Certainly when I thought of all of the things I might see while attending back to back Cubs games in person, I didn’t envision what I saw Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night’s game was a sleepy one. The high point of that game probably came in the second inning when Kyle Schwarber bunted for a single. There weren’t a whole lot of hits other than that as the Diamondbacks pitching totally shut down the Cubs.
Thursday’s game was a wild one. And of course we had to scurry for cover three separate times to stay dry. The last of those we just made it to the car for and so I got to listen to the end of a thrilling game with a disappointing finish. But seeing Willson Contreras pick up the team and carry them on his back was awesome to watch. He and Javier Baez are two of the favorite Cubs in our household, so seeing Javy have a good game was great too. Seeing the team hang six runs on Zack Greinke, especially a day after being shut out by Zack Godley and a very good Diamondbacks bullpen was a welcome sight as well.
I certainly wish I was recapping games that brought better news, but we certainly don’t get to handpick them. I’ll say this, I assume everything will go according to form and the Diamondbacks and Rockies are the wild card teams in the National League and the winner will play the Dodgers. The Dodgers definitely look to be far and away the team to beat. I believe both of the wildcard teams are worthy opponents and I believe that the Diamondbacks will not go quietly into the offseason. I’d still expect the Dodgers to win, because they’ve been unbelievable. But, I don’t expect it to be a cake walk. The Diamondbacks have a lot of quality pitching and should have two 120+ RBI guys and three 30+ home run guys.
On that note, we’ll get to the heart of this column and look at the Heroes and Goats as determined by WPA. 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 2nd:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jake Arrieta (.067). Jake Arrieta made his 22nd start of the year Wednesday. This was his seventh Superhero in those 22 games. Amazingly, he also has nine Billy Goat’s. Jake’s performance is usually one of the driving forces in every game he pitches. It’s not 2015, but over his last 12 starts Jake has thrown 71 innings, with a 3.04 ERA and has held opponents to an OPS of .610. This despite there being a few clunkers in that stretch.
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.040). Ben had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. He one of only two Cubs to reach second base in the game when he walked and then went to second on another walk in the third inning. Hopefully, Ben is turning the corner and will have a strong finish to an otherwise disappointing season.
- Sidekick - Koji Uehara (.008). A day after having all but one Cub have a positive WPA, the Cubs only had three positive WPA players on Wednesday. So Koji gets here for a perfect ninth inning with two strike outs in a game the Cubs were losing 3-0. Koji’s struggled a bit of late, so this was a welcome sight as well.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Kris Bryant (-.162). Kris grounded into a double play in the first after Ben Zobrist had lead off the game with a single (-.072), flew out in the third after Ben Zobrist drew a one out walk (-.031), flew out in the sixth (-.035), and flew out in the ninth (-.023). Ouch. That’s what I get for leaving him off the cumulative standings completely on Tuesday.
- Goat - Jon Jay (-.101). Jon struck out with runners on first and second to end the third inning (-.044), grounded out in the fifth (-.030), and flew out in the eighth (-.027).
- Kid - Jason Heyward (-.075). Jason flew out in the second with runners on first and second for the second out (-.046), grounded out to second (-.013), and grounded out to second in the seventh (-.016). It’s been fun to see a resurgent Jason Heyward at the plate this year, but there are still a ton of ground balls to the right side.
This was the least interesting baseball game I attended since the 1990 All-Star game at Wrigley Field. It’s surely not true, but it certainly felt like one of those games that if the Cubs had another half dozen or so innings they still wouldn’t have scored.
Game Chart Thursday, August 3rd:
- Superhero - Willson Contreras (.544). Well, this one was never in doubt. There have been higher WPA scored recorded this year for the Cubs, but not many. (A project for another day.) Three hits, two home runs, six RBI. Amazing. His season stats are amazing enough that I don’t need to chop off the start of his season, but I’m going to anyway. Willson’s season really took off following the 18-inning game against the Yankees. Since that game Willson has 253 plate appearances. In those, he has a .304/.373/.580 line which when you include his presence, his handling of the pitching staff and his plus arm behind the plate, is MVP level performance. It’s early and things are always fluid, but Willson is the second best catcher in the game right now.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.258). Javy hasn’t been on any hero podium since July 18th when he was in this same spot. Javy’s hustle created a run yesterday in the fifth inning when he lined a ball into the right field corner and just beat the throw to third for a triple (.030) and then scored on a wild pitch (.025) to cut the deficit to 6-2. His hustle again paid off in the seventh when he hit an infield grounder deep into the hole at short that wasn’t picked up well and beat the throw (.077). He followed that by stealing second (.056) and he came around to score on a Willson Contreras single. For good measure, he took an actual walk (non-intentional) with one out and a runner on first in the eighth inning (.094). Quite a day for Javy and a welcome sight.
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo (.244). Anthony leads the Cubs in RBI, but on this day he reaches the podium as a table setter. On the day, Anthony had two singles and two walks. Anthony is in one of his hot streaks as over the last nine games he has a .400/.571/.767 line.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Wade Davis (-.410). This was the 107th game of the season for the Cubs. This was the first time that Wade has appeared on any of the Goat podiums. I know Al made a lot of points about Wade warming up and then having to sit down for the rain and then come into the game after a thirty minute delay. Who can know if that is why, but this was the first truly awful performance of the year from Wade.
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.335). Momma always said there would be times like this. Ian has had a very good rookie campaign. But he’s really struggling at the plate right now. Ian was hitless in five at bats including four strike outs. The one time he didn’t strike out would have actually been better if he had, because he grounded into a double play. Over his last 19 games dating back to July 6th, Ian has a .182/.260/.303 line and 20 strike outs in 73 plate appearances. He’s only started three of the last seven games and as the Cubs make their stretch run, if he doesn’t get back into a groove, I expect more of the same.
- Kid - Jose Quintana (-.318). The Diamondbacks pounded three very long home runs off of Jose. He did strike out six and only walk one. Jose has always allowed more fly balls than ground balls, but with the Cubs, that ratio has reached a career low. He’s also allowing a career high 16.1% HR/FB and a career high 35% line drive percentage. To be fair, this is a very small sample size, and of course yesterday’s game heavily influenced that sample. I wouldn’t say I’m worried, but I can’t say I’m encouraged by these numbers.
This was one of the wildest games I’ve attended at Wrigley Field (I had been to a couple of crazy ones at Coors during the Sosa era). This is definitely the wildest WPA game for me to cover. All three people on the hero podiums were over .240 with Willson over .540. In addition to the three goats who were all below -.300, there were three more players at -.210 or below. In total, the Cubs pitching staff posted a WPA of -.1.105. For perspective, each team starts out at .500 and one team will advance to 1.000 while the other drops to .000. So Jon Lester’s disastrous first inning against the Pirates before the break was worth -.483. So the pitching staff lost more than two games worth of WPA, in theory at least.
With that, let’s take a look at the year to date standings for Heroes and Goats. 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):
- Anthony Rizzo 36
- Willson Contreras 27
- Kris Bryant 13
- Wade Davis 13
- Jon Jay 6
- Mike Montgomery 5
- Kyle Schwarber 5
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 5
- Kyle Hendricks 5
- Tommy La Stella 5
- Jose Quintana 4
- Brian Duensing 2
- Pedro Strop 2
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Eddie Butler 1
- Jake Arrieta 0
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Carl Edwards Jr. -3
- Hector Rondon -3
- Albert Almora Jr. -3
- Victor Caratini -4
- Ian Happ -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Jon Lester -9
- Jason Heyward -10
- Koji Uehara -12
- Ben Zobrist -13
- Addison Russell -15
- Jon Lackey -17
- Javier Baez -29
Javier Baez gets out of the -30 club. Willson Contreras again cuts Anthony Rizzo’s lead under 10. Jake Arrieta evens his season ledger. Interestingly, no player was on any podium for both games. Different people stepping up and different people faltering every day.
Today, the Cubs open a three game series with the Nationals. There is a fairly strong probability that these two teams will open the playoffs against one another. These will not be the pitching matchups you are likely to see in that series. The Cubs will miss the injured Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. The Nationals have split their last 10 games. They did score 47 runs over the ten games, but 15 of them were in the same game. They’ve allowed 46 runs over that span. Tanner Roark has a 7.27 ERA over his last seven starts with the only game that he didn’t allow at least two earned runs being a game that he allowed three unearned runs in. He pitched very well against the Cubs in May though allowing only one unearned run over six innings of a no decision. The Nationals hadn’t listed a starter last I saw for Saturday’s game or Sunday’s game. There is a very good chance that Edwin Jackson will start one of those games. Hopefully the Cubs can take two out of three in this series to even up their homestand against two quality opponents.
As always we finish with a poll. On Wednesday, Jon Lester was voted player of the game for Tuesday’s rout of the Diamondbacks. Today we’ll vote on Hero of these two Cubs games. I’m going out on a limb and guessing I don’t need to list a ton of people, but I’ll list the six people who appeared on the Hero podiums over the two days.
Who was the Cubs Hero of Wednesday and Thursday’s games?
This poll is closed