I’ll keep saying it, but the whole fall behind every day and then come back to win is not a viable long term strategy. But boy, is it a lot of fun to have a team that is so rarely actually dead in a game. I know many of us have been following the Cubs long enough to remember teams where even a two run deficit early in the game seemed like it might be insurmountable. This team doesn’t quit. Sure, a team will have their number in some games, that happens to every team. But this team is capable of turning any sized deficit around and they are capable of doing it late in the game against high leverage relievers.
Friday night was just one of those nights. Brad Hand, the very capable closer for the Padres, was on the mound with two outs, the bases empty and a 4-3 lead. Brad Hand is 2-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 24 saves (in July, on a last place team). He strikes out 13.2 batters per nine innings worked. His name will be thrown about over and over this month as teams circle like vultures, hoping to complete a trade for the talented left handed reliever. And so it was with two outs in the ninth inning that the Cubs sent rookie Victor Caratini to the plate. I won’t denigrate Caratini by over applying a narrative and calling him a back-up catcher. Chris Gimenez is a back-up catcher. Victor Caratini is a bat-first, converted infielder who happens to play catcher (reasonably well). Victor was hit by a pitch and the Cubs sent Jason Heyward in to run for him. That brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate. Anthony Rizzo, who has been the subject of much hand-wringing lately. Anthony snapped a 21 at bat hitless streak earlier in this game and was actually two for four at the time he stepped to the plate. With two strikes and two outs in the ninth inning, against an extreme strike out pitcher, Anthony Rizzo hit one into the gap and Heyward came around to score the tying run.
When Carl Edwards Jr. allowed a run in the bottom of the eighth inning, I was pretty certain this one was a loss. When Anthony Rizzo came through with his third hit of the game to tie the score, I was pretty certain the Cubs would go on to win. It didn’t take long either. Javier Baez singled in the tenth and completed the larceny in this one by stealing second and circling the bases on a pair of errors following his stolen base.
I will always honestly admit I don’t pay a ton of attention to other teams. But I will tell you what I’ve seen in the first half of this season. Baez has completed an MVP-caliber first half. He’s been the best player on the National League’s best team. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think it has been particularly close in terms of the best player on the Cubs unless you want to make an argument for Jon Lester. As for the National League’s best team, the Cubs wake up this morning with the National League’s best record. They are tied for first, but they have the best winning percentage in the league. They now have two less losses than any team in the National League.
If you were working in the Brewers front office, you’d be irritated to no end right now. That team has played better than anyone not connected to that team could reasonably have expected. To be sure, they are absolutely still positioned to win should this Cubs team falter. And this Cubs team is absolutely capable of faltering. The starting pitching for the Cubs can best be described as uneven on the season. A team that has come from behind to win in almost 30 games in the first half was losing in an awful lot of games. But again, from the Brewers perspective, when you put together the kind of first half that they did, you had to hope you’d have some cushion heading into the second half in case the team wears down a bit. They absolutely still can win the division, they still should reach the playoffs, and they can win playoff games with a potent offense and a very strong bullpen.
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 91, July 13 - Cubs steal one from the Padres, winning 5-4 in 10 (53-38)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.429). Boy did Anthony need that game. Three hits in five at bats including the game tying double in the ninth inning. Hopefully he can notch a few more hits this weekend and go into the break in a good place ahead of getting a few days off for the All-Star break.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.390). Two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. Possibly should have had a homer in this one, stole a base and scored the winning run in the aftermath of a wild throw on that steal. Also reached base on a fielder’s choice and was caught stealing.
- Sidekick - Brandon Morrow (.190). It was talked about when the Cubs signed Morrow that he’d never closed before. With last night’s effort, he is now 21 of 23 in save opportunities. Importantly, with last night’s save, he’s followed each blown save by converting the next save opportunity. Closer are nearly certain to blow saves along the way. But they have to be able to set it aside and be good again the next time out. Brandon has been fantastic in the role this year.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.186). Ben had one walk in four plate appearances. His double play grounder in the sixth with the score tied at three landed him here. (-.110)
- Goat - Carl Edwards Jr. (-175). Carl is ideally a one-inning reliever. With the third extra-inning game in four games on this road trip, Joe had to ask him for a little bit more. Carl got the last two outs in the seventh and the first two in the eighth, all via the strike out. At that point, Carl had struck out eight of the first ten hitters he’d seen since coming off of the disabled list. Unfortunately, a double and a single followed and the Padres had a 4-3 lead.
- Kid - Albert Almora Jr. (-.119). There seems to be a guy every year who WPA and Heroes and Goats just doesn’t seem to like. I always assure people that this is subjective and that there is virtually no writer’s discretion as to who falls where. Albert had two hits in five at bats and even scored a run. Hardly seems like a guy who should be down here. However, Almora was retired with one out and a man on second in a tie game in the seventh (-.060) and with two outs and a man on second in the ninth (-.101).
WPA Play of the Game: Little doubt about this one, though the Javy play (.328) is also one of the larger positive individual WPA events of the season too. Anthony Rizzo’s two out, RBI double in the ninth inning to tie the score at 4-4. (.393)
*Padres Play of the Game: Austin Hedges had a great at bat against a red hot Edwards in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and a man at second. His RBI single gave the Padres a 4-3 lead and set the stage for the wild finish. (.287)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 18.5
- Hero - Brandon Morrow 13
- Sidekick - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 12
Up Next: The two teams will meet for the second of a three game series tonight in San Diego. The Cubs will have Kyle Hendricks on the mound. Kyle is 5-8 with a 3.93 ERA. Over his last seven starts, Kyle is just 1-4 with a 5.26 ERA. However, earlier on this road trip, Kyle threw 8.1 innings of five hit, one walk, one run (unearned), while striking out five. That game was a big step forward for Kyle who has consistently been a better pitcher from July to the end of the season. Kyle had one start against the Padres last year and he took a loss in it. He threw five innings and allowed six hits, and five runs. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out five. That’s a terribly unlucky line. Prior to that start, Kyle had been very good against the Padres and dating back to 2016, he is 2-1 against the Padres with a 3.03 ERA over 32.2 innings of work.
Luis Pedromo is the Padres hurler. Luis has only been back in the major leagues for two starts after being demoted earlier in the year. Things have not gone well for him as he has a 1-3 record with a 7.09 ERA in 26⅔ innings of work. For some reason, he was allowed to throw seven innings and 111 pitches in his last start on July 9. In those seven innings against the Dodgers, he allowed 10 hits, three walks and six runs. He struck out no one. That is about the worst seven inning line you’ll see in the modern era of baseball, though he did at least keep the ball in the park against a Dodgers team that has been hitting home-runs in droves. Of course that is an improvement over the previous start he had against the Dodgers in which he allowed ten hits, two walks and nine runs (only seven earned). When not facing the Dodgers, he has thrown 16⅔ innings and allowed eight runs. Still not anything special, but be warned he is likely not as bad as his stats. He had a start earlier this year where he held the Astros to one run over five innings.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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