So, the Cubs haven’t forgotten how to win. Of course we’re all happy to see them get back into the win column after what seemed like an endless losing streak. But I’m extra happy with this win, because that first run Jon Lester allowed was a little unfortunate with a rare not great throw to second from Willson Contreras on a stolen base attempt when he for once appeared to catch a pitch not in throwing position (many of us have criticized him from time to time for not framing a pitch because he was all too eager to begin his throw to get a runner). The second run was even more unfortunate with a wild pitch (just the second wild pitch of the year for Jon) contributing and being followed by a softly hit ball that just happened to find a spot that no one could get to.
This felt like the kind of game the Cubs have been losing. That is, until Javier Baez flipped the script. He’d already hit a double in the first and a single in the third before he stepped to the plate in the fifth inning with the Cubs trailing 1-0. That’s when he deposited one just over the wall in right field for a solo home-run to tie the score at 1-1. But he wasn’t done. He batted again with the bases loaded in the sixth and he went deep for the second time in as many innings for a grand slam. When things are going badly, the spite overflows in Cubs nation. He takes wild hacks and he’s undisciplined at the plate. He constantly extends his strike zone.
And he’s been one of the best hitters in the National League this year. By bWAR, he’s been the ninth most valuable position player in 2018. By offense alone, the eighth most valuable player. He’s fourth in the National League in slugging percentage. Sixth in total bases. Third in triples. Tied for sixth in home runs. Tied for third in RBI. Tied for eighth in stolen bases. Tied for third in extra base hits. If there is justice, Javier Baez will be an All-Star next month. He’s earned it and more than a handful of baseball purists will go nuts because they don’t like the way he plays the game. Which is odd, because the way he plays the game is well. Very well. Certainly not with the polish of a Kris Bryant. But rather with his own style and flair. And totally effective.
One last note about the last eight days worth of baseball. The Cubs played nine games over that time, five against the Dodgers and four against the Reds. Sure, you probably felt like the Cubs would win at least five or six of those nine games. But if I told you they were only going to win three games, they did a really good job picking three for them to win. Normally you prefer division wins to those outside of the division, but the Reds are not going to get back in the race. You never know if home field advantage will come down to the wire between the Dodgers and the Cubs though, so those wins have some chance of being valuable. Sure, you’d certainly love to have back the three games the bullpen blew late over that stretch. But it’ll do. Those Reds? They left Cincinnati and headed for Atlanta to play the Braves who entered the week just a half game off of the best record in the National League (behind the Brewers). All those Reds did was take the first game to extra innings before losing and then win the second. They are playing pretty solid ball right now.
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 77, June 26 - Cubs bounce back with 9-4 win over Dodgers (43-34)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.512). Historically, WPA and Heroes and Goats has not been kind to Javy. I’ve been often asked if I was biased against him (despite the fact that I make almost no subjective decisions in this space). But 2018 has been a completely different story and this game will very likely be his signature game. By WPA, this is the fourth highest positive game score of the year for the Cubs.
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.156). The offense came back to life a bit in this one and Ben Zobrist quietly had a three hits in six at bats game. His two-out RBI single in the sixth extended the inning ahead of a Jason Heyward walk and the Javy slam. He also scored two runs.
- Sidekick - Ian Happ (.143). Ian had two walks in five plate appearances. But he lands here because he reached on an error in the sixth inning, helping to open the flood gates. This is the fourth consecutive start for Ian Happ with Kris Bryant hurt and he’s responded by reaching base at least twice in each game.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.142). I’m hesitant to call this a lost year for Anthony after a very strong month of May, but this is a first half that he’ll hope to forget. He’s certainly capable of getting blazing hot and making his numbers look more like those you’d expect for him. Last night he reached base just once in five plate appearances and didn’t factor in the scoring.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.103). Kyle was another person with a tough night at the plate. The Cubs had 15 hits and five walks to get out of their funk a bit. But Kyle had just one hit in five at bats. He also didn’t figure in any of the scoring.
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.103). Tommy struck out with runners on the corner and one out in the sixth inning. Fortunately, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Javier Baez flipped the script on the inning and the game following him.
WPA Play of the Game: It’s tough to beat a grand slam in a close game for WPA value. Javy’s sixth inning slam came with the Cubs leading 3-2, but it was with two outs in the sixth in a one run game. (.261). This is the seventh time Javy has been involved with the WPA Play of the Game. Six of the seven times have been positive (as these events tend to be for hitters).
*Dodgers Play of the Game: Austin Barnes batted in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game with a runner on second and two outs. He hit a little flare that found a hole to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. (.145)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 13.5
- Hero - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 13
Up Next: The two teams play game three of a four game set. Kyle Hendricks will get the start for the Cubs. Kyle would also like to forget about the first half of 2018 season. Plagued by poor run support, Kyle is 3-7 with a 3.73. Certainly a 3.73 ERA isn’t anything special, but on a team that scores a lot of runs, that should be plenty good. But it just hasn’t worked that way. Over his last seven starts, things have been headed the wrong way for Kyle. He is just 2-4 with a 4.42 ERA. Kyle hasn’t started a regular season game against the Dodgers since 2016 when he threw eight innings allowing three hits, one walk and two runs. I have a vague memory of a pretty good playoff start against them that October too in a pretty memorable game. Hopefully, Kyle will have a start like those two.
Alex Wood will be the starter for the Dodgers. Alex is 3-5 with a 4.13 ERA on the year. Over his last seven starts, he’s 3-2 with a 4.79 ERA. That’s what happens when your team is scoring a lot of runs around you. Last time out, he was plenty good on his own. He faced the Mets in New York and threw six innings allowing six hits, one walk and two runs while striking out seven and picking up the win. He hasn’t faced the Cubs since 2017. He made two regular season starts against the Cubs, winning one. He threw a total of 8⅔ innings allowing only five hits, but seven walks and two runs (one earned). He struck out 12. Control is not typically an issue for Wood, so the five walk start in April in Chicago was probably an aberration. This hasn’t been a great year by any stretch of the imagination for Wood, so hopefully the Cubs can get to him.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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