Don’t get me wrong for what I’m about to say. I love baseball and I’ve always loved it. But sometimes baseball feels like one of those things where we are just going through the motions. Yay we won! or Boo we lost! But it sometimes feels like one of the more mundane things we do. It’s something many of us can predict. In fact, as I’ve taught my kids to follow baseball through the years and explained things to my wife, I’ve explained that as much as it looks like a fairly random game, that in fact it is a very precise game. That there are massive amounts of statistical data that tell us the managers and players exactly what is going to happen ahead of time. Managers will try to change pitchers or pinch hit or shift their defense or whatever trying to gain one or two percent here or there.
Then last night’s game breaks out. Two teams played very good baseball. They made the right moves. They put people into position to do the things they’ve done successfully over and over this season. In a few key moments, the script was completely flipped upside down. There is so much to unpack from this game. Aaron Nola was less than he’s typically been this year, but make no mistake that young man didn’t pitch badly. Sure, many of us will remember the ball that Almora hit off of Nola that bounced right into a double play as bad luck. But Nola allowed just four hits and four walks over six innings. Out of the unusual events, that being good enough for three runs is relatively low on the surprise meter.
Then there were the Phillie home runs that tied the game and put them ahead. Steve Cishek hadn’t allowed a home run in eons, as he had the third longest streak of not allowing home runs in baseball. So of course he allowed a three run homer to the first batter he faced after Jose Quintana pitched a fantastic ball game. I’m not going to get into it a ton today because I don’t want to take away from that win, but this was one time I did absolutely disagree with Joe’s move. That wasn’t it though. Brandon Morrow hadn’t allowed a home run in the regular season since September of 2016. He allowed the first career home run for Dylan Cozens.
That left the Cubs looking up at a 5-3 deficit facing Seranthony Dominguez, who had been off to one of the more incredible starts to a career for any pitcher. Through the eighth inning of last night’s game he’d allowed just two hits and no walks in 15⅔ innings of work. He’d also struck out 16 batters. So then it was terribly unexpected for him to walk Kyle Schwarber to open the ninth inning, the first major league walk he’d allowed. He struck out Javy and then after a fielding error, Albert Almora Jr. blooped a single to center to put the tying run on base. Then Gabe Kapler read the situation perfectly. He summoned Aaron Morgan, a lefthanded pitcher, to face Ian Happ (the Cubs’ last viable pinch hitter), Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward if necessary. All three of those Cubs hitters perform worse against lefties, particularly Heyward. The result of all of that? A walk, a fielder’s choice force at home and...
WPA Play of the Game - Jason Heyward took a 2-2 pitch with the bases loaded, two outs and the Cubs down 5-3 and hammered it to right field for a walk off grand slam. (.821). That’s just shy of twice the WPA of the previously biggest positive WPA event of the season (.414) by Javier Baez on May 6. This is, amusingly, Jason’s first WPA Play of the Game this season.
*Phillies Play of the Game - Dylan Cozens hits a two-run home-run against Brandon Morrow in the top of the ninth inning to break a 3-3 tie. (.341)
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 58, June 6 - Cubs walk it off in Grand fashion 7-5 (34-24)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jason Heyward (.767). I’m only half-joking in that I expect someone to say that he was only 1-for-5 last night. This guy hasn’t been able to catch a break on or off the field for a few years. I could not be happier for him that he crushed a pitch in the biggest of moments. Going back to April 19, he’s hitting .288/.342/.442 with a wRC+ 112. If you don’t recognize that Jason Heyward is putting some things together, it is really your loss. Through all of his struggles this guy has kept a good attitude and worked his ass off. I couldn’t be happier for him.
- Hero - Jose Quintana (.276). Jose deserved better than a no decision, but I’m sure he’ll take the win that the team got. 5⅔ innings, three hits, two walks and 10 strike outs. He left a 3-0 game with two runners on.
- Sidekick - Willson Contreras (.120). Willson has quietly put together a very good season. Very little flash offensively, but he has a line of .277/.372/.456 (wRC+ 126). He has a 10.1% walk rate and a 17.6% strike out rate. Nothing eye popping, but should definitely get strong consideration for the All-Star game. Last night, he had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He drove in a run with a fourth inning single.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Brandon Morrow (-.434). This is the third largest negative WPA game of the season for the Cubs (ironically just behind a Jason Heyward -.439 from the March 30th marathon). Brandon was off last night. He walked the first batter he faced, allowed a two-run home-run to the second and only retired one of five batters he faced.
- Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.234). Ben was hitless in five at bats last night. He lands down here for grounding into a fielder’s choice in the ninth inning with the bases loaded. (-.157)
- Kid - Steve Cishek (-.200). Facing five batters, striking out three and allowing one hit could be a good line. However, the one hit was a three-run home-run to the first batter he faced. (-.307)
- Superhero - Kyle Schwarber 12
- Hero - Pedro Strop 10
- Sidekick - Javier Baez 9
Up Next: Hard to imagine what could possibly serve as an encore to that one, but the two teams will return to Wrigley for the decisive third game of the series. The Cubs will turn to Tyler Chatwood to try to win the series. He is 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA on the season. The trend isn’t great as he’s 2-1 with a 4.22 ERA in his last seven. He’s also walked 30 in 32 innings over those last seven. Things were only slightly better the last time when he threw 5⅓ innings against the Mets. He allowed four hits, four walks and two runs while striking out three. Last year he faced the Phillies once and he was brilliant. He threw seven shut out innings allowing just one hit while picking up the win. Of course even in that one he walked four though he did strike out eight. We’d take that for sure.
Nick Pivetta is the opposition. He’s 4-4 with a 3.48 on the season. His last seven have produced a 3-4 with a 4.24 ERA, so he’s moving a bit in the wrong direction too. He’s lost his last two starts against the Giants and Blue Jays. He’s thrown a total of nine innings allowing nine hits, five walks, and five runs while striking out 10. He faced the Cubs last August. He was the winning pitcher though he didn’t pitch all that great. He threw five innings and allowed six hits, four walks and three runs (two earned) while striking out five. Nick has been hit quite a bit harder by lefties (.711) than righties (.579) this season.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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