What a difference a week makes. A week ago, there was some panic in Cubs nation following the Cubs being swept at home by the Milwaukee Brewers. The division lead had dropped to two and things were getting close for sure. Now, the Cubs have won six in a row, including a sweep of division rival the St. Louis Cardinals that all but ends the Cardinals playoff hopes. Addison Russell has returned (very successfully). The Cubs survived John Lackey and Willson Contreras getting ejected from a game in the fifth inning and Contreras’ subsequent suspension. Jake Arrieta should return some time this week. Now the Cubs just need to get Hector Rondon and Koji Uehara back in action and get some work for those two as well as Justin Wilson in order to sort out the playoff roster.
That’s a striking turnaround. A week ago it looked like circle the wagons and all hands on deck so that the team could fight to the finish. Now it looks almost certain that the Cubs will clinch the division possibly as early as this coming weekend in Milwaukee and if not, barring disaster next week in St. Louis. The team should have time to get an extra day off for any of their stars or guys with bumps and bruises down the stretch and should certainly be able to do anything it sees necessary to line up its starting pitchers for what figures to be a difficult series with a very good Washington Nationals team to open the playoffs.
Alas, before we start looking that far down the road, let’s look back at a glorious weekend at Wrigley Field. As always, we look at what WPA has 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 15 (Cubs win 8-2):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Alex Avila (.207). Alex came into the game on Friday when Willson Contreras was suspended. His first time to the plate came an inning later when he stepped to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs in a game the Cardinals were leading 2-1. He delivered an RBI single to tie the game (.207). Alex has been a fantastic pickup for this team. One hates to even think of what things would have been like while Willson was out without Avila.
- Hero - Kris Bryant (.198). In the biggest moments you always hope your biggest stars will step up. Kris Bryant had three hits on Friday including two of them in the decisive sixth inning. He also hit a home run (.139) to tie the game at 1-1 in the fourth. In the sixth inning, he singled to start the inning (.064) and then batted again with two outs in the inning and runners on first and third and singled again (.012) to make it 8-2.
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo (.112). Anthony was hit by a pitch in the fourth following the Bryant homer run (.030) and also walked following the lead off single for Bryant in the sixth (.095). In four total plate appearances, Anthony reached base twice.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.179). Ben lands here largely because of the ground ball he hit in the fifth inning with runners on first and second that turned into an inning ending double play (-.133). Ben hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth to make it 7-2, but did not reach base in the game.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.151). Kyle popped out with runners on first and third and nobody out in a 2-2 game in the sixth inning (-.080) as part of a day in which he was hitless in four tries.
- Kid - John Lackey (-.054). John was actually pitching a fairly effective game until the last batter he faced before getting ejected. Once again, his temper got the worst of him and at the time it seemed like it couldn’t have possibly been at a worse time. He left losing 2-1 having allowed two runs on just three hits and two walks. Had the umpire not missed that last call, Lackey is sitting on just two hits allowed and having picked up his fifth strike out to end the fifth. Getting ejected lead to a lot more bullpen usage than was comfortable with Rondon and Uehara unavailable and a lot of untrustworthy arms down in the pen.
Game Chart Saturday, September 16 (Cubs win 4-1):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Hendricks (.362). This is a place where I admit that I was wrong to doubt Kyle. I bought into the early-season concerns about him and began to doubt him. But he has been nothing short of fantastic since returning from the disabled list and Saturday was no exception. He got tons of weak contact and ground balls from the Cardinals in throwing seven and two thirds innings and allowing six hits, one walk and one run. He struck out five. His career ERA sits at 2.98 as he creeps towards 600 lifetime innings pitched.
- Hero - Albert Almora Jr. (.241). Albert has had a huge week at the plate. On Saturday, he got the start despite facing a tough right handed pitcher. He answered with three hits. The biggest contributor to WPA was an RBI single in the fourth that drove in the first run of the game (.164). He added an RBI double in the fifth to make it 3-0 (.080).
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo (.040). Kyle and Albert did most of the heavy lifting in this game, but Anthony sneaks into the last spot to reach the Hero podiums for the fourth consecutive game as he looks to win Superhero of the Year. On Saturday, it was two hits and a walk for Anthony. The big contributor here is a single in the fourth with one out and the bases empty (.030).
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Javier Baez (-.081). Javy had a tough day at the plate, going hitless in four at bats. Included in that day were a strike out with runners on first and third and one out in the fourth (-.045) and striking out with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh (-.017).
- Goat - Kris Bryant (-.062). Kris actually had one hit in his five plate appearances Saturday, but he winds up here due to being retired in his first four.
- Kid - Ben Zobrist (-.049). Ben had one walk in five plate appearances on Saturday. The Cardinals did a good job keeping Ben off the bases at the top of the order over the weekend. Fortunately, other Cubs stepped up and carried the load.
Game Chart Sunday, September 17 (Cubs win 4-3):
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jason Heyward (.316). Jason had a huge day on Sunday with three hits in four plate appearances. Included in those three hits was the single biggest WPA event of the weekend, an RBI single in the seventh inning with two outs and runners on first and third (.204). He also had a double leading off the sixth (.093). In a growing sample size, Jason has now hit .286/.364/.449 over 55 September plate appearances. This is great to see after a tough August for Jason.
- Hero - Wade Davis (.161). It is fitting that Wade makes at least one visit to the Hero podiums. He threw in all three games over the weekend collecting two saves. All together, he pitched 3.1 innings over the weekend including his longest outing of the year on Friday when he recorded four outs. He allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out three across the three appearances. He is now 31 for 31 in save opportunities this year.
- Sidekick - Addison Russell (.143). It would be near impossible ever to top Kyle Schwarber’s return from the disabled list to be an offensive force in the World Series after six months recovering. Addison Russell’s doesn’t have that kind of significance, but he had five plate appearances over the weekend after six weeks recovering from injury. Addison homered in his first at bat Saturday and then reached base four times on Sunday in four tries with three walks and a single. He also played seven innings allowing Javy Baez most of a day off that becomes two with an off day today.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Kris Bryant (-.106). Kris had one hit in five at bats for the second consecutive day. His biggest negative appearance was a fly out to end the sixth with runners on first and third (-.076).
- Goat - Jose Quintana (-.095). For the second time on the weekend, what appeared to be a strike wasn’t called. The inning stretched on and the Cardinals put three runs on the board. Jose had pitched very well until that happened and he just couldn’t get out of the sixth inning. All together, he allowed six hits and a walk, while striking out eight. Unfortunately he allowed the three runs.
- Kid - Jon Jay (.080). Jon pinch hit with runners on first and third and no outs in the sixth inning in a 3-3 tie and struck out.
After an awesome weekend, we will 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 45
- Willson Contreras 35
- Wade Davis 20
- Kris Bryant 19
- Kyle Hendricks 17
- Mike Montgomery 8
- Jake Arrieta 7
- Jon Jay 5
- Miguel Montero 5
- Alex Avila 5
- Felix Pena 4
- Justin Grimm 3
- Rene Rivera 3
- Brian Duensing 3
- Dillon Maples 2.5
- Matt Szczur 2
- Taylor Davis 2
- Eddie Butler 1
- Jose Quintana 0
- Tommy La Stella 0
- Mark Zagunis 0
- Kyle Schwarber -1
- Seth Frankoff -1
- Jack Leathersich -1
- Mike Freeman -1
- Pedro Strop -2
- Justin Wilson -3
- Pierce Johnson -3
- Jen-ho Tseng -3
- Hector Rondon -5
- Brett Anderson -5
- Jeimer Candelario -5
- Albert Almora Jr. -8
- Ian Happ -8.5
- Victor Caratini -9
- Jon Lester -11
- Carl Edwards Jr. -11
- Koji Uehara -14
- Addison Russell -14
- Ben Zobrist -17
- John Lackey -20
- Jason Heyward -20
- Javier Baez -22
Anthony Rizzo extends his lead to 10 with 13 games to play. It’s going to be a challenge for Willson to catch him. Wade Davis moves into the plus 20 club and third place overall as Kris Bryant once again leaves it. Kyle Hendricks takes a big step towards reaching that plus 20 plateau. Jose Quintana drops back down to even and Kyle Schwarber drops into negative territory. Albert Almora moves out of the negative 10 club. Ben Zobrist takes a significant backwards step and moves into the bottom four and has a chance at finishing last for the season. Jason Heyward steps forward while Javier Baez takes one backwards. Javy is back in the negative 20 club and in last place. Hopefully, the back to back days off will re-energize Javy and he can make one more charge and get away from the back of the pack.
The Cubs are off today before heading out on a 10-game road trip on which they should clinch the division. First up on the road trip will be a two game set in Tampa Bay. The first game features a fantastic matchup with Jon Lester on the mound for the Cubs against Chris Archer. These two matched up back on July 4 in Wrigley Field with Archer getting the upper hand. On that day Chris allowed three runs in six innings while Jon allowed six runs in five innings. Both pitchers have struggled a bit over their last seven starts. Lester has a 5.86 ERA over those seven starts and Chris has a 5.29. Jon has actually won all three starts since coming off of the disabled lists, despite allowing seven runs in 17 innings. Despite some struggles for the pitchers, I expect a pitcher’s duel. Hopefully the Cubs can keep their winning ways going and take another step towards wrapping up a second straight division title and third straight post season appearance.
Before we finish, we’ll have our usual poll. On Friday, 65% of you selected Anthony Rizzo as the Hero of Thursday’s game. Today, we’ll look at who was the Cubs Superhero of the Week.
Who was the Cubs Superhero of the Week?
This poll is closed
Willson Contreras (.500/.714/.500)
Kris Bryant (.385/.433/.731 with 9 runs and 8 RBI in six games)
Anthony Rizzo (.350/.552/.550)
Kyle Schwarber (.333/.368/.722)
Jason Heyward (.316/.381/.526)
Carl Edwards Jr. (4 appearances, no baserunners)
Wade Davis (3 appearances, 2 saves)
Kyle Hendricks (7.2 IP, 6 H, 1BB, 5 K, 1 R)
Jose Quintana (12.2 IP, 12 H, 2 BB, 15 K, 5 R)