As it says up above, the Nationals took two out of three over the weekend. In doing so, they’ve taken four of seven from the Cubs on the year. Should the two teams finished tied, a not totally impossible scenario, the Nationals will have home field advantage for the likely first round series with the Cubs in the playoffs. Certainly, not the end of the world, but it would have been nice to have that in our pocket. Of course, by losing two out of three, those chances are a little bit diminished anyway.
Unfortunately, this also means that the Cubs lost four of six on this homestand. It is always frustrating to lose a homestand, but it is at least somewhat understandable in that the Cubs played two very good teams. It would certainly be comforting if the Cubs won more games against good teams, but there really are only three games left against the top tier of teams in the National League (Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies and Diamondbacks). Those three games are this weekend when Kyle Schwarber returns to the place where he was injured last year for the first time. There are a good handful of games against second tier teams like the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates. That will have to do with building confidence ahead of the playoffs. Make no mistake, the Cubs could go all year struggling against the top teams, get hot at the right time, and win again. Baseball is weird sometimes.
The good news from the weekend was the continued hot hitting of Willson Contreras. We are running out of superlatives for how fantastic he has been over the last two months. He’s having a great season after a slow start and statistically has emerged as one of the best catchers in baseball with only a little over a year of major league experience. Also, Kyle Schwarber continues to show some progress at the plate. The downside of the weekend, and really the week as a whole, was the struggles of the bullpen. In particular, Carl Edwards looks totally lost right now. Al has covered that and you all have a chance to weigh in on how to navigate those issues, so I won’t belabor them here.
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 Friday, August 4th:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.038). Javy hit a two run home run to drive in the only two runs for the Cubs in the seventh inning. The home run cut the deficit to one. The results are often uneven because Javy is a streaky hitter, but from July 2nd to present, a period of 25 games and 83 plate appearances, he has hit .325/.373/.610. Of course he does also have 27 strike outs and has grounded into 4 double plays. So always a bit of a mixed bag. But that has been a very good stretch.
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.022). You know things didn’t go well when drawing a walk and getting hit by a pitch in an otherwise hitless day gets you onto the podium.
- Sidekick - Koji Uehara (.017). In this game where only four Cubs registered a positive WPA, the three heroes come from three of the bottom five in the cumulative standings.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.193). So this game was largely an upside down game. Last place in the standings is the Superhero and first place in the standings is the Billy Goat. Anthony was hitless in four tries including fouling out with a runner on first in the first and grounding into a double play in the fourth.
- Goat - Carl Edwards Jr. (-.090). This won’t be the last time you see this name in this column. On Friday, he pitched one inning, allowed two hits and a walk and allowed the fourth run of the game for the Nationals.
- Kid - Kris Bryant (-.070). Another bad sign for Heroes and Goats is when two of the top three hitters in the order are here. Kris actually had a hit in the game, a single in the fourth ahead of Rizzo’s double play ball. The biggest negative in this one for Kris was a ground out to end the seventh inning with what was at that time the tying run on first.
Game Chart Saturday, August 5th:
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Willson Contreras (.184). After the Yankees game on May 7th, Willson had a .209/.280/.330 line to start the season. Since that date, including Sunday’s game, Willson has a .309/.375/.610 over 72 games and 265 plate appearances. Obviously, that’s just about half a season. That stretch would be good for about a 40-homer, 120-RBI season. Out of a catcher with a plus arm who appears to do a very good job handling his pitchers.
- Hero - Alex Avila (.141). Alex appears on the podium for the first time and it is on the positive side. Alex hit a two-run homer in the first inning on Saturday for his first Cubs hit, RBI and run. Hopefully Alex can continue to be productive at the plate in limited duty.
- Sidekick - Brian Duensing (.080). Very quietly, Brian has been one of the best relievers on this team. His 2.33 ERA and 1.058 WHIP are among the best on the team. Brian has a scoreless streak running back to June 21st when he last allowed a run. Since then, in 19 appearances covering 15 and a third, he has allowed nine hits and two walks while striking out 17 and holding opponents to an OPS of .403.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.055). After his last three podium appearances were all on the Hero side, this time he appears in the Billy Goat spot. Ben did have one hit in the first inning and eventually scored. But the at bat actually had a negative WPA (-.024) because Willson Contreras was thrown out trying to go to third on the play. Ben was hitless in three other at bats and struck out twice.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.040). Kyle struck out pinch hitting in the fifth inning. Kyle’s bat has slowly been showing signs of improvement at the plate, but so far pinch hitting hasn’t been good for him. In ten plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he has just one hit (which was a home run) and one walk while striking out six times.
- Kid - John Lackey (-.030). One of Bleed Cubbie Blue’s least favorite players sees a little bit of tough luck here. John actually had a somewhat effective start. He did allow six hits and a walk while striking out three. But he only allowed two runs to one of the more high powered offenses in the league. He did allow yet another home run, this time to Bryce Harper. John is 4-0 since the All-Star break and is giving the team a chance to win every time out right now. That’s just about everything you can ask from a fifth starter.
Game Chart Sunday, August 6th:
- Superhero - Willson Contreras (.190). Two for two with two solo home runs on the day. Willson’s last three appearances on the podium have been Superheroes and that’s what he’s been since the 16th of June. Over that time, 42 games and 169 plate appearances, he’s hit .331/.399/.709. That’s about a quarter of a season and this hot stretch would pace out to a 60+ homer season with 180ish RBI. And he did that with only a .330 BABIP. Obviously, there is an elevated home run rate over that stretch, but he has had out of this world production.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.107). This is probably one of the most unusual lines of the year for Javy. He had one hit and two walks on the day. He also drove in a run. To be fair, both of the walks are intentional, but hey they still count. As noted earlier in this column, despite the usual streaky play from Javy, he has swung a very productive bat for a while now.
- Sidekick - Jon Lester (.096). Another solid performance from Jon. He allowed six hits and a walk while striking out seven. He did allow three runs while pitching two outs into the seventh inning. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn’t hold on and get Jon a win.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Carl Edwards Jr. (-.700). Oof. This one really hurt. I have no idea why he was allowed to finish the inning, an inning in which he allowed four runs after allowing two hits, a walk and a hit batter. He only recorded two outs. I am also wondering where Hector Rondon has been. He last pitched in the blowout last Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. He pitched more than an inning in that game and I wonder if his arm didn’t bounce back well because he had strung together a handful of good performances.
- Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.107). Anthony did have one hit on Sunday, but he grounded into two double plays. Spoiler alert, Anthony Rizzo is no longer the leader for the season standings.
- Kid - Jon Jay (-.089). Jon has had a lot of playing time lately and has been fairly productive. But he was hitless in five tries on Sunday. Four times he lead off an inning and all four of them he was retired. The anti-table setter.
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):
- Willson Contreras 33
- Anthony Rizzo 31
- Wade Davis 13
- Kris Bryant 12
- Jon Jay 6
- Mike Montgomery 5
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 5
- Kyle Hendricks 5
- Tommy La Stella 5
- Jose Quintana 4
- Kyle Schwarber 3
- Brian Duensing 3
- Pedro Strop 2
- Felix Pena 2
- Matt Szczur 2
- Alex Avila 2
- Eddie Butler 1
- Jake Arrieta 0
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Hector Rondon -3
- Albert Almora Jr. -3
- Victor Caratini -4
- Ian Happ -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Carl Edwards Jr. -8
- Jon Lester -8
- Jason Heyward -10
- Koji Uehara -11
- Ben Zobrist -14
- Addison Russell -15
- John Lackey -18
- Javier Baez -24
As noted, Willson Contreras has caught Anthony Rizzo. Anthony Rizzo if I recall correctly won the season race last season. So this is what qualifies as a big story in Heroes and Goats. At the start of play on May 9th, Willson Contreras had -8 points and Anthony Rizzo had 14. A 22 point lead erased in a little under half a season. Wow.
Tonight the Cubs open a three game series in San Francisco. The last time the Cubs were in California they lost six straight games. Hopefully this trip goes quite a bit better. Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs. He’s had quality starts in six of his last seven start. He also features an ERA of 1.93 in his last five starts against the Giants in the regular season. That includes a stellar performance last May in San Francisco where he allowed four hits, two walks and one run while striking out eight.
Matt Moore takes the ball for the Giants. He has a 5.73 ERA over his last seven with only one quality start in there. He faced the Cubs in May and took the loss when the Cubs scored four runs off of him in six innings. Let’s hope that the Cubs can score some runs against him again tonight and put that last west coast trip out of mind quickly.
As always, we’ll end with a poll. On Friday, Willson Contreras was voted the Hero of Wednesday and Thursday’s games. He’s been winning everything around here lately and so instead of Player of the week, we’ll vote on Goat of the week.
Who was the Goat of last week’s games?
This poll is closed
Kris Bryant (.208/.259/.250)
Jason Heyward (.211/.250/.316)
Jon Jay (.211/.286/.316)
Carl Edwards Jr. (1.2 IP, 7 ER)
Jose Quintana (5 IP, 6 ER)
Wade Davis (2 IP, 2 ER)