I expected that I’d have a loss or two to recap on this West Coast trip. The Cubs haven’t played fantastic ball on the road of late, including a sweep at the hands of the Reds that is still fresh in just about everyone’s memory. But that wasn’t even the reason why. I figured it would be because the script finally failed. The script where the Cubs fall behind early, battle back late and eventually win. That is not a great recipe for success. No team can just keep battling back, no matter how talented or resilient they are.
But that wasn’t the script. The Cubs actually scored first in this one. And they also received some dominant pitching. The Cubs never trailed in this game until the winning run crossed the plate. This was the one way a team can fall behind and literally have no chance to come from behind. The narrative is there if you want to reach for the most consistent narrative of this Cubs season. The Cubs are now 9-3 in their last 12. They’ve scored 79 runs in the nine wins and eight runs in the three losses. They’ve allowed 12 runs in the three losses and 51 runs in the nine wins. Although to me, it still seems pretty obvious that when you score a lot of runs you win, when you have trouble scoring you lose. The Cubs have scored three or fewer runs in 40 of their 88 games (45%), the team they are chasing for the National League Central title and best record in the league has scored three or fewer runs 44 of 91 games (48%).
I also want to not gloss over this pitching performance. Kyle Hendricks threw 8.1 innings and allowed five hits and one walk. That walk wasn’t until the ninth inning and after he was already past the 100 pitch mark. He allowed one unearned run that resulted from not one but two errors. You can never know what the ripple effect of sequencing would be based upon a different score in the game, but without any doubt, Kyle pitched well enough to win. Unfortunately, so did Andrew Suarez (anyone else ready to not see anyone named Suarez for a little while?).
Kyle Hendricks is the first Cubs starter to see the ninth inning this year. He has also thrown one less inning on the year than Jon Lester who will be pitching in the All-Star game. I hope we are finally going to put away the idea that Joe Maddon babies Hendricks. Kyle recorded a game score of 78, besting his two previous best scores of 74. Those two games were April 26 against the Brewers and May 25 against the Giants. This was the best I’ve seen Kyle throw all year long. I’ve pointed out several times that Kyle has been a much better second half pitcher in his career, hopefully this start launches him in that direction.
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 88, July 9 - Cubs lose series opener to Giants in 11, 2-1 (51-37)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Hendricks (.388). It had been just about a month since Kyle landed up here. June 10 against the Pirates, oddly in a 7-1 loss to the Pirates. More often than not, when your starting pitcher is the Superhero, good things have happened.
- Hero - Randy Rosario (.186). Randy recorded the final two outs in the ninth inning and the first out in the tenth inning.
- Sidekick - Jason Heyward (.059). The Cubs had just four players produce a positive game score in this one. Jason had a walk in his only plate appearance in the tenth inning.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.199). Between the errors and a hitless game, there is a lot of ire about Rizzo right now. Yes, he had a terrible game. Yes, he is on pace for the worst year of his career. Yes, Rizzo is always a streaky hitter and right now he’s on the downside. That’s three consecutive 0-5 games. Never mind the eight hits in three games that ended the month of June. Going back to May 1, Rizzo has a line of .270/.361/.469 (wRC+ of 119 despite a BABIP of .259). The slugging is down over that period from what we expect out of Anthony. He is overdue for a homer binge as he’s had just one home run June 12 to present.
- Goat - Pedro Strop (-.179). This is hardly Pedro’s fault. He inherited runners on the corners with one out in the bottom of the 11th. He was then asked to intentionally walk the first hitter and the next one singled in the winning run.
- Kid - David Bote (.173). The Superhero a day earlier, David got a start and was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice. Tough day for the kid.
WPA Play of the Game: After Randy Rosario retired the first batter of the 10th inning, Joe summoned Steve Cishek. Steve promptly allowed a triple to Hunter Pence. (.248) This is the first time this season that Cishek has been involved in the play of the game.
*Cubs Play of the Game: After the eighth inning, WPA can swing massively due to the minimal number of outs a team has to work with. So the very next play following the Pence triple was the biggest Cub play of the game. Cishek bounced back and struck out Chase d’Arnaud. (.200)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 16.5
- Hero - Jon Lester 12
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop and Ben Zobrist 11
Up Next: Game two of the three game set. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mound hoping to keep the Cubs hopes of a fourth consecutive series win alive. Jose is 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA, but he appears to be heading in the right direction. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA. He was good the last time out, tossing six innings in a win against the Tigers. He allowed five hits, three walks and two runs by way of two solo home runs. He faced the Giants in Wrigley back in May and he was tagged with a loss. He threw 4.1 innings and allowed five hits, two walks and four runs. He did strike out six. He is 0-3 with a 5.82 in his career against the Giants.
Johnny Cueto is the Giants hurler. He is 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in just 37 innings of work this year. The former workhorse has broken down the last couple of years, throwing only 147.1 innings last year and being on pace for less than 100 this year. Last time out, in his first time back after his DL stint, Johnny took a loss against the Cardinals. He allowed 10 hits, two walks and five runs in just five innings of work. Prior to his DL stint, he was 3-0 and had allowed only three runs in 32 innings of work. He last faced the Cubs last May. He went six innings in that game and allowed five hits, one walk and four runs. He did strike out eight, but allowed three home runs and took the loss. This one could go any number of ways.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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