The Cubs survived another hard-fought series. Easy to feel like they could have taken three straight, but at the same time I bet the Dodgers left town feeling like they should have had at least two. That team came in wining 21 of 28 and so winning two out of three from them is nothing to sneeze at. The Cubs wake up this morning with the best winning percentage in the National League and a share of first place in the National League Central.
Baseball reminds us regularly that there are no guarantees. That no pedigree guarantees you of anything. But there are special things happening around this team. Jon Lester has talked about it: That this team is starting to feel like the 2016 one to the guys in the clubhouse. They have that feeling again that they can win them all. They won’t, of course, and there will still be struggles. But this team plays well above average defense, by some measures the best. The hitting may be inconsistent, but it has spent the entire season at or near the top of the statistics. The pitching may have had some early clunkers, particularly with Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish not contributing much. But as Lester and Mike Montgomery have led the way along with a bullpen that has been dominant, the pitching staff is emerging as one of the best in the league.
I’m going to paint with a broad brush for a moment, so you might want to skip this paragraph if you are offended easily. The overall voice of Cubs Nation via social media behaves like Veruca Salt from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. It wants a pony and it wants it now. There has been griping for years that the Cubs offense strikes out too much and always swings for the fences. That they don’t just try to put the ball in play. And yet, this team has sacrificed some power this year to try to put the ball in play. The strike outs are down, the batting average is up. And still, people are constantly frustrated. Does the offense fizzle sometimes? Sure. But this offense has been one of the best in baseball for a few years and they are still changing their approach at the plate. They are trying to become the team people have wanted for. Sure, you crush the meatballs. But when there are no meatballs to be had, you try to put the ball in play and make things happen. The results? The Cubs lead the league in batting average and on base percentage, but they are just fourth in slugging percentage. They are 11th in strikeouts.
Your mileage may vary. But I’m going to keep suggesting that you sit back, kick your feet up, grab your favorite drink and settle in to watch this team. Sure, they’ll frustrate you sometimes. Maybe even for a few days at a time. But if you watch long enough, you are going to see them do some special things. Hopefully, with a little bit of luck in the right places, those special things will continue right on through October and into November. But don’t rush it. This team is doing some interesting things. They beat Ross Stripling yesterday who may not move the needle for you, but had one of the best ERAs in the National League. They’ve also won games started by Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola in the last month. All have also spent most of the year in or near the ERA leaders. Those are the lessons you hope to carry on into October.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s games 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 71, June 20 - Cubs blank Dodgers 4-0 (42-29)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Lester (.383). Following Tuesday’s doubleheader the Cubs pitching staff was a bit over-taxed. With Brandon Morrow and Carl Edwards Jr. on the disabled list, Brian Duensing on the bereavement list, and Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop having each pitched in two different innings Tuesday, it was possible that Justin Wilson was the only core six reliever available. What did Jon do? He gutted out 119 pitches on a day when he didn’t appear to have his best stuff. Seven shut out innings, five hits and three walks. He only had one strike out, but he won his fifth consecutive start.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.088). Javy saw the ball better than he has in weeks during this series. He hit several balls hard and picked up a few hits in the doubleheader. But yesterday, he added two doubles and a triple in three at bats. He scored two of the four Cubs runs. 71 games into the Cubs season, Baez is third on the Cubs in OPS.
- Sidekick - Kyle Schwarber (.084). Kyle had a hit and a walk in his four plate appearances. The hit was a home run on a day when the wind was blowing in pretty hard. Kyle is second in OPS on the Cubs.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-.041). Albert did have one hit in four at bats on the day. Interestingly, he’s fourth on the Cubs in OPS.
- Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.033). Anthony reached base with a hit and a hit by pitch in his four at bats. He’s been slowly creeping up, but he’s eighth on the Cubs in OPS.
- Kid - Willson Contreras (-.032). Willson was hitless in his four at bats. He struck out twice. Willson is tied with Ian Happ for fifth on the Cubs in OPS.
WPA Play of the Game: Justin Turner stepped to the plate in the third inning with runners on first and third and one out. The Dodgers were trailing 1-0. He hit a fly ball to medium depth right field. Jason Heyward did a perfect job of setting up and getting into position for a throw home, caught the ball and made a perfect throw to complete the double play. (.133). Really fitting that a defensive play would be the play of the game on a day the defense was dominant.
*Dodgers Play of the Game: Kike Hernandez’ single in the third inning just ahead of the previous play. It put runners on the corners with one out. (.055)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 16
- Hero - Jon Lester 13
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek, Mike Montgomery and Kyle Schwarber 8
Up Next: The Cubs travel to Cincinnati where they’ll hope that the weather allows them to play four scheduled games with the Reds. Kyle Hendricks will start the series opener. He is 5-6 with a 3.55 ERA. He’s been a bit inconsistent but has also suffered from a significant lack of run support. In seven of his 14 starts, the Cubs have scored two runs or less. Hopefully, they turn that around tonight. Kyle has gone 2-4 with a 4.15 ERA over his last seven starts, so he is not trending in the right direction. He did win his last start when he threw six innings, allowing seven hits, four walks and three runs in St. Louis. Kyle recorded a no decision in his only start this year against the Reds. In that one, he threw five innings, allowing six hits, two walks and four runs (three earned).
Matt Harvey will be the opposition. I remember when that would have inspired more dread than it does now. Matt is 1-5 with a 5.92 ERA. In his last seven starts, he is 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA, so there has been some progress. Last time out, he lost in Pittsburgh. He threw just five innings and allowed four hits, two walks and three runs. He hasn’t won since May 22. He faced the Cubs twice in 2017 while a member of the Mets. He was hit hard in both throwing a total of just 7⅓ innings, allowing 11 hits, five walks and nine runs. I don’t think Cubs hitters will be disappointed to see Harvey.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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