If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, these Braves are pretty good. The Cubs have played them three times this year and save for a few really awful innings for their bullpen in horrible condition, they’ve looked really good. To be sure, the Cubs helped them yesterday. Cubs pitchers walked eight Braves hitters. Shockingly, none of those eight walks came around to score. The Cubs also made an error and frankly two more could have been charged (all in the same inning). None of those runs scored either. Cubs pitchers dodged a lot of bullets or this could have been worse.
Cubs pitchers are tied for the second worst walks per nine innings rate in the major leagues. Oddly, they are tied with the Braves. The Braves walked four Cubs yesterday. I know that errors don’t measure defense in an elegant way, but the Cubs are tied for the fourth most errors in baseball. To be sure, some of those errors come on plays where a player made a remarkable play and then tried to do something amazing with it.
Tim Huwe and I had a number of discussions back in the early days of the Cubs rebuild. One of the things we talked about is the emphasis this organization was putting on playing defense. Frequently in the minor leagues you’ll see a pitcher getting what should be fine results, but he is trashed by errors or other plays his defense didn’t make. This elevates pitch counts, extends innings and generally wears your pitchers out.
We were so excited about pitch count and how the Cubs used it as sort of a weapon in 2016 that it was charted daily in the game recaps. Those days are long gone as that edge started to evaporate in 2017. I’m betting with all of the walks allowed by Cubs pitchers that there are a growing number of days where the other side is forcing the Cubs to a big pitch count disadvantage. One of the results is short outings by the pitcher, like the one by Jose Quintana yesterday. I believe the Cubs will right the equation, but it has been an occasional weakness in 2018.
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 38, May 14 - Cubs come up short in 6-5 loss to Braves (21-17)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Albert Almora Jr. (.394). It’s been a little while since Albert was up here, since April 21 to be exact. Yesterday he was integral part of the Cubs offense. He collected three of the team’s eight hits. One of those hits was a two run homer.
- Hero - Kyle Schwarber (.126). Insert your eye roll right here. Through 38 games, I’m looking at the Kyle Schwarber that Joe Maddon and the front office were thinking about when they had him leading off last year. Yesterday he was on three times in four plate appearances with two walks and a single. Yes, there are still majestic home runs sprinkled in, but more than anything, Kyle just gets on base.
- Sidekick - Ian Happ (.098). Ian has an odd looking box score from yesterday. A whole bunch of zeroes and just a one in the RBI column. That’s what it looks like when you have a pinch-hit, hit by pitch with the bases loaded. That came with two outs in the ninth and brought the Cubs to within a run and got Kris Bryant to the plate with the winning run on second.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jose Quintana (-.492). Jose got off to a slow start in the first half last year too. I’ve wondered if he just isn’t comfortable in the cold rainy early season weather. But it wasn’t either one yesterday while he pitched. He allowed nine hits, three walks, six runs and three home runs in 4⅔ innings of work. He did strike out six. In all fairness, the Braves have one of the best offenses in baseball.
- Goat - Kris Bryant (-.167). It was an up and down day for Kris. His third inning two-run home-run gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead (.186). But that was his only hit in five at bats. And he appeared to just miss by a few inches of squaring up the last pitch that ended the game. Instead of finding a gap or the bleachers, it got in a bit on him and he hit it right at Ronald Acuna in left filed.
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.166). He was hitless in four at bats. The heart breaking one was his final at bat, leading off the ninth inning. He smoked one to third base that I suspect may have eaten up Jose Bautista who started the game for the Braves and has spent much of his career as an outfielder. Instead, Johan Camargo made a fantastic play for the first out.
WPA Play of the Game - With the Cubs leading 4-3, Jose Quintana started the fifth inning. He allowed two singles to start the inning. He bounced back with a fly out for the first out of the inning and that brought Jose Bautista to the plate. Jose came into the game with a line of .160/.276/.320. To be fair, the home run he hit was number 333 in his career. But it was just number two this year as Jose struggles to keep his career going. (-.313)
*Cubs Play of the Game - The Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a home run leading off the game. Heading to the bottom of the second, the score was the same. Julio Teheran was coasting along and retired the first two Cubs in the inning. Kyle Schwarber battled for a walk and the Albert Almora stepped to the plate. He launched a two-run homer and gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead. (.206)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 13
- Hero - Pedro Strop, Kyle Schwarber, and Steve Cishek 8
Up Next: The series moves to Atlanta for the next three games. The Braves look for their fourth straight win while the Cubs look to avoid a third straight loss. The Braves are oddly only 8-7 at home and are doing most of their damage on the road (17-8).
Yu Darvish will return to the mound for the Cubs. It has been a rough start to his Cubs career. He is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in 30 innings of work. His last start was on May 2 against the Rockies. That day he allowed seven hits, three walks and six runs (five earned) in 4.1 innings of work. He did strike out eight. He faced the Braves back on April 13 and the line was similar. He threw 4.2 innings allowing nine hits, four walks, four runs and struck out four. Yu needs to turn things around but this Braves lineup is a formidable one.
Mike Foltynewicz is the Braves starter. He is 3-2 on the season with a 3.21 ERA in 42 innings of work. The last time out he threw only five innings allowing three hits, two walks and a single unearned run. He struck out four. He did record the win. Two starts ago in his last home start, he was knocked around for six runs in five innings by the Giants, so he is beatable. He pitched against the Cubs last September and was a hard luck loser. He threw 6.1 innings and allowed only five hits, three walks and two runs. He only struck out two. The Cubs battered him around pretty good in 2015 including a three run homer by Anthony Rizzo. Addison Russell had two hits in the game. Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are the only other current Cubs to appear in the game.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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