The last week of the first half of the season happened in a blur. Since you are here, surely you are a Cubs fan and it was a pretty happy blur. Elsewhere, the Brewers fan-base had one train wreck of an end to their party. The Brewers head into the break on their longest losing streak of the season, having been swept in a five-game series by the Pirates, looking at a brutal stretch of games running into August without a day off, and face the idea that if they don’t tread water through that stretch, it is a possible outcome to not even reach the playoffs.
Alas, two or three weeks ago, I was spending a lot of time trying to convince all of you not to get too low while things were going rough. Fortunes can and do change rapidly in Major League Baseball. The only thing that can ever be banked is the 55-38 first half that already occurred. Nothing is certain after that. That said, things look better than most of us would have ever dreamed a few weeks ago. This season looks like yet another where it is great to be a Cubs fan. These comparisons are likely to turn unfavorably, but the 2016 championship team was only 56-37 at this point in their season.
There is room for improvement in the second half for these Cubs. Their starting rotation was absolutely less effective than expected. Particularly with its two free agent signings Yu Darvish (ineffective and injured) and Tyler Chatwood (having one of, if not the, worst year of his career). Anthony Rizzo under-performed, Kris Bryant missed a fair amount of time and is posting the lowest slugging percentage of his career thus far. Other teams figure to trade off some pieces and start to eye the future over the present.
On the other hand, Javier Baez is having a career year. Can that continue? Jon Lester was probably better than his peripheral numbers suggest he should be. The offense has been the deepest one in baseball. They aren’t as formidable as they once were, but the Cubs have their entire slate with the Washington Nationals still to play. They also have their entire season series the the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Reds seem hell bent on trying to reach .500. The Pirates just won five straight from the Brewers. Was that just a bounce on the way down or are they going to try to circle the wagons and get back into contention for a wildcard spot? The Cardinals fired their manager and that franchise has kept itself competitive for almost every year in memory. There are no guarantees, even for a Cubs team that just completed a fantastic first half. But the view from the top this morning sure is pretty!
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 93, July 15 - Cubs complete three game sweep of Padres with 7-4 win (55-38)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.104). How incredibly fitting it is for Javy to be the Superhero on the last day of the first half. This first half has been all about Baez and he has dominated Heroes and Goats for almost all of the first 93 games. On Sunday, he had just one hit in five at bats, but on a day when the WPA was pretty evenly spread top to bottom, this was enough. The one hit was an RBI single in the first inning.
- Hero - Anthony Rizzo (.089). After much gnashing of teeth, Anthony had a six for 15 weekend at the plate that included three doubles, two runs, two RBI, a game-tying hit with two outs in the ninth inning and a stolen base as the cherry on top. On Sunday, Anthony had two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly in five plate appearances. He scored two runs and drove in one. Way to fill a box score.
- Sidekick - Addison Russell (.083). By wRC+, Anthony and Addison are tied for the least productive Cubs in their regular 10 man rotation, each with a 100. The Cubs have 10 players at or above league average in their regular rotation. That’s a freakishly deep and productive rotation. They’ve also gotten meaningful production from Tommy La Stella, David Bote and Victor Caratini. Addison had just one hit on Sunday, it was an RBI single in the first while the Cubs were jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first two innings.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Willson Contreras (-.013). After moving out Lester’s (-.034), no one was all that goat-y on this day. So Willson draws the shortest straw. He actually had two hits and a hit by pitch in four plate appearances. The problem is, when the team is jumping out to a 5-0 lead, you can’t afford to make an out your first time out. Particularly an out to end the first inning with a runner on third.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.009). Kyle had a pinch hit strike out in the seventh with two outs and runners on first and second.
- Kid - Pedro Strop (-.002). Pedro threw one inning, faced four batters, allowed two hits including a home run and induced a double play grounder.
WPA Play of the Game: It didn’t take long to happen. Rizzo singled and Bryant worked a 10-pitch walk to start the game. Jason Heyward lined out to right and that brought Javy Baez to the plate with one out and runners at first and second. He singled in the game’s first run. (.124).
*Padres Play of the Game: I did mention it was a really flat WPA game. Heyward’s lineout in the first was the biggest positive of the day for the Padres. (.053)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 22.5
- Hero - Brandon Morrow 13
- Sidekick - Jon Lester 12
On the last day of the first half, Javier Baez becomes the first Cub to reach the +20 plateau on the season. Four Cubs finish above +10 and four below -10. Addison Russell at -30 has the largest difference from even.
Up Next: The All-Star Break means that most of the Cubs have three days of rest. Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber will look to put on a show in the home run derby tonight. Then on Tuesday, Javy and Willson Contreras will represent the National League in the starting lineup. Everyone is off on Wednesday and then the Cubs open a five game series in four days against the Cardinals at home on Thursday. The homestand will only see two teams come to town, but the Cubs will have nine games in eight days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.
I’ll be around during the break. I’ll have a look at the cumulative standings and team statistics. I’ll also weigh in with some thoughts on the upcoming trade deadline and just might have another article in the works before baseball resumes, time permitting. Here’s to hoping that the second half is as enjoyable as the first was.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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