We continue today with our 12th column out of 20 in this series looking back at the biggest WPA games of the 2017 Cubs season. Nine different Cubs are represented among the top 10 positive scores of the season. Today we’ll talk about the only Cub with two of the 10 positive games. By way of comparison, just six different Cubs are represented on the top 10 negative games. No player appears on both lists, so by the time we are done, we’ll have talked about 15 different Cubs.
Today we’ll be talking about the Cubs home game against the Diamondbacks on August 3. I’d imagine for people who went to that game, there are two very different ways of looking at the game. One of them is quite positive and one not so much. For those of you who don’t immediately remember the game, I won’t spoil it all for you ahead of time and we’ll circle back and talk about the best of times and worst of times at the end of the column.
By the morning of August 3, the Cubs were in first place. They had been in first place continuously since July 26 and from that day until the end of the season, the Cubs were either in sole possession of or tied for first place throughout. The Cubs were shut out on August 2 and Addison Russell was injured during the game. The lead in the division was trimmed to just 2½ games after the loss on August 2. I also was at that game and remember it as the most sterile Cubs game I’ve ever attended in any venue. The Diamondbacks jumped out to an early lead, ex-Cub prospect Zack Godley was nearly untouchable and the Cubs went down largely without a whimper.
With that backdrop, August 3 was a scary day. The division lead was tenuous. The DBacks were a red hot team and Zack Greinke was the opposing pitcher. Greinke was in the middle of a very strong season for the DBacks and despite Jose Quintana on the mound, this one looked like a tall order for the Cubs. To top it all off, this day was marred by rain off and on all day long.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the first two hitters greeted Quintana with singles. A.J. Pollock followed with a pop out to short, but Paul Goldschmidt crushed one for a three run homer. After a J.D. Martinez strikeout, Brandon Drury also took Quintana deep and it was 4-0 after the top of the first. The Cubs were dispatched easily in the bottom of the first and then Quintana settled down and retired the D-backs in order in the top of the second.
Willson Contreras lead off the bottom of the second inning and launched a home run of his own to deep left (.072) to cut the lead to 4-1. Greinke bounced right back and retired the Cubs in order after the homer and then Quintana threw another perfect inning in the top of the third. Jon Jay had a two out double in the third for the Cubs but he was left there after a Kris Bryant pop out.
Quintana worked around a walk and hit by pitch in the fourth to keep it 4-1. Anthony Rizzo then had a lead off single for the Cubs and Kyle Schwarber a one out single but an Ian Happ double play ball snuffed the rally. Paul Goldschmidt hit a two run homer in the top of the fifth to make it a 6-1 deficit for the Cubs.
A Javy Baez triple and a wild pitch one out later cut the lead to 6-2. Brian Duensing threw a perfect sixth and the Cubs went back to work. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo had back to back singles to start the sixth and Willson Contreras stepped to the plate and took Greinke deep for the second time (.206). Greinke again bounced back and struck out the next three hitters to finish the sixth.
Brian Duensing worked a second inning and despite a single and a balk, escaped unscathed. Javy Baez lead off the bottom of the seventh with a single to chase Greinke. Baez then stole second. Jon Jay drew a one out walk and then Anthony Rizzo drew a two out walk to extend the inning for Willson Contreras. Contreras followed with a single to center that scored two more runs (.367). Sandwiched around a fourth inning fly out, Willson Contreras had two homers and a single and drove in six runs. This last one gave the Cubs a 7-6 lead.
Two Cubs relievers combined to allow two hits, two walks, an error and two runs in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth two walks, a single and an RBI ground out off the bat of Jon Jay tied the game. Unfortunately, Paul Goldschmidt and Martinez hit back to back home runs off of Wade Davis in the top of the ninth inning and the Cubs failed to score in the bottom of the ninth despite two more walks drawn. Notably Willson Contreras tried to bunt for a hit and ultimately struck out between the two walks in the ninth. Despite two at bats that were fairly negative (-.039 and -.079) Willson accumulated .527 WPA on this day.
This was simultaneously the most exciting and the most frustrating game that I attended this year. Willson Contreras put an exclamation point on a month of baseball that I will only describe as MVP caliber. And at the same time he flashed his youth in trying to bunt on a day when he’d already hit two home runs and when the ball seemed to be jumping out of the park. There were hours of rain delays and in fact, I wasn’t even in the park when Davis yielded the two home runs. You hate to lose a game with a contribution like the one Contreras made on this day. And yet, I wouldn’t want to have missed this game. Willson Contreras and Javy Baez were a youthful, dynamic 1-2 punch in this game, for once rendering Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to the supporting cast.
It is games like this where you see some of what this Cubs team can be. Kris Bryant has been an MVP and Anthony Rizzo seems like he’ll finish in the top 10 every year for that award. Willson Contreras for a month flashed MVP potential. Javier Baez can make plays that few other players in baseball can and appeared to take a big step forward while filling in for injured Addison Russell. And behind that still exists the Gold Glove defense of Jason Heyward, two way skills of Russell and the unlimited offensive potential of Kyle Schwarber ’s bat. I somehow feel like we still haven’t seen the best of this group.
So the Cubs lost on this top positive performance. Earlier we covered a game where the Cubs won despite a top negative performance. So here we sit at 6-6 through 12 games covered. We’ve got eight to go. Next week we’ll take another look at a tough day for a Cubs pitcher. Of course later this week I’ll also have another installment of the 1984 Cubs Heroes and Goats as we move into the second half of the season.
As always, thanks for reading.