The good news on the negative side of the list was that five of the first six were games prior to the All-Star break. Three of those five were games by the bullpen and it isn’t unusual for bullpen roles to be sorting out as a season progresses, even for the best of teams. Today though and heading into the final four on the negative side of things, we’re going to see some blown games that occurred in the last two months of the year when things were tense.
Fortunately, today’s look back looks at a game from late August. For most of the month the Cubs were neck and neck with the Brewers for the division lead. However, ahead of this game, the Cubs had won five straight and had seen their division lead advance from one game to 3½ games.
This game, from August 24, featured Jake Arrieta facing Sal Romano of the Reds. The game was played in Cincinnati. After a scoreless first inning Ian Happ hit a one out home run in the second to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The score would stay that way until the bottom of the fourth when with one out Zack Cozart reached on an error by Kris Bryant. Cozart ended up at second on the error and Joey Votto promptly singled to tie it at one.
Neither team scored in the fifth but the Cubs got a one out double from Bryant in the sixth and after an Anthony Rizzo pop out, Ian Happ was intentionally walked to get to Javier Baez. August was a very strong month at the plate from Baez who was starting every day due to the injury to Addison Russell. This situation was no different as Baez came up with the two out RBI single (.177) to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Javy was the Cubs’ Superhero in this game.
Arrieta got the first two outs in the bottom of the sixth but also allowed two hits and two walks (a runner was thrown out trying to score). Brian Duensing came into the game with the bases loaded and two outs and Jesse Winker at the plate and he got a ground ball to first to end the inning. Despite facing only one batter, this made Brian Duensing the Hero for the Cubs. Arrieta was the Cubs Sidekick of the game.
The Cubs were held scoreless in both the seventh and the eighth and Carl Edwards Jr. worked a scoreless seventh between those two Cubs’ at bats. With the Reds having Zack Cozart, Joey Votto and Adam Duvall due up, the Cubs turned to Pedro Strop for the eighth inning, nursing a one-run lead.
Pedro got the first batters to fly out and everything looked great. He’d actually built up (.112) of WPA in retiring those two hitters. Things turned in a hurry though as they often do at Great American Ballpark on a summer night. Adam Duvall singled (-.037). Scooter Genett was the next hitter and he added a double to left (-.103). Eugenio Suarez was intentionally walked (-.026). That brought the pivotal batter of the game to the plate in the form of Jose Peraza who was pinching hitting for Jesse Winker. Jose Peraza hit a ball that bounced into the seats for a ground rule double (-.501). That drove in two runs and for the first time in the game, the Reds had the lead.
Once you get to numbers over/under +/- .500 in WPA, you basically turning the result of a game from win to loss or vice versa. In this case, the Cubs moved quickly from a fairly certain win to a fairly certain loss. When the inning started, the Cubs had an estimated chance of 75.1% of winning the game. After this double, they had just a 13.2% chance.
To make matters worse, Pedro uncorked a wild pitch that scored another run (-.067) making it 4-2 Reds. He then walked Tucker Barnhard (-.002), who stole second (-.002) and finally struck out Scott Schebler to end the inning (.017).
For the game, Pedro had a (-.609) WPA, easily good enough for the Billy Goat in this one. The Cubs mustered only a single by Jason Heyward in the ninth. He was caught stealing and that was all she wrote for this one as the Cubs dropped one to the Reds.
Pedro Strop has been a fairly consistent reliever throughout his time with the Cubs. He consistently scores out by almost any measure as a good, not great reliever. He will string together four or five very good outings and then have a clunker like this one. I’m sure it has happened, but I can’t really remember a prolonged stretch of not good Pedro. But by the same token, I can’t remember too many situations where he was just dominant over any lengthy amount of time. He’s just fairly steady. As a third or fourth reliever, as he usually is, he’s a nice piece in the Cubs pen. He’ll return for his sixth season as a Cub in 2018, making him the elder statesman of the Cubs pitching staff.
To illustrate the consistency of Strop, as a Cub, in five seasons his ERA has ranged from 2.21 to 2.91. His bWAR ranges from .7 to 1.6. Those best numbers came from 2014 when he had a 2.21 ERA over 61 innings. Pedro’s hits allowed per nine were 6.7 last year, his highest number as a Cub. His walks per nine were 3.9, also his highest as a Cub (though he also has had seasons of 3.7 and 3.8, so not a massive increase). His strike outs per nine decrease to 9.7, his lowest as a Cub. I suspect that is the reason behind a projection Baseball Reference has for him of a 3.60 ERA and a 1.217 WHIP which would be substantially worse than any numbers he’s had as a Cub. He’ll be in his age 33 season, and it looks like Baseball Reference (or their source which was an overly simplistic model designed by Tom Tango) thinks age will start to cause a decline in Strop’s performance.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. I’ll be back later in the week with another look at the 1984 Cubs. And I’ll be back next week for another chapter in our look at the biggest WPA games of 2017. That one will be the fourth largest positive WPA game of the year.