I imagine if you are in the frustrated with the inconsistent Cubs offense party, this weekend and this whole road trip wasn’t very satisfying. The Cubs probably scored enough runs (26) on this trip to win more than three games, but all of those runs were scored in the three wins and the other three games ended up in shutouts. To be fair, if you were to scatter plot the Cubs scoring, they surely have a very unusual pattern. All teams have ups and downs. But, it is definitely unusual that the Cubs have been running with the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox and Braves as the five highest scoring teams in baseball and yet the Cubs have been held to two or fewer runs more than twice as many times (23) as the Yankees (11), 10 more times than the Red Sox and five and six more than the Braves and Astros respectively.
I recall that last year around this time they were also consistently struggling in those situations. Then in the second half of the year, the hits started coming and never really stopped. The Cubs were a significantly better scoring team in the second half and that dovetailed nicely with the Cubs significantly stronger record in the second half. I’m certainly willing to accept that the Cubs collectively tighten up with men on base and that they perform worse with men on base than the bases empty. I’m not willing to believe at this point that the Cubs are irreparably broken in those situations. Those numbers will start to balance out and I believe that the Cubs offense might have a higher gear that they can and will reach before this season is out.
In the meantime, we get this unusual up and down pattern to the season. I pointed out recently that this isn’t all bad. One of the side effects of the way these games are playing out is that the Cubs bullpen which has been perceived to be over worked is not at all over worked. A tiny snapshot of that is visible this weekend. In last night’s game, the Cubs lost 5-0. Sure that is frustrating, but Brian Duensing was the only one of the top six relievers in the pen to throw. (Of course one of those core six is on the DL and hasn’t been available to the Cubs for weeks. But he is supposedly on the road to recovery). Brian threw one inning. Saturday saw Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow throw a total of 2.2 innings. On Friday, none of the core six threw. So only four of the top six relievers even appeared in the series and none of them threw more than once or in multiple innings. The pen had a day off on Thursday prior to this series, all six relievers should be good to go Monday if needed.
Reaching back further, Justin Wilson, Duensing and Cishek threw on Wednesday, none of the core six on Tuesday and on Monday Strop and Wilson each threw. Of course one of those core six is on the DL and hasn’t been available to the Cubs for weeks. But he is supposedly on the road to recovery. But Joe Maddon was able to hit the collective pause button on his bullpen this week. None of the five currently in use relievers appeared more than twice. Morrow only threw once and has only thrown once in the last two weeks. Josh Hader, the most effective reliever in the Brewers pen has thrown 38 innings already, 8⅓ more innings than the Cubs leader Cishek at 29⅔. Jeremy Jeffress has also thrown 34⅓ innings for them. So the Cubs have been able to back off of their pen in all of these lopsided games and hopefully they’ll be fresher deeper into the season. Especially if an effective Carl Edwards returns.
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.
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jose Quintana (.153). For five innings last night, Jose was terrific. His final line doesn’t look too bad, five innings, four hits, two walks, two runs and three strike outs. But the first two batters he faced in the sixth ended up scoring after Q left the game, spoiling a good effort.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.034). Hopefully, Javy will be okay. It is unusual to see him come out of a game. He was hit by a pitch with a runner on second and no outs in the third and left the game.
- Sidekick - Albert Almora Jr. (.032). Another nice day at the plate for Albert with two hits in four at bats. Unfortunately, that was half of the hits the Cubs registered.
THE THEE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.128). Kyle was hitless in four bat bats and struck out twice. In fairness, Jose Quintana should have had this spot with his two strike outs in two at bats. Jose batted with first and second and no outs in the third and with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth. Jose is much, much worse with the bat than Jon Lester ever was when he was being ridiculed because he hadn’t registered his first Major League hit.
- Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.124). Ben was also hitless in four at bats. He struck out once.
- Kid - Anthony Bass (-.121). The Iowa Shuttle has been fantastic this year everywhere except St. Louis. Bass allowed two hits around a double play ball and thus allowed two inherited runners to score. Those ended up being the decisive runs since the Cubs never scored.
WPA Play of the Game - Anthony Bass inherited runners at first and second with no outs in the sixth inning. He immediately allowed an infield single to load the bases. He then got Yadier Molina to ground into a double play, scoring one run. That play actually boosted the Cubs chances of winning (.058) despite putting the Cardinals ahead. But when Jeff Gyroko followed with a single, that was the play of the game. (.099)
*Cubs Play of the Game - After an Anthony Rizzo walk in the fourth, Willson Contreras was hit by a pitch. (.066).
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 13
- Hero - Jon Lester 10
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek 9
The doors swing back shut on the “+10” club as Zobrist and Schwarber exit.
Up Next: The Cubs return home to open a three game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers came into the season with lofty expectations of making it back to the World Series. Things haven’t gone according to plan. With a variety of injuries and some poor play, they stumbled mightily out of the gate, bottoming out at 16-26 on May 16. Since that date, they are 21-7. So the Cubs see a much different Dodgers team than started the season. They just won six of eight on a homestand against the Braves, Rangers and Giants. They are 2-5 on the season against National League Central foes, so we’ll hope that continues.
Tyler Chatwood gets the start for the Cubs. His record has fallen to 3-5 and his ERA raised to 4.12. He is just 1-2 with a 4.99 ERA over his last seven starts in which he has thrown just 30⅔ innings. So the rested bullpen could be significant. Tyler showed a little better control the last time allowing only two walks in five innings. Unfortunately, he allowed five hits and four runs anyway and was the loser. He faced the Dodgers three times in 2017 and was 1-2 in 12⅔ innings of work. He allowed 14 hits, nine runs and walked 14 including eight in one start. It’s another close your eyes or hide under the bed matchup for Tyler.
Kenta Maeda is the Dodgers pitcher. He is 4-4 with a 3.61 ERA on the season. In his last seven games he is 2-3 with a 3.89 ERA so he isn’t trending the same way the team is. Last time out he got a no decision in a game the Dodgers ultimately won against the Rangers. He threw five innings allowed five hits, three walks and two runs. The start before that he recorded only five outs before leaving against the Phillies. The Cubs have never faced Maeda as a starter in the regular season. However, they did face him each of the past two seasons in the post season. He threw three scoreless relief innings against them last year and in 2016, he started two games against them. He was hit fairly hard and only threw a total of 7⅔ innings across those two starts. Kenta is a normal split righty, with an OPS allowed of .587 to righties and .841 to lefties.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Albert Almora Jr.