I had certainly hoped the 100th game of the season would have produced something more than a second consecutive dud. The D-Backs had been scuffling a bit and so this series is a frustrating one. To be sure, they are a talented and strong baseball team. But, they hadn’t been lighting the world on fire over the last month or so. So you’d hope this series would have gone better for the Cubs. Alas, it didn’t. No doubt the series with the Cardinals over the weekend in which the Cubs played four tight games (and five games overall) in four days against a long time rival. And don’t kid yourself if you just looked at the scores for that last series, the four games other than the Cardinal blowout were close games. The Cardinals bullpen was lousy start to finish in that series, but those other games were all close until they were blown open late.
That division rival thing matters on so many levels. Without sounding like an apologist for the Cubs - make no mistake, they’ve been really flat these last two games and have to own that - when you play these teams you don’t see so often, it is just different. You get such a familiarity with your division foes, seeing them basically six series a year. You could see one pitcher four times or more over the course of a season. With these D-Backs, the Cubs just saw a pitcher who they haven’t faced since 2014. Of course it runs deeper than that. You don’t get the same feel for what they are going to try to do against you in their approach. It doesn’t surprise me when these teams you only see for two series sometimes get a little out of whack from what you’d expect.
Alas, the net result is the Cubs have lost back to back games for the first time in a month. And of course, all across Cubs Twitter panic or at least concern has set back in. Don’t get me wrong, I see the things other people do. Most importantly, the pitching on this team is a bit of a mess. I was saying all through the winning that falling behind every day and coming back to win is just not a great model. Not every team’s bullpen is combustible and it puts a whole lot of strain on your hitters. The lineup has fizzled the last two days and they have definitely been up and down all season. But I’m not going to worry about the offense. The Cubs hitters top to bottom are talented and productive. My one concern is Kris Bryant. It seems likely at this point that we are never going to see MVP-level Bryant this year (yes, it is a weird day to draw this conclusion when he didn’t even play). Kris has been generally productive at the plate this year, even without the power, but the Cubs lineup becomes a whole lot less formidable without his elite bat in it.
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 100, July 24 - Cubs bats absent for second straight loss 5-1 (58-42)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Ian Happ (.038). Ian had a double and a walk in his four plate appearances. Ian will spend this year designated as the person who got off to a lousy start and so most fans are dismissive of just how excellent a season he has had. His .258/.282/.460 line is good for a wRC+ of 125. In his last 250 plate appearances, that line improves to .271/.408/.483, good for a wRC+ of 137.
- Hero - Victor Caratini (.023). Vic had a hit and a walk in his three plate appearances. He got a start behind the plate and then showed some of his versatility when he finished the game at third base.
- Sidekick - Jesse Chavez (.016). Welcome to Heroes and Goats, Jesse. What a nice way to make your debut here (you know, other than the game outcome). Jesse strikes out the side in posting his third scoreless outing since joining the Cubs.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-.164). Albert was hitless in four at bats on the day. He lands here largely because of his strikeout with the bases loaded in the seventh inning to end the inning. That was pretty much the end of any potential comeback.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.131). Kyle was also hitless on the day. My impression of Kyle’s season is that in some future season when he is respected as one of the game’s elite hitters, he is going to be an absolute monster. Not only is his walk total decreased and his strikeout total increased by the number of borderline calls that go against him, but I dream on the idea of him seeing a lot of 3-0 and 3-1 counts that right now are either 2-1 or 2-2.
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.089). Tommy grounded into a double play after a leadoff single in the fifth. The league adjusted to Tommy a couple of months ago and he’s been mostly MIA since.
WPA Play of the Game: Steven Souza Jr. batted with two outs and a runner on first in the fifth inning. This was one of those real turning point at bats. If Hendricks retires Souza, he books a pretty solid start against a good team. He doesn’t as Sousa doubles, driving in a second run. (.117)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Kyle gets both ends of this today. He struck out Jake Lamb with the bases loaded and two outs to escape the second inning unscathed. (.081)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 19.5
- Hero - Brandon Morrow 13
- Sidekick - Ian Happ 12.5
Up Next: The teams play the third of four games this afternoon. Jon Lester will be on the mound looking to end this mini-losing streak before it grows into something larger. Jon is 12-3 with a 3.14 ERA. Over his last seven starts he is 5-1 with a 5.02 ERA. Those are certainly odd numbers, but particularly his last seven, but also his season numbers were trashed by his terrible start last time out. In just three innings he allowed seven hits, five walks and eight runs in a loss to the Cardinals. Last year, Jon had two starts and worked 10 innings total against these D-Backs. He 12 hits, five walks and seven runs (six earned). Hopefully he can do a little bit better today.
The D-Backs counter with Robbie Ray who will always make me think more of a third tier Marvel character than a baseball player. Robbie is 3-2 with a 5.37 ERA. In his last seven starts, he is 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA and has only thrown 32 innings. At less than five innings per start, he is not providing any length at all for them. Last time out, he was a bit better logging 5.1 innings in a start against the Rockies. But he still allowed five runs on eight hits and a walk. He hasn’t faced the Cubs since 2016, but he’s pitched relative well against them in his two lifetime starts with a 3.27 ERA.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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