-.073). Jason Heyward had a tough weekend at the plate and he started it off Friday night with a hitless in four tries night. The biggest negative for Jason was a pop out to short in the fourth with runners on first and third and one out (-.035).
Game Chart Saturday, August 26:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.309). Anthony has been on fire of late and Saturday was one of the better games in the stretch. He had three hits, all of them drove in runs. He had two home runs, five RBI and three runs scored. July 24 to present, (31 games, 30 starts and 138 plate appearances) Anthony is hitting .348/.457/.591 (BABIP .388).
- Hero - Kris Bryant (.174). Kris had two hits including a solo home run, a walk, was hit by a pitch and scored three runs. His solo home run was worth (.094) and gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead at the time. Going back to July 7 (42 games, 41 starts and 185 plate appearances), Kris has a .340/.427/.590 line (.366 BABIP). The two biggest Cubs bats have been very strong the last month or so.
- Sidekick - Tommy La Stella (.075). Tommy is not one of the more popular Cubs. He earned the nickname 3 a.m. because Joe Maddon likes to say that Tommy could roll out of bed at 3 a.m. and get a hit. Tommy has played in 52 games and had 106 plate appearances this year. Across all of them he’s hit .322/.419/.575. In August, it has been even more crazy as he’s hit .367/.429/.700 (amusingly, he only has a .333 BABIP because it is a small sample with 3 home runs in 36 plate appearances.)
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Alex Avila (-.044). Alex “only” had one hit and one walk on Saturday and scored two runs. He started out in a hole on Saturday with a strike out to end the first inning with runners on first and second (-.042) and then was retired in his next two at bats. By the time Alex started contributing on offense, the game was well out of reach.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.038). Kyle actually had a walk in his first at bat (.024), but then struck out with Jon Jay on first in the third inning for the first out (-.040), and struck out again in the fifth for the second out (-.012). In all, he had just the one walk in six plate appearances in a day where his largest contributions to the offense were high fives and back slaps for his teammates.
- Kid - Albert Almora Jr. (-.036). Albert also had a bit of a tough day at the plate, recording just one hit in five at bats. The hit did drive in a run, but because it made the score 10-2 it was only worth (.002).
Game Chart Sunday, August 27:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.090). Anthony finished off his weekend with a one hit in three at bats plus a walk day. He drove in the first two runs of the game with his first inning single (.122). Anthony was player of the week last week and added on with another huge week this week, going .420/.508/.768.
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.070). Ben reached on an error in the first (.036) and ended up scoring the first run of the game. He also reached on an error in the seventh (.059). I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen anyone on any Hero podium by way of reaching on error twice.
- Sidekick - Justin Wilson (.043). Finally, Justin Wilson finds his way to the hero podium. Took him almost a full month, but for an inning and a third of scoreless relief in a close game, Justin takes the final positive podium position for Sunday. Hopefully he is getting settled in.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - John Lackey (-.415). Most of Cub nation’s favorite punching bag takes the top spot after a disastrous fifth inning. On the day, he allowed six hits and a walk, but four earned runs (and one unearned). After a strong first couple of innings, this one totally got derailed.
- Goat - Rene Rivera (-.089). I’ve already started my campaign for Rene not to make the Cubs playoff roster. He offers almost nothing with his bat and the Cubs will have two very competent catchers once Willson Contreras is back in action. This is Rene’s first appearance in this column.
- Kid - Jason Heyward (-.056). Jason was hitless in seven plate appearances on the weekend and only drew one walk. Dating back to the last game of the Reds series, Jason is hitless in his last three games which were all Cubs losses since Jason didn’t start Saturday.
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)
- Anthony Rizzo 39
- Willson Contreras 32
- Kris Bryant 17
- Wade Davis 16
- Jon Jay 9
- Kyle Hendricks 8
- Mike Montgomery 8
- Jake Arrieta 7
- Tommy La Stella 6
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 3
- Kyle Schwarber 3
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Brian Duensing 2
- Eddie Butler 1
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Alex Avila -1
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Justin Wilson -1
- Jose Quintana -2
- Rene Rivera -3
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Pedro Strop -4
- Hector Rondon -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Ian Happ -7
- Albert Almora Jr. -7
- Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Victor Caratini -9
- Ben Zobrist -10
- Jason Heyward -11
- Jon Lester -11
- Javier Baez -11
- Koji Uehara -14
- Addison Russell -15
- John Lackey -24
If Anthony Rizzo goes on to win this race at the end of the year, this weekend will probably be where he clinched it. Anthony picked up eight of a maximum nine points available while Willson Contreras continues to rehab. It was a nice story line in July for Willson to challenge for the season crown, but the injury appears to have derailed those chances. Ben Zobrist took a step towards getting out of the negative 10 or more club. John Lackey widened his deficit at the bottom as it looks increasingly like he may finish with the lowest cumulative score.
Tonight, the Cubs open a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I will be in attendance. Mike Montgomery will take the ball for the Cubs. Mike is coming off of a fantastic start against the Reds. There was a fair amount of time between them, but Mike’s last start before moving back to the bullpen was also a strong one. That one was against the Braves who the Cubs will see this coming weekend. That makes me wonder if they’ll let Mike take one more turn through the rotation after this one and then bring back Jon either Sunday or early next week.
Trevor Williams will be on the mound for the Pirates. Trevor threw eight scoreless innings last time out against the Dodgers. The time before that he allowed eight runs in only three innings against the Cardinals. So hopefully, more of the second than the first. Trevor has already started twice against the Cubs this year with a 6.23 ERA over those two starts. Trevor has been fairly split neutral this year, with right handed hitters having a .719 OPS and left handed hitters having a .723. I’d expect Avila in there in a largely left handed (or switch hitting) lineup tonight.
As always, we finish with a poll. On Friday, 72% of you selected Pedro Strop as Goat of the Thursday night Cubs loss to Cincinnati. We actually came one Kyle Schwarber vote away from having only two people receive votes with Joe Maddon receiving 27% of the vote for that one. Today we’ll vote on Cubs player of the week.
Who was the Chicago Cubs Player of the Week?
This poll is closed
Tommy La Stella (.462/.500/1.154)
Anthony Rizzo (.409/.536/.773)
Kris Bryant (.294/.458/.529)
Alex Avila (.353/476/.412)
Ben Zobrist (.250/.318/.550)
Justin Wilson (3 appearances, 3.1 IP, 1H, 2K)
Mike Montgomery (6 IP, 4H, 1BB, 0R, 4K)
Kyle Hendricks (7 IP, 6H, 0BB, 2R, 8K, plus two hits and 2 RBI)