In this week’s column, we look at a game from June 29. The Cubs were in Washington for a Thursday day game to wrap up a four-game set with the Nationals. They had won the first game of the series in what ended up being dramatic fashion. The team had lead the game 1-0 through seven innings, added a run in the eighth off of the Nationals pen and three more in the ninth. The Cubs pen struggled through the ninth inning allowing four runs and winning 5-4.
In games started by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Cubs then lost the second and third games 6-1 and 8-4. The two losses dropped the Cubs back to .500 at 39-39. You will surely recall that the team spent the majority of its pre All-Star time within two games of .500 in either direction. So it was hardly shocking that the first game of this series put them two games over and then they lost back to back games.
For the Thursday finale, the matchups on the mound swung back the other way. Jon Lester was on the mound for the Cubs and Joe Ross for the Nationals. There was even more reason for optimism when Anthony Rizzo connected for a double with two outs in the first inning and Willson Contreras followed with an RBI single (.067 WPA) to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The Nationals bounced right back though with a couple of walks around a strike out. Trea Turner had the first walk, stole second but then was caught stealing third for the second out. That turned out to be a very good thing because Ryan Zimmerman followed with an RBI double (-.114).
Both pitchers then settled in and there was no further scoring through six innings. That was when Jeimer Candelario stepped in and hit his first major league home run (.189) to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Those pesky Nationals bounced right back again though when Carl Edwards Jr. allowed a two run homer to Anthony Rendon after allowing a lead off walk (-.342). Edwards retired the next hitter but then allowed another walk before being lifted for Brian Duensing. Duensing allowed a single and that was it for him.
Pedro Strop was next in and he hit Trea Turner with a pitch. Brian Goodwin followed with a single and it was 4-2 Nationals (-.065). At this point, the Nationals had about a 93% chance of winning. Even after Pedro Strop retired the next two hitters to end the seventh, the Nationals still had about an 86% chance of winning.
The Cubs were retired in order in the eighth and the Felix Pena set the Nats down in order to keep the score at 4-2. Addison Russell struck out to start the ninth and the Cubs’ chances of winning were down to about 4%.
Jeimer Candelario was then hit by a pitch (.051). When Victor Caratini grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out (-.052) it looked like the Cubs would drop three of four. Victor Caratini then took second on defensive indifference (.002). Javier Baez followed with a single and Caratini knowing the Cubs needed two runs didn’t take any chances and stopped at third (.042).
Tommy La Stella then singled to left (.086) and suddenly the Cubs were down only 4-3. That brought today’s Superhero to the plate. Jon Jay stepped in against Blake Treinen who had been trying to nail down the save for a shaky pre-All Star break Nationals pitching staff. Jay lined a double to center and Tommy La Stella came all of the way around from first to score the go ahead run behind Javier Baez (.658).
After Ian Happ was retired to end the inning, Wade Davis came on and retired the side in order to collect the save and the Cubs had split a four game set against a team they would end up facing again in the National League Division Series.
On the day, Jon Jay had just one hit in five at bats, but that hit was a monster one. For the day he ended up with a .548 WPA which was the fourth largest WPA of the season for the Cubs. Jon Lester threw six innings allowing just three hits, three walks and one run to collect the Hero award and Wade Davis picked up the Sidekick award for his perfect ninth inning. Felix Pena was the winning pitcher, his first major league win.
Jay hasn’t signed yet. He had a very good season for the Cubs in 2017, appearing in 141 games and amassing 433 plate appearances. In those plate appearances he hit .296/.374/.375. fWAR has him at 1.6 WAR for 2017. For 2018, Steamer projects him as the long side of a platoon, with 99 games and 387 plate appearances. That is fairly similar to what his usage was in 2016. They project a split line of .268/.334/.363.
Jay is the kind of guy who I’d love to see back in theory, but in practice I just can’t see how the Cubs could bring him back. With a group of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras, the Cubs already have 10 guys who could make argument for playing almost every day. There is still no DH and so I think the players behind those 10 would be best fit by guys who can play sparingly and be effective. One of those will likely be Tommy La Stella and the other will certainly be a back up catcher. As many of you will recall, the Cubs ran for stretches last year with 13 pitchers, so there just isn’t room for Jay. I’ll wish him well where ever he lands and he’ll definitely be one of those guys who if the timing and fit is right, I’d be happy if he was traded for in July or August as extra depth with an eye at the playoffs and trying to win another World Series.