If you came here looking for hell-fire and brimstone, you came to the wrong place. Of course if you’ve been following along, that won’t surprise you. I’m not much of a critic of the things this organization does. I believe top to bottom the organization is fundamentally sound. They put together an outstanding team again this year and in the end, that team came up short and not by much at that. 95 wins is a fantastic season. Maybe Houston and Boston felt so totally strong about their teams this year that they would have taken their chances on the over. Other than that, 28 teams would absolutely, positively have taken 95 wins in advance of the season rather than letting things play out. Were the Cubs on paper one of the teams with a chance for more than 95? Absolutely.
It saddens me to see that so many Cubs fans view this as a collapse. This was not a collapse. The Cubs slowly and steadily increased their standing to .500 over the season. The Cubs were 70-50 after 120 games. Over the final 43 games, the Cubs won 25 and lost 18. Through 120, that’s a .583 winning percentage (94.5 win pace). Over the final 43, a .581 pace (94.2 win pace). I’ve not gone through and dissected segments of this season, but this team didn’t particularly have any long stretches of excellence and it didn’t even any long stretches of ineptitude. There was a seven game winning streak, but there were two five game losing streaks. This team largely just played at about a 95-win pace throughout without large fluctuations.
If I could get into a Cubs press conference and ask Joe Maddon one question, it would be this. With no disrespect to the clubhouse and the guys you’ve grown to know and love, wouldn’t you love to manage this Brewers team? Sure, they aren’t built entirely ideal. But they have a lot of quality hitters and a scary bullpen. They are built for new school baseball. Get whatever you can out of a starter and then get into your bullpen and start mixing and matching. It starts at the back of the bullpen with Jeremy Jeffress, a former first round pick (16th overall) of the Brewers. Like most pitchers, he was originally a starter and as recently as 2009, he basically was solely a starting pitcher. As late as 2011, he made about half starts. Jeffress is in his third stint with the Brewers. Alongside Jeffress is Josh Hader who just had one of the best seasons any relief pitcher has ever had. Hader was drafted in the 19th round by the Orioles of all teams. The vast majority of the work Hader did in the minor leagues was as a starter.
The Brewers have supplemented the two of them with Corey Knebel (a first-round pick of the Tigers) and Joakim Soria. They compliment those four with replaceable parts. But it all comes together to form a dominant bullpen. Maybe, just maybe with a fully healthy Brandon Morrow, a fully healthy Pedro Strop and Mike Montgomery as a reliever, maybe the Cubs bullpen is as effective. That’s a lot of ifs. And I don’t think that’s true unless and until Carl Edwards Jr. ever fully figures things out. That is one of the current problems with the Cubs bullpen. The guys with the head turning stuff, Edwards and Dillon Maples, can’t command it well enough to be dominant forces out of the pen.
I won’t continue with the love letter to the Brewers. My point stands. The Cubs didn’t collapse. The Brewers reached up and took it. I described it yesterday and stand by the description. The Brewers were like a thief in the night, stealing the Cubs National League Central title. Only after they stole it, they drove their getaway car down the street doing donuts, flashing their headlights and slamming on their horn so that everyone knew they did it. I have little reason to believe that the outcome would be different, but of course I hope that the Cubs can dig deep and win a game tonight and get another crack at those Brewers.
Game 163, October 1 - Cubs go down with a whimper as Brewers win NL Central (95-68)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jesse Chavez (.218). I don’t know that he even qualifies as unsung anymore. But Chavez was the most effective Cub reliever after the Cubs acquired him. He threw two scoreless innings yesterday to give the Cubs a chance.
- Hero - Jose Quintana (.094). Jose threw five innings and allowed six hits, no walks and one run. If you disagree with Quintana being lifted, you may not fully comprehend the combo of Quintana’s numbers the third time through the order this year (.329/.413/.521) and how hard the Brewers had already been hitting the ball off of him all day. Plus, the Cubs needed to try to push a run or two across before the back end of the Brewers bullpen was brought in.
- Sidekick - Randy Rosario (.054). One batter faced, the presumptive MVP. With two men on base. And he struck him out. Not bad.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Justin Wilson (-.263). Two batters faced, two hits allowed. Justin will once again be the whipping boy through much of the Cub fandom. The Cubs had a real lack of quality relief options after Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop were lost to injuries.
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.140). Willson was hitless in three at bats. He was hardly alone in the hitless department, but he also hit into a double play after Ian Happ lead off the sixth with a walk.
- Kid - Steve Cishek (-.103). He faced one batter and allowed the decisive RBI single to Lorenzo Cain.
WPA Play of the Game: Domingo Santana doubled in the eighth inning with a runner on first off of Justin Wilson. The score was still tied at 1-1 at the time. (.194)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo’s solo home run in the fifth inning that tied the game at 1-1. (.149)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Kyle Hendricks 20
- Sidekick - Javier Baez 19.5
- 4th/5th - Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo 15
Those are the final top five. When things settle down, I’ll have a final cumulative standings recap for you. In that piece, I will also identify the top and bottom plays of the year and top and bottom individual games of the year (all by WPA).
Up Next: The Cubs season now comes down to this: One game at Wrigley Field against the Rockies. Lose and go home. Somewhere in the subconscious of a lot of the players minds as they head into a 42nd day at the ballpark in the last 43 days, that with a loss they can just go home and enjoy the off-season. But these guys are fighters, they’ll push that thought away and they’ll come out with guns blazing to take on the Rockies. To be fair, I imagine a lot of those guns are pretty empty. But they’ll empty their clips and hope that’s enough to extend the season to a fourth straight National League Division Series.
The Rockies are, of course, one more red hot team coming in. Notwithstanding their loss to the Dodgers in their own game 163, the Rockies come in having won eight of 10. So it doesn’t get any easier from here. In the season series, the two teams split six games. The Cubs won two games in Colorado and the Rockies won two games in Chicago. All of those games were completed by May 2. So it’s been a while. The combined runs scored in those games? 33-33. So this is a fairly evenly matched game. The Rockies were 44-38 on the road and 33-27 versus left handed pitching. So nothing there to hang your hat on.
The Cubs send Jon Lester to the mound. Jon finished the season 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA. He was 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA over his last seven starts. In his last start, he threw six shutout innings allowing three hits and four walks against the Pirates. He faced the Rockies once this year, at home. He lasted 5⅔ innings and allowed five hits, three walks and two unearned runs. He struck out five. In five starts in his career against them, dating back to 2010 he is 1-3 with a 2.25 ERA. So that’s a fairly mixed bag.
The Rockies counter with Kyle Freeland. Kyle was 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA this year, and was 6-0 with a 2.45 over his last seven games. His last loss was on August 1 in St. Louis. The Rockies are 23-10 when he starts. Kyle has never started a game on three days rest in his brief career. The Cubs faced Kyle back in April in Chicago and beat him. He threw seven innings in that game and allowed six hits, one walk and three runs. The Cubs did really, really well this year against the NL’s elite pitchers. The Cubs also beat Kyle in 2017, and he is 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA in two lifetime starts against the Cubs. No Cub has even had seven plate appearances against Freeland, so there are no vaguely meaningful samples. As a team, the Cubs have 42 plate appearances against him and a .475 OPS. How they have two wins against him is hard to see. Freeland is a tough lefty. If I were the Cubs, I’d consider starting David Bote at second for defense and save Daniel Murphy’s bat for a more meaningful, hand picked spot later in the game off the bench. I suspect instead, Bote will play third and Bryant will move out to left.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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