It’s been a stressful month to be a Cubs fan. There have been a host of injuries. There have been struggles at the plate. There was that painful series sweep by the Reds. Oh, and the Cubs have played seven series. They won five of them, split one and lost one. That amounts to a 14-12 record. Going back further, we can look at how all of the teams in the National League are doing over their last 30 games. The NL Leader over that time is the Arizona Diamondbacks at 21-9. The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have lost four of seven to the Cubs over that time, are 20-10. The Cubs are third at 17-13 (tied with the Giants). The Brewers are just behind that at 16-14.
So much of life happens so fast that we get used to making decisions and evaluations on the fly. Baseball does not lend itself well to that kind of analysis. In Major League Baseball, you have a mixed bag of goals. First and foremost, you are trying to win enough games to get yourself into the post season. Along the way you are trying to do that while staying healthy, developing talent and trying to get as much information about how players might perform in crucial situations should they be called upon in October or even November. You are trying to determine what bag of options is most likely to give you a trick or two up your sleeve when the time comes as well as a backup plan or two if something goes wrong in the post season.
Tyler Chatwood’s control, Kyle Hendricks‘ home run problems, a handful of bullpen collapses, Kris Bryant’s power outage, etc. may not matter come October. Will they be current issues then? Chatwood won’t see the field in October if he is still walking almost a batter an inning. Hendricks won’t see a whole lot of it if his general mix of results still leans heavily towards walks and home runs. The bullpen won’t include half of the Iowa Cubs’ top relievers and Brian Duensing won’t see the field unless he gets his own struggles worked out.
To be fair, there is no guarantee that players like Javier Baez or Jason Heyward, who are both having their best seasons as Cubs, will continue all of the way through October. There is no guarantee that Jon Lester will still look like one of the best pitchers in baseball at that time. But, those three players with a little help from their friends are still in very good shape despite a rough stretch. Baseball will always be filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, heartbreak and euphoria. I still believe in this team. It is very strong and very deep. It has weathered all kinds of injuries to key players. Mostly because the way the team is run, most of the players are key players. Sit back relax and enjoy the ride. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but there are likely to be about 50 more wins give or take a few.
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 79, June 28 - Cubs battle back from early hole to win 11-5 and split series (44-35)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jason Heyward (.197). Jason didn’t even start this game with one of the game’s best lefties on the mound. But he did get into the game in the sixth inning after a double switch. He batted for the first time in the seventh and it was a key spot in the game with runners on first and second and no outs in a tie game. He hit an RBI double to give the Cubs a 4-3 lead. He ended up with one hit in two at bats on the day and scored two runs. Jason has a .298/.340/.468 line in June.
- Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.173). After a day off Wednesday, Anthony bounced back with a four-hit game. He batted five times in the game and his other at bat was actually a productive out, advancing a runner on a ground ball. His base-clearing, three-run double in the seventh blew the game wide open. He now has 53 RBI, good for ninth in the NL.
- Sidekick - Albert Almora Jr. (.124). Albert’s home run in the sixth inning breathed life into the Cubs and cut the deficit at the time to 3-2. He followed that up with an RBI single in the fifth to give the Cubs a 5-3 lead. Almora had two hits in five at bats on the day, he drove in two, and he scored two.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jose Quintana (-.133). Against a very strong, very hot hitting Dodgers team, Q’s start wasn’t bad. He threw 5.1 innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and three runs. He battled and kept the Cubs in the game.
- Goat - Tommy La Stella (-.059). After two sizzling months at the plate and establishing himself as one of the best pinch hitters in baseball, June has been a struggle to say the least. He’s in a very deep slump with just four hits and no walks in 33 at bats. Tommy pinch hit with a runner on third and two outs in the sixth and grounded out.
- Kid - Willson Contreras (-.054). One of the fun things about the Cubs when things are going good is that a different player can carry the offense each day. Willson had a huge day on Wednesday while Rizzo was out of the lineup, Javy Baez had a monster game on Tuesday and on Thursday it was Rizzo. Willson had one hit in five at bats Thursday. He did score a run.
WPA Play of the Game: Jason Heyward’s RBI double in the seventh inning to give the Cubs lead. (.198). The flood gates opened after that.
*Dodgers Play of the Game: Kiké Hernandez doubled with two outs in the fourth, driving in a run to make the score 3-1. (.108)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 13.5
- Hero - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 13
Up Next: The Cubs come home. After a long road trip, the Cubs sit with the fewest home games played in the Major Leagues. They come home now for an eight game, 10 day homestand before embarking on their final pre-All Star break trip to the West Coast. The first time in will be the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have dropped six of 10 including series losses to the White Sox and Rangers and a series win against the Red Sox. They lost to the two bad teams and beat the one good team. Weird things happen to all of the teams.
Mike Montgomery will be the Cubs starter. His last start was an oddity. It was statistically his worst start of the year, yet he pitched very well for six innings. He breezed through six innings allowing just one run. But with a low pitch count he went back out for the seventh inning and never recorded an out as the Cubs imploded. He ended up with a line of six hits, two walks and four runs allowed. He struck out six. Over his six starts this season, he is 2-1 and has allowed only 24 hits in 35⅔ innings. He’s struck out 25 and walked only nine. He’s allowed just eight runs. He hasn’t started against the Twins as a Cub though he did have a very strong start against them in 2015.
The Twins send Jose Berrios to the mound. Jose is having a fantastic season with an 8-5 record and a 3.15 ERA. Over his last seven starts, he has been even better with a record of 4-1 and a 2.17 ERA. The Indians hung four runs on him in six innings back at the start of June and the Mariners also beat him despite only scoring two runs against him in seven plus innings. So he is human, but he also shut down the high powered Red Sox offense a few starts ago allowing only one run in six plus innings. He was fantastic last time out in a seven inning win over the Rangers. He allowed only two hits and two walks with no runs and 12 strike outs. He’s been equally tough on right and left handed hitters in 2018.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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