As this series rolls to its conclusion just in time for spring training to heat up and with the regular season not too far away, we turn our attention to a game from the last weekend of the season. On September 29, the Cubs had already clinched the National League Central and they were opening the final weekend of games against the Reds. The Cubs had already won 90 games and there wasn’t a ton left to play for.
As such, the Cubs started a lineup that had no Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo. No Javier Baez or Addison Russell. Not even Jason Heyward. With so many regular Cubs out of the lineup, there were some unusual sights such as Alex Avila at first and Ian Happ at third.
Jose Quintana got the start for the Cubs against Robert Stephenson. Neither team scored until the bottom of the second. That inning started with a Happ single (.017). Avila followed with a walk and Mike Freeman hit a fly ball that advanced Happ to third. Quintana followed with a sacrifice bunt that scored Happ and when Joey Votto made an error, Quintana reached base. Jon Jay followed with a sacrifice fly and it was 2-0 Cubs.
The teams traded scoreless innings in the third and fourth and then Quintana hit a bump in the road. He allowed four straight hits to start the top of the fifth. They were a double followed by three singles. This resulted in two runs and tied the score. Jose settled down and induced a ground ball double play. Unfortunately the next batter singled in the go ahead run and that was it for Quintana. Felix Pena came in to relieve and allowed a walk and a Votto RBI single and just like that it was 4-2 Reds.
The score stayed at 4-2 until the eighth inning when Ben Zobrist lead off by fouling out. Tommy La Stella followed with a single and Taylor Davis followed with a single of his own. The runners moved up on a wild pitch but then Kyle Schwarber struck out. With two outs, even with the tying runs on second and third, the Cubs were down to just a 16% chance of winning this game. But that changed in a hurry when Ian Happ hit his 24th home run of the year. The three RBI gave him 67 on the season. Not too shabby for a guy who didn’t start the season in the major leagues.
This one at bat improved the Cubs odds of winning the game by .636. When Justin Grimm notched his first save of the year by pitching a perfect ninth inning, those chances were realized.
Ian Happ showed off a couple of his skills in this game. The first obviously is the power that he has as he won the game with it. But the second is his versatility. He started this game at third and then eventually moved out to center. He can also play second and surely could handle either corner outfield spot or even first base in a pinch. That’s just the kind of versatility Joe Maddon loves. Happ may never be quite as incredible as Rizzo, Bryant or Willson Contreras, but he figures to see increased playing time in 2018. I for one think he’ll get the largest number of starts in center field this season. Regardless of that, he figures to be in the lineup most days with his switch-hitting bat and power from both sides of the plate.
With that, I finally close the book on 2017. It was at times dissatisfying and disappointing. But in the end, the team got back to the National League Championship Series before running out of steam. In 2018, they’ll be looking for a fourth consecutive trip to the NLCS and have plenty of firepower to do so.
As we close the door and turn out the lights, here’s the full list of negative and positive events for the 2017 season.
Bottom 10: Lowest WPA Scores of 2017
10) Carl Edwards Jr. - June 29
9) Jon Lester - May 28
8) Jon Lester - July 9
7) Carl Edwards Jr. - September 5
6) Pedro Strop - April 15
5) Koji Uehara - April 16
4) Pedro Strop - August 24
3) Carl Edwards Jr. - August 6
2) Hector Rondon - May 5
1) Wade Davis - September 23 (Lowest WPA score in Cubs history)
Top 10: Highest WPA Scores of 2017
10) Alex Avila - August 20
9) Jose Quintana - September 24
8) Addison Russell - April 19
7) Willson Contreras - June 16
6) Javier Baez - August 16
5) Willson Contreras - August 3
4) Jon Jay - June 29
3) Kyle Schwarber - June 3
2) Anthony Rizzo - May 7
1) Ian Happ - September 29
Thanks to all of you who followed along with this series. Heroes and Goats 2018 will premiere on March 30, the morning after the Cubs opening day game against the Marlins. Heroes and Goats will be posted the morning after Cubs games in almost every instance.