I’m sure no one wants to talk about magic numbers after a weekend like we just witnessed. I imagine in some parts of Cubs nation there are some Jim Mora “Playoffs?” memes and maybe one or two Mike Ditka “I don’t know if this team will win another game” memes. Lucy moved that football again and this time at a really inopportune time.
I know no one will want to hear it, but this team looked gassed at the end of a 20 games in 20 days stretch. Today they will rest ahead of the final six games of this homestand. After that, most of the remaining Cubs schedule will be played on the road. First up will be the Mets who have been a train wreck this season, but somehow still lead the National League in home runs. They’ll be followed in by the St. Louis Cardinals who are of course very much alive in the division and wild card races.
I totally understand that some of you will have moved your DEFCON meter a notch or two. That’s a perfectly valid opinion. I’ve said all along that I understand why the Cubs approached this season the way they did, but this was something I worried about all year long. The problem with trying to conserve energy until the end is that the more you reduce the season from a marathon to a sprint, the more you run the risk that you false start or struggle to get off the blocks and you just don’t have a margin of error built in. It’s hard to imagine now that the season won’t come down to the final week, maybe the final series and maybe the final game.
I for one am not panicked. I’m not even seriously concerned. I still believe this team will right its ship, that it will be strong down the stretch and that in the end this team will be National League Central champions. But I’ll still always say it sure would have been nice to have a Dodgers-size lead that can survive winning one game in three weeks after seemingly going two and a half months without losing.
I’d really like to turn the page and start looking ahead to the week ahead, so let’s go ahead and recap 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 Friday, September 8 (Cubs lose 2-0):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Jay (.074). Yeah, we knew that it was going to feel like a Superhero when the team basically posed no real challenge in the game. Jon is here for a day where he had one walk and one hit by pitch in four plate appearances. The hit by pitch (.017) was with two outs in the fifth after the Cubs were already losing 2-0. The walk came leading off the eighth inning and was worth (.078).
- Hero - John Lackey (.072). And of course, in a 2-0 game, your starter should find his was to the podium. John threw seven innings allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out nine. But of course one of the two hits was a two run homer. John takes a tough luck loss as two runs over seven should be good enough.
- Sidekick - Brian Duensing (.028). Brian threw a scoreless eighth inning allowing just one walk.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Javier Baez (-.157). Javy was hitless in four tries. The two biggest plate appearances were in the second when he batted with runners on first and third and he flew out (-.053) and the last out of the game with a runner on second when he struck out (-.047).
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.148). Ian also was hitless in four at bats. Ian’s two biggest were a ground out in the second with a runner on third and one out (-.060), and a strike out looking with a runner on first and no outs in the fourth (-.044). Ian would have had my vote if we were looking for Goat of the game.
- Kid - Anthony Rizzo (-.103). The big difference for Anthony is that he did have a third inning single with two outs and a runner on first (.031). But he also had a fly out in the fifth with runners on first and third and two outs (.068) and a fly out in the eighth (-.055) with a runner on first and one out. Anthony comes through so frequently in those situations that it is deflating when he doesn’t.
Game Chart Saturday, September 9 (Cubs lose 15-2):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Schwarber (.003). This has to be one of the lowest Superhero numbers of the year. I’ll definitely track that next year. Kyle hit a home run in the eighth inning to make it 15-1. He also caught in the game.
- Hero - Felix Pena (.000). I had to break some ties to pick this one. Felix threw a perfect ninth inning to stop the bleeding. He also got to bat in the game.
- Sidekick - (tie) Dillon Maples and Ian Happ. Dillon pitched one inning, allowed a hit a walk and a run. Ian Happ batted once and struck out. Neither another run on the deficit, nor a strikeout helped the Cubs in any meaningful way and so as much as I hate ties, I went with it here. Clearly this was a game with no real Heroes.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Mike Montgomery (-.223). Mike just didn’t have it on Saturday. Six outs recorded in thirteen batters faced, two hits, four walks, two strike outs and four earned runs.
- Goat - Justin Grimm (-.152). Three outs recorded, three hits and a walk, to the first four batters he faced. All of them scored.
- Kid - Jon Jay (-.026). This one got so bad so fast that the offense didn’t run up a lot of negative. Jon was hitless in his two at bats before Joe emptied the bench.
Game Chart Sunday, September 10 (Cubs lose 3-1):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Rene Rivera (.117). Rene had another two hits on Sunday. I didn’t love the Rivera pick up when it was made, but boy has he been fantastic for the Cubs. Surely it is a mirage, because he’s never been this good at the major league level. But he had two more hits and the only RBI Sunday which actually gave the Cubs a brief lead for the first time all weekend.
- Hero - Pedro Strop (.034). Pedro threw a scoreless seventh inning allowing only one hit.
- Sidekick - Carl Edwards Jr. (.028). Carl threw a scoreless eighth allowing two hits but striking out two.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Tommy La Stella (-.148). Tommy did actually have one hit in four tries Sunday. He lands here almost entirely because of his grounding into a double play in the fifth inning with runners on first and second and one out (-.114). At the time, it was a 1-1 game.
- Goat - Jason Heyward (-.119). Jason also had one hit in four tries. The big one for him was a fly out with two outs and runners on first and third in the sixth (-.075).
- Kid - Kris Bryant (-.101). I expected big things out of Kris this weekend. He was largely stopped cold registering just one hit and two walks in 10 plate appearances. A definite tip of the cap to the Brewers pitching.
Next, we take a look at the cumulative standings through the Sunday game. 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 19
- Wade Davis 18
- Kyle Hendricks 14
- Mike Montgomery 8
- Jake Arrieta 7
- Jon Jay 6
- Miguel Montero 5
- Justin Grimm 4
- Felix Pena 4
- Brian Duensing 3
- Rene Rivera 3
- Dillon Maples 2.5
- Matt Szczur 2
- Alex Avila 2
- Eddie Butler 1
- Jose Quintana 1
- Kyle Schwarber 1
- Tommy La Stella 0
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Pedro Strop -2
- Justin Wilson -3
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Ian Happ -3.5
- Hector Rondon -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Victor Caratini -9
- Albert Almora Jr. -10
- Jon Lester -11
- Carl Edwards Jr. -11
- Ben Zobrist -14
- Koji Uehara -14
- Addison Russell -15
- Javier Baez -17
- John Lackey -19
- Jason Heyward -21
Over the three-day weekend series, Anthony falls back out of the plus 40 club, Kris Bryant falls out of the plus 20 club, Mike Montgomery falls out of the plus 10 club. Rene Rivera and Kyle Schwarber moved into positive territory. Tommy La Stella drops back down to even. Javier Baez slides back towards the bottom while John Lackey escapes the bottom leaving Jason Heyward in the cellar after he slid backwards over the weekend.
The Mets come to town and this series suddenly feels a lot bigger than it probably should. The Mets come in having taken three out of four from the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. They just wrapped up a home stand in which they won five of seven. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mount. Jose was excellent his last time out in Pittsburgh. He did face the Mets once last year in New York and had a strong outing in which he allowed one run over seven innings and took the loss because his team didn’t score any runs.
Robert Gsellman starts for the Mets. Some of you will be nervous because this is another no name pitcher having a lousy season. He’s got a 5.44 ERA on the year which actually rises to 6.35 over his last seven starts. And if you count in the seven unearned runs he’s allowed in those seven starts, he’s allowing 8.21 runs per nine innings over his last seven starts. But, the thing is, he hasn’t pitched quite as bad in four of his last five starts (4.35 runs per nine allowed). The game I’ve removed from that set was against the Nationals (on August 26) who have pounded way more pitchers than not this season. He was also battered by the Dodgers and Nationals in two starts in June. Again, those teams have done that to a ton of teams.
Robert has never pitched a game against the Cubs. Robert has been hit equally hard by lefties and righties. Joe should feel free to play his best eight players. This isn’t quite playoff like serious, but it’s getting there fast. These are the games, the Cubs need to win. I’m going to look for something like a 5-3 win in this one. The Mets are similar to the Reds in that their starters have fared quite a bit worse than their relievers. Hopefully the Cubs can jump on Gsellman early and make things a bit easier for Quintana.
As always, we end with a poll. Last Friday we voted for Hero of Thursday night’s game against the Pirates and you selected Jon Lester with 55% of the votes. Today we’ll vote on Player of the Week.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Week?
This poll is closed
Rene Rivera (3 for 9 with a double, two RBI and a walk)
Ben Zobrist (.333/.381/.500)
Alex Avila (.250/.357/.417)
Kris Bryant (.250/.333/.417)
Jose Quintana (6 IP, no runs, 6 H, 6 K, 1BB)
Jon Lester (6 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 4 BB, 5 K)
John Lackey (7 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 9K)