The Cubs have been hanging around and hanging around throughout the first half. The Brewers have played very good baseball but just couldn’t leave the Cubs behind. Now, with the All-Star break looming, the Brewers have hit a rather large bump in the road. The Brewers have their first five-game losing streak and in fact, June 1 to present, they are just 19-21. In that same time, the Cubs are 24-15, good for a four-game gain in the standings. This is one of the things I have been saying all along. The Brewers are a good team. It takes more than just a good team to approach 100 wins. I have no doubt the Brewers will recharge with the All-Star break and this very likely isn’t the last we’ll hear of them. But there is a difference between being a good team and being one of the best teams in baseball and it just has never appeared that the Brewers had the kind of horses to run wire to wire with the Cubs.
Those Brewers are slumping heading into the break and then when they come out of the break, if you haven’t seen it, this is what awaits. Three games at home with the Dodgers, three games at home with the Nationals. Four games in San Francisco, four games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Three games at home against the Rockies. No days off in there. That is quite a gauntlet. It was said early on that the Brewers were piling up a huge record by playing sub-par teams. This group of games is not against sub-par teams. The only team in the group that is currently under .500 is the Nationals who were one of the pre-season National League favorites.
The Cubs will have struggles of their own along the way. This we know to be true. But right now, they have a 1½-game lead in the division and three fewer losses than any team in the National League. The team with the next least losses, the Philadelphia Phillies, is a team on the rise, but is also likely a team that will lack staying power in the long run. This team is now only two games behind the pace of the 2016 World Series Champion Cubs through 92 games and is well ahead of the 2015 and 2017 National League Championship Series teams. After all of the hand wringing about the inconsistent offense, after a myriad of minor injuries that have kept the Cubs from regularly fielding their full group of regular starters. Yu Darvish has thrown 40 mediocre innings, Anthony Rizzo has been their 10th-best player statistically and this team is still atop the National League.
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 92, July 14 - Cubs win second straight, 11 -6; take 1.5 game lead (54-38)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Schwarber (.247). Two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. Included in that is a fourth inning two run homer that turned another early deficit (2-1) into a lead (3-2). He also scored two runs.
- Hero - Ian Happ (.156). Ian also had two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. Ian had a second inning homer that cut the early deficit to 2-1. He scored three runs.
- Sidekick - Javier Baez (.060). I hope this ride never ends, because I can’t ever remember having this much fun watching the ascendancy of a player. Javy had two more hits yesterday, a two-run double and a three-run homer. Over the last calendar year, Baez has a line of .294/.335/.551 (wRC+ 127) in 602 plate appearances. He has a strikeout rate of 26.9% and a walk rate of 5.1%. He has 34 doubles, seven triples, 32 homers, 25 of 28 in stealing bases, 103 runs and 113 RBI. Those aren’t “pace” numbers, he’s actually done that now for a full calendar year.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Randy Rosario (-.101). Most of you don’t follow me on twitter (@colbylives), but for those of you who do, you may have gotten a good laugh at me yesterday. I replied to a tweet that Rosario was probably due from serious regression with “not tonight” after Rosario induced a double play to get out of the sixth. I went to bed before Rosario went back out for the seventh inning and allowed two runs on a walk and a two-run homer. We still love you Randy!
- Goat - Kris Bryant (-.042). Tough crowd here Kris. Two hits in five at bats, two runs scored. I guess someone had two draw the short straw.
- Kid - Ben Zobrist (-.009). And then a basically innocent bystander draws the last spot. Ben was retired as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on third with the Cubs leading 8-4.
WPA Play of the Game: After Ian Happ lead off the fourth inning with a walk, Kyle Schwarber worked a 3-1 count and hit a two-run home-run to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. (.214)
Padres Play of the Game: After a scoreless sixth inning, Randy Rosario was given a chance to throw a second inning. He did retire the first batter in the seventh, but then issued a walk and allowed a two-run homer to cut the Cubs lead to 5-4. (.182)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 19.5
- Hero - Brandon Morrow 13
- Sidekick - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 12
Up Next: The two teams conclude their three game series this afternoon. Jon Lester, who was selected to the All-Star team but won’t appear, will make the final start of the first half of the season. Jon is 11-2 with a 2.45 ERA. The Cubs have won the last eight games Jon has started and Jon has a 7-0 record over that stretch. Even after allowing four runs last time out in just 6.1 innings of work, he has a 2.08 ERA over his last seven starts. Jon allowed six hits and three walks in that one, while only striking out two and allowing a home run. Last year, Jon had one start against the Padres and, despite a no decision, it was a pretty good one. He allowed five hits, one walk and two runs while striking out seven.
The Padres counter with Eric Lauer who is 5-5 with a 4.40 ERA. Eric is 3-2 with a 2.40 ERA in his last seven games, so he’s on a pretty good role as he settles into his rookie season. Last time out, he fell just one out short of a complete game against the Dodgers. He allowed only four hits, two walks and one run against a very potent Dodgers team. He beat the Diamondbacks in Arizona the start before that. Eric has never faced the Cubs. In his time in the majors, Eric has been mostly split neutral. Don’t expect this one to be a walk in the park.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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