Sunday was another day full of irony. Sure, you had to wonder if the four teams scheduled to play one last game against four teams desperate to win and increase their odds in the postseason would be over-matched. But you also had to wonder if any of the four teams looking to win their divisions would be tight. The answer was a resounding no. Save for a couple of early hiccups for the Cubs, all four would-be division winners were on top of their game and all four crushed their opposition. All four scored 10 runs. Congratulations Major League Baseball, your all of the games at the same time strategy worked.
And so it is, that these four teams are dropped into a double elimination tournament. Three games, four teams. One team will lose twice and go home. One team will split two games and continue on. The other two teams will win their first game and be crowned division champions. This creates an interesting strategy of sorts in that there is a pretty big advantage to winning the first game, but the largest possible strategy is to not lose two games. So if the wheels fall off of the bus for someone early today, their best strategy is probably to pull up and play for Tuesday. And their fanbase probably won’t entirely understand the move. It won’t be popular. I understand in college ball and elsewhere this type of strategy comes up more often. But it doesn’t usually play in MLB very often.
I’ve written a lot of words across the 2018 season, but it comes down to this. I believe in this team. I believe in the man on the mound today. I believe in the Wrigley faithful. All of that said, I believe the team coming to Chicago today is smoking hot. I believe they have a hitter who has had an incredible season and finished on an incredible run. I believe this will be one tough game. It wouldn’t be crazy to think Monday isn’t that big of a deal. Playing Tuesday night isn’t the death penalty. Teams have won the World Series from the wildcard spot. But make no mistake, winning this game, getting two days off, getting home field advantage, forcing two very good teams to play each other eliminating one, it’s a very big deal. Let’s get it Cubs fans.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats 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 162, September 30 - Cubs bats explode in 10-5 win (95-67)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.161). Anthony was particularly grooved in yesterday. Four hits and a walk in five plate appearances. He drove in a run and scored three. Two of the hits were doubles. Superstar hitters rising to the occasion. It’s a beautiful thing (when it’s on your side).
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.147). Ben had just one hit in five at bats. But what a hit it was. A two-out RBI triple. He then scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2-2 and in those moments, the wind appeared to come out of the sails of Cardinals pitching.
- Sidekick - Alec Mills (.085). If you had both of Sunday’s game mattering and Mills on one of the Heroes podium before the season, you should be making money prognosticating. Alec threw two innings and allowed two runs on two walks and a hit. All of that damage occurred when he went back out for a third inning. Those first two innings were enormous.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Mike Montgomery (-.121). Fortunately, I believe that Mike is made from very strong fiber. Otherwise, Sunday’s outing would be a very concerning one. The Cardinals were hitting the ball hard and finding holes. He was in trouble from the starting gun. He allowed five hits and two runs. One of the runs was unearned and indeed, things wouldn’t have looked so bad were it not for one bad hop against the Cubs and one great hop for the Cardinals. Baseball can definitely be a game of inches.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.047). Kyle was hitless in two at bats before departing this one. Regardless, I sincerely hope Kyle is in today’s lineup.
- Kid - Victor Caratini (-.019). Vic was retired in his pinch hit at bat.
WPA Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo batted with Javier Baez on first and the score tied 2-2. There were two outs and Rizzo smashed a double. Baez scored from first and the Cubs had their first lead of the day at 3-2. (.127)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: With two outs in the first and a runner on first, Patrick Wisdom lined a single to center. The ball took a bad hop and got by Jason Heyward and just kept rolling. What should have put runners on the corner scored a run from first and put the other runner on third. (.100). The Cubs announcers had this as the first error that Heyward has ever been charged with in center field. A remarkable stat if true, because that sample size is increasing by the day.
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Kyle Hendricks 20
- Sidekick - Javier Baez 19.5
- 4th/5th - Anthony Rizzo 16
Things were so hectic yesterday that I didn’t point out that Javier Baez HAD to win the Superhero in order to win the Superhero of the Year award. As it turns out, that would have been false, he can do it today instead. Anthony Rizzo needs to avoid the Goat side of the ledger today to ensure a fifth time in five years in the top five of these standings. Is there a scenario where either Pedro Strop or Kyle Hendricks pitches in this game? I hope not. I’d much rather a long start out and then maybe Justin Wilson and/or Jesse Chavez to close it out. But these games make odd scenarios happen.
Up Next: As if you didn’t know, the Cubs and Brewers play one game for home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The Cubs send Jose Quintana to the mound. I’m not going to be repetitive here. Jose has four wins against the Brewers this year alone. He’s got six against them in his career. 10 games against them with a 1.60 ERA in his career. When the Cubs got their one off day in the last month and a half, they conceived of this exact scenario. They shuffled Q and Lester and lined Q up for this game. It’s the perfect spot, the Brewer-killer in one game. The ace is saved for whatever game is next, because there will be a next game. The Cubs have the guy on the mound that they wanted for this game. And he’s on proper rest.
The Brewers are lined up for Jhoulys Chacin who has a very good record against the Cubs in his own right. The Cubs did get to him in his last start against them. He has a 1.59 ERA against the Cubs in four starts against them this year. Oddly, he is only 2-2. Craig Counsell was weighing his options and hasn’t announced a starter. I wouldn’t be shocked if he goes with a bullpen day. I wouldn’t be shocked if he uses Josh Hader or someone as an opener, trying to get off to a good start and ceasing an early lead. This game could really take on any complexion. Regardless of what the Brewers choose to do, this is the key number. When the Cubs score four runs (or more), they are 72-15. Somehow, some way. Get to four runs.
I close with a cheer from my children’s high school.
I. I believe. I believe that. I believe that we. I believe that we will. I believe that we will win. I BELIEVE that we will WIN!
Let’s get it done. See you on the other side.
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