Baseball can be a tricky sport to be a fan of. We know that everything about baseball is a long run. One game is relatively meaningless in the scheme of the season, no matter how significant it is at the time it is played. There is no question at all that watching the Cubs the last two days it has been hard to see a team that has played in three straight National League Championship Series. The offense has been dormant most of the last two days and the pitchers being forced to throw pitch after pitch after pitch in tight games have made some mistakes and gotten burned.
Hopefully Anthony Rizzo returns on Monday. One man doesn’t make all of the difference in the world and to be fair, he wasn’t yet hitting when he was injured. But, we all know he will hit. He’s been one of the most consistent offensive players in baseball these last three years. He adds credibility and length to the Cubs lineup that is missing this last week. It also returns players to their natural defensive position and solidifies the middle of the order. Once the middle of the order is solidified, then the Cubs can try to figure out the front of the order. Kris Bryant is looking fantastic at the plate in nearly ever game and it is a shame that someone isn’t on base in front of him more often so that he could do some damage at the plate.
We also know that Joe Maddon has held this team back at times. Not in the sense that we normally say that. Normally we mean that his ineptitude holds the team back. No, Joe is a fine manager. One of the best in the game. No, Joe is sometimes like a jockey with one of the strongest horses in the race. He subtly maneuvers his horse into position while at the same time, holding him back until he clears traffic. Saving that burst of power and speed until the right moment and then letting it loose. Usually in the second half of the season.
The second half of the season is forever away right now and none of us want to wait that long. The Cubs publicly talked about getting off to a better start than last year and not cutting things close. They talked of being a tired team after playing almost the entire second half with the peddle to the floor. They talked about how much stronger they were in the playoffs in 2016 than 2017 because they got out to such a huge lead and were able to coast for a while. They are surely irritated like we are right now.
Irritation and self applied pressure don’t help on the field. You can’t be trying to hit a home run every time at bat. You can’t be trying to throw the perfect pitch in the perfect location on every pitch. It’s exhausting and it often allows a team that is playing well and executing its plan to exploit your strategies and manipulate you into a mistake or two. The Cubs are at their best when they are relaxed and free. That’s why so many games end up lopsided. When everything is going great, we see the deep lineup with guy after guy coming to the plate able to just keep the line moving. We also see a formidable pitching staff that makes you wonder how in the world anyone will ever score on it.
At some point, the dam will break. This team will get hot. This team has the kind of talent that could at some point stay hot for three or four weeks straight. You worry about falling four of five games back in a division when you kind of think six out of 10 or 13 out of 20 represents a hot streak for your team. This team is capable of things like 8 out of 10 and 17 out of 20. You can make up ground in a hurry that way. It is a marathon not sprint. It really is early in the race. Baseball weather hasn’t fully arrived. It’s frustrating, but keep the faith.
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 13, April 13 - Cubs blanked by Braves 4-0 (6-7)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Brian Duensing (.026). Brian recorded the last out in the fifth inning after the wheels fell off on this Yu Darvish start. He came in with the bases loaded and two outs and recorded a ground out.
- Hero - Ian Happ (.019). Lost in the shuffle at least a little bit was Ian’s two hit day. That’s five hits in Ian’s last nine at bats. He was streaky last year and it seems like after a dormant start to the season he is starting to gain a little momentum at the plate.
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop (.016). Obviously it was a pretty low bar to reach this spot today. Pedro allowed a lead off double in the sixth but then retired three straight hitters to keep the Cubs bleak hopes of a comeback alive.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Yu Darvish (-.183). As noted above, Yu was unable to get through the fifth inning. He was credited with 4.2 innings pitched, nine hits, four walks and four runs while striking out four. Obviously, 13 base runners in under five innings is totally not getting it done. I was hoping I’d look into his career splits and find that he was a typically slow starter, but historically March/April is the best month for him by ERA. September/October is the best month by WHIP by a fair margin though. So he does finish strong.
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.151). Willson was hitless in four at bats on the day. He lands here in no small part thanks to grounding out with the bases loaded to end the third inning.
- Kid - Kyle Schwarber (-.072). He was hitless in four at bats. The Cubs mustered only four hits and a walk in this one. The Cubs only sent more than three batters to the plate once after the third inning. That was in the eighth inning which was also the only base runner to get past first after the third. Both of those were thanks to an Ian Happ double.
WPA Play of the Game - With two outs and the bases empty in the fifth, trailing 1-0 after he had allowed a run to score on a wild pitch, Yu Darvish allowed a single and a double ahead of Preston Tucker coming to the plate. On a day where the wind was howling in, Preston hit just the right kind of fly ball and it cleared the wall for a three-run homer. (.234)
Cubs Play of the Game - With the score still tied in the fifth, Yu Darvish strikes out Freddie Freeman with a runner on third and one out. (.079)
- Superhero - Kris Bryant 5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist and Tommy La Stella 4
Up Next: Game two of a three-game series with the Braves. Jose Quintana is on the mound for the Cubs. Jose is coming off of a brilliant start in which he threw six innings allowing just three hits, two walks and no runs. He hasn’t started against the Braves since 2016, but he is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA against them regardless of how insignificant those numbers are.
Sean Newcomb will start for the Braves. He’s lefty, so if Albert Almora Jr. is healthy, expect to see him in the lineup today. Sean is 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA in his two starts this year. He’s thrown 10.1 innings, allowed 10 hits, four walks and six runs (five earned) while striking out 15. He faced the Cubs twice last year. He lost both times. He threw a total of 10.1 innings allowing 16 hits, six walks and eight runs (seven earned) while striking out 12. The 2017 Cubs were a pretty strong team against lefties. That hasn’t totally emerged yet this year. This should be a low-scoring game, particularly in lousy weather.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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