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Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 140

Cubs batter Pirates 8-2 to split four game series. Magic Number: 18.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Jon Lester contributes to victory on the mound and at the plate.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs wrapped up another odd series on Thursday night. By ERA alone, there isn’t a lot of difference between any of the Pirates starters, but by reputation and talent level, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are the two best Pirates starters. So the Cubs lost the first two games of the series and would then be facing those two. Gerrit Cole looked every bit the part on Wednesday night and the Cubs won only by matching zeroes until the Cubs were able to score until against the Pirates bullpen in the ninth inning. Thursday night, the Cubs scored early and often on Jameson Taillon.

Elsewhere, the Cardinals lost to the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers and with that, the Cubs lead is five games on both teams with 22 games to play. That works out to a magic number of 18. Magic numbers are a little weird with two teams tied for second, because it isn’t as simple as you win or they lose, because there are two theys. But the Cubs open a three-game series with the Brewers tonight in another oddity, a Friday night home game at Wrigley Field. Of course the Brewers are mad again at the Cubs for changing the start time of the game, and I’m sure most of us remember how the game went the last time the Brewers came to time after lathering themselves up about the way the Cubs handled something.

It isn’t time to spike the football or break into an end zone celebration, but the Cubs have crossed the ten yard line and they are moving the ball pretty well. I’m really confident they’ll be able to punch it through into the end zone. The Cubs should repeat as N.L. Central champions. From there, they have at least some chance of repeating. That’s all you can really ask for as a fan of a team that is a defending World Series champion. We’ve read tons this year about how hard it is to repeat and the track record of recent champions.

With that, let’s take a look at what last night’s game looked like through the lens of WPA and who the Heroes and Goats were in this one. 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 Thursday, September 7 (Cubs win 8-2):

Source: FanGraphs


  • Superhero - Jon Lester (.154). Jon looked a little better than he did the last time out and once again picked up a win. This time with six innings of one run ball. He allowed five hits and four walks while striking out five. Jon isn’t locked in yet, hopefully he can get there by the time October rolls around. He also added an RBI double at the plate for good measure. Jon is hitting .167/.226/.292 at the plate. He almost has his career average up over .100.
  • Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.097). Anthony had been hitless in 12 plate appearances over his three starts prior to last night. Anthony rarely gets held down that way for long. The last time before that in which Anthony went hitless in four straight games was 5/29 - 5/31. Last night, Anthony turned that all around. I told you in my column yesterday that he had hit Taillon well so far in their matchup and he did again. Anthony had a sacrifice fly in the first (.006), an RBI single in the third (.070), a single in the fifth (.017), and reached on a walk after Taillon left the game (.004).
  • Sidekick - Javier Baez (.051). I also pointed out yesterday that Javy has hit Taillon well. The first time off, Javy had a double (.057) and went on to score a run and the second time up, he had an RBI ground out (.011). Since taking over the every day shortstop job, Javy has 132 plate appearances with a line of .289/.344/.512. With good defense, that would probably be an All-Star shortstop. He has a walk rate of 7.6% and a strike out rate of 28.8% over that time and wRC+ of 115 (which basically means he is 15% better than an average hitter over that time frame).


  • Billy Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.104). Kyle was the ultimate team player yesterday in terms of WPA. He absorbed all of the negative WPA for the whole team. Yep, every other Cub was at least .000. Which of course means there are going to be some tough goat podium visits following this one. Kyle was hitless in three tries. He didn’t strike out, so there’s that. He left early and his replacement homered. This isn’t Kyle’s year.
  • Goat - Jon Jay (.000). Jay pinch hit in the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 8-1. The win probability was so high that even a home run was barely going to register. He didn’t homer, he hit a line drive that was caught and a very tough goat podium visit was the result.
  • Kid - Justin Wilson (.002). This is a tough WPA spot to reach the podium. When a game is lopsided, WPA just wants you to record outs. And so it is that a performance that often times would be a Billy Goat actually gets a positive score. Justin threw the eighth inning, faced six hitters, allowed a single, a double and a walk while striking out two. Something went wrong in Justin’s season when he was traded to the Cubs.

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 40
  • Willson Contreras 32
  • Kris Bryant 20
  • Wade Davis 18
  • Kyle Hendricks 14
  • Mike Montgomery 11
  • Jake Arrieta 7
  • Justin Grimm 6
  • Miguel Montero 5
  • Jon Jay 4
  • Tommy La Stella 3
  • Felix Pena 2
  • Matt Szczur 2
  • Brian Duensing 2
  • Dillon Maples 2
  • Alex Avila 2
  • Eddie Butler 1
  • Jose Quintana 1
  • Mark Zagunis 0
  • Rene Rivera 0
  • Seth Frankoff -1
  • Jack Leathersich -1
  • Kyle Schwarber -2
  • Ian Happ -2
  • Justin Wilson -3
  • Pierce Johnson -3
  • Pedro Strop -4
  • Hector Rondon -5
  • Brett Anderson -5
  • Jeimer Candelario -5
  • Victor Caratini -9
  • Albert Almora Jr. -10
  • Jon Lester -11
  • Carl Edwards Jr. -12
  • Ben Zobrist -14
  • Koji Uehara -14
  • Javier Baez -14
  • Addison Russell -15
  • Jason Heyward -19
  • John Lackey -21

Anthony Rizzo returns to the exclusive plus 40 club. Kyle Schwarber falls into negative territory. Jon Lester takes a big step towards escaping the negative 10 club.

With that, the Cubs turn their attention towards the Milwaukee Brewers who are tied for second place and coming to Wrigley Field for a three-game series with the Cubs. Afterwards, the Cubs have a day off on Monday which will be their first in 20 days. At first glance, the Brewers have a matchup advantage on Friday night with Jimmy Nelson against John Lackey. But, the Cubs have hit Nelson fairly well over the last five times they faced him in which he has a 6.26 ERA (vs a 4.06 ERA for Lackey over his last five against them). The last time the Cubs saw Nelson, they scored seven runs against him in five and a third. Ben Zobrist has had very good success against Nelson with a .943 OPS in 21 plate appearances.

Saturday sees Chase Anderson against Mike Montgomery. The Brewers scored seven against Montgomery on July 6th in two and a third. But the Cubs scored six off of Anderson in four innings on May 21. With two teams that see each other this much, there is a lot of familiarity between them. Kris Bryant has three home runs in 11 plate appearances against Anderson.

Sunday sees Zach Davies against Kyle Hendricks. Davies has pitched fairly well against the Cubs, but they did score five runs in five innings against him on April 9. Kyle had two different starts against the Brewers in April where they scored four runs on him, one of those was a five inning and the other a six inning start. Kris Bryant has also hit Davies well with a 1.162 OPS in 23 plate appearances. Don’t be surprised if Kris Bryant has a big weekend.

All in all, it looks like a wild weekend. Both teams will be looking to inch closer to the post season. The Brewers are likely to do so with a little more desperation. When they last played, Craig Counsell used a starting pitcher in relief on his bullpen day. So the Brewers are pulling out all of the stops trying to get into the playoffs. They have played the Cubs with a ton of passion this year and yet, the Cubs still lead the season series 7-5. I’ll be back on Monday to recap the series.

Before we go, we’ll finish with a poll. Yesterday, Alex Avila nudged out Jose Quintana with 56% of the vote to 44% (though oddly Wade Davis also received 1%...). Today, we’ll once again be voting on the Hero of the game.


Who was the Cubs Hero of the game?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Jon Lester
    (61 votes)
  • 12%
    Anthony Rizzo
    (14 votes)
  • 4%
    Javier Baez
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Jason Heyward
    (2 votes)
  • 25%
    Ian Happ
    (28 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (please leave your answer in the comments below)
    (0 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now