Throughout the Chicago area yesterday started out as a soggy day before the sun came out and a beautiful day emerged. All of that rain lead to a gift double for the Cubs in the first inning when Starling Marte was tracking a Jason Heyward fly ball into the left-center gap and slipped and fell. The Cubs parlayed that into two runs in the first inning. Heyward looks the part right now of a confident hitter and a strong contributor at the plate for the Cubs. It is phenomenal what a little bit of confidence can do for a player and our perception of him. Yes, Marte is going to catch that ball nearly every time, but that ball was smoked deep to the opposite field. You can also see Jason with a strong command of the strike zone right now. It was almost stunning how little good luck he had the last two seasons as a Cub. Now he’s getting some of those breaks.
There are few players that would bring me joy in watching them continue their start to the 2018 season more than Jon Lester. I tried several times in the offseason discussions to tell people not to sleep on Jon. He’s been nothing short of fantastic so far this year. Through 13 starts this year he is 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA. Further, if you drop his first three starts of the year, in 10 starts he is 6-2 with a 1.72 ERA. Over these last 10 starts he’s held opponents to a .578 OPS. He’s allowed just 40 hits and 20 walks in 62.2 innings of work while striking out 55. The lack of baserunners has combated another problem. He’s only allowed three stolen bases (while two were caught stealing) over that stretch.
After Jon threw seven innings of one run ball, the Cubs bullpen locked the game down and the Cubs notched their fourth straight win, their eighth in their last nine, and their 11th in their last 13. This is also their fifth straight series win and they’ll be looking for their second sweep over that time. The Brewers continue to win, but the two teams are starting to distance themselves from most of the rest of the National League. Of course, there is a ton of season to play. One good stretch separated the Cubs from most of the NL competition and one bad stretch could bring them right back to the pack. But this team looks dominant right now. Let’s just hope they can keep extending this streak in this stretch of games against their division foes.
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 61, June 9 - Cubs pitching dominates; Mother Nature aids win 2-0 (37-24)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Lester (.412). Jon was simply brilliant yesterday. He allowed just one hit and no runs yesterday in seven innings of work. He walked only two and struck out five. This is the seventh highest positive WPA game score recorded to date by a Cub in 2018.
- Hero - Steve Cishek (.077). I don’t always break ties, but I did here. WPA scored the eighth and ninth innings identically for the Cubs. I gave Cishek the nod for a perfect ninth inning. Steve notches his second save of the season and the 19th already for the Cubs this year as a team.
- Sidekick - Justin Wilson (.077). Justin threw a perfect eighth inning. Justin has appeared in 27 games for the Cubs this year and thrown a total of 26.2 innings. He’s allowed only 15 hits. He has walked 21, so that’s still an existing issue. But he’s also struck out 36. The Cubs certainly miss Carl Edwards Jr. and what he brings to the table, but if he were activated today, he’d have the worst ERA of the six core Cubs relievers (at 2.88).
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Addison Russell (-.054). On a day when the Cubs mustered only six hits and four walks, Addison actually had one of the hits, so this is a bit of tough luck. He lands here in largest part because he was the first of three straight strike outs for Nick Kingham after he walked the first two hitters he faced in the second innings (-.036)
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.032). Willson has a similar sad story as he also had one hit in four at bats to match Russell’s line. His largest negative was a ground out to end the third inning with a runner on first (-.017).
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.023). One of those rare days when Tommy is retired as a pinch hitter. The pitchers soaked up nearly all of the WPA by retiring 27 of the 30 opposing hitters.
WPA Play of the Game - Jason Heywards’ double into the gap in the first inning with Kris Bryant on first put runners at second and third with no outs. (.098)
*Pirates Play of the Game - Jon Lester retired the first four Pirates he faced to start the game. He then walked David Freese and that brought Josh Bell to the plate. Josh Bell drew a walk to put runners on first and second with one out and the Cubs leading 2-0. (.038).
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 13
- Hero - Kyle Schwarber 12
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek 9
Up Next: The two teams finish their three game series this afternoon. Kyle Hendricks looks to keep the Cubs string of excellent starts going. Last time out he got knocked around by the Phillies. He lasted just five innings and allowed five hits and three walks. He was charged with five runs. He did strike out five. He faced the Pirates back on May 30 and lost that one too, though he pitched a bit better in that one. He lasted five innings and allowed seven hits, one walk and two runs. He only struck out one in that game. After being the Cubs most consistently good starter early on, Kyle is just 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA over his last seven starts. So he’ll be looking to bounce back. He does have a 2.83 ERA over his last five starts against the Pirates despite a 1-3 record. So he’s had a bit of bad luck against these Pirates.
Ivan Nova will be the Pirates starter. He beat the Cubs back on April 10, the last time he faced them. In that one he threw seven innings allowing seven hits and no walks. He allowed three runs and struck out six. In his last seven starts he is 0-4 with a 5.02 ERA, so things haven’t been going well. Last time out the Reds beat him when they scored five runs (four earned) against him in 5.1 innings. They had seven hits and two walks. Nova struck out four. He’s got a 3-1 record over his last five starts against the Cubs and a 4.03 ERA. So the Cubs are going to be looking to turn some recent history around if they are going to sweep. So far in 2018, Nova has allowed a .907 OPS to left handed hitters as opposed to just a .715 OPS against right handed hitters.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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