Spring training has opened, games that don’t count start soon and in not too long, games that do count will begin. So that must mean we are in the home stretch here for this series. We’ve looked at 16 of the biggest games (by WPA) for the Cubs this past year. We’ve got four more to look at including today. Today we’ll be looking at another one on the down side. This one is the second biggest negative score of the year and it was recorded by a Cub who through the first half of 2016 was lights out for the Cubs.
Hector Rondon was as good as any closer in the game statistically in the first half of 2016. The second half of 2016 saw the Cubs trade for Aroldis Chapman to be the closer to that would eventually bring the team to the brink of a championship. It also saw Rondon suffer an injury down the stretch. After that injury, Hector was never quite the same again for the Cubs.
The game we are looking at today is from May 5. The Cubs had just won three straight from the Phillis to move to 16-12 and a season high tying four games over .500. The last of those three games was a 13-inning affair in which John Lackey gave the Cubs only five innings. Seven relievers followed him in the game, including three innings from Mike Montgomery. Also included was Wade Davis who continued to have a 0.00 ERA but was also pitching for the third consecutive day. With Davis certainly unavailable for this Friday, May 5 game, Hector Rondon would be looked to if the Cubs had a save opportunity.
Kyle Hendricks was matched up with Michael Pineda. Hendricks worked around a double and a hit by pitch in the top of the first and then Kris Bryant hit a one out home run in the bottom of the first to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead (.099) and things were off to a great start.
The Yankees lost a runner on the bases for the second time in two innings in the top of the second and then had another one erased on a double play in the top of the third. The Yankees had two doubles, two singles and a hit batter in the first three innings and had nothing to show for it.
In the sixth, the Yankees would get three more singles, but again wouldn’t score due to a runner thrown out at the plate. Kyle Schwarber homered leading off the sixth (.105) to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.
The game stayed right there heading to the top of the ninth inning and Hector Rondon came on with the Cubs having a 92.3% chance of winning. He then recorded the first out increasing those odds to 96.3%. Chase Headley then singled (91.2%) and advanced to second on a wild pitch (90.2). Hector then struck out Chris Carter (96.1%) for the second out. Jacoby Ellsbury then drew a walk (92.5%). And then Brett Gardner stepped to the plate. He lined a two out three run homer that resulted in a negative WPA moment of (-.727). Suddenly the Cubs only had a 19.8% chance of winning. Aaron Hicks singled and stole second before Rondon finally recorded the final out of the inning.
Addison Russell did reach on an error and give the Cubs a glimmer of hope. But Jason Heyward struck out, Willson Conteras grounded out and Javier Baez struck out and the Cubs went home a loser rather than reaching five over .500 for the first time. They subsequently lost the next two games to the Yankees and the Cubs wildly inconsistent first half continued.
Hector Rondon recorded a total WPA on the day of (-.713), the second lowest of the year. In five seasons as a Cub, Hector appeared in 296 games and recorded 77 saves. In 2015 he had a 1.67 ERA. The postseason wasn’t as kind to Hector who appeared in 15 post season games with an ERA of 4.50 while recording 2 saves. Hector signed with the Astros in the offseason and will have a realistic chance at being part of another World Series team as they remain loaded.
Later in the week I’ll have another installment of my look at the 1984 Cubs as they too move into the home stretch. Next week we’ll look at the second largest positive WPA game of the year. And in just over a month I’ll be back to work with your regularly scheduled Heroes and Goats column for the 2018 Cubs.