Suspect defense and inability to throw strikes combined to bury the Cubs before they had any real chance against a pitcher who has been very tough on
the Cubs the entire National League this year. A badly played bunt single followed by a single under the glove, both of Ian Happ started the night for the Cardinals. A couple of walks a grand-slam, another walk and a double and there were six runs in before the first inning was over. The Cubs won the rest of the game 2-0, but that doesn’t provide a consolation prize.
Certainly, the Cubs miss a healthy Kris Bryant. In this case, it is his missing defense and having to continually play a rotation of players who aren’t natural third basemen at third. That’s of course all compounded by Addison Russell also being injured. With Kris Bryant injured, Javier Baez is the best third-base option on the team. Never mind that he is also the best second-base option on the team. Tommy La Stella, Ben Zobrist and David Bote have all spent a considerable amount of time at second-base in their careers and can at least competently field that position.
The Cubs of course also have missed the presence of Bryant’s bat in the lineup for months now. One of the best young hitters in the game is out of action and without him, the lineup has generally lacked any truly elite hitters. Anthony Rizzo appears to finally be rounding back into form and there is no question he is an elite hitter. Javier Baez is having an elite season at the plate. I don’t have to dig too far into the way back machine to find even within this season people decrying Javy’s terrible plate approach.
If you are a regular reader of this article you know that I bring optimism and support for the Cubs on a daily basis. This team is fabulously put together and it is built to win. I bring this up, because as the Cubs were losing their first series in over a month and dropping to 5-6 since the All-Star break and seeing their lead reduced to just half a game, I had one of my rare moments of doubt. We’ve hit the second half of the season. This has been when Joe Maddon teams have turned it on. But they didn’t turn it on. This is the same uneven, inconsistent play we saw in the first half. And this is the same tired-looking team we saw often last year when the team let us know that they ran out of gas before they could reach the finish line.
So I started to wonder if this absolutely just wouldn’t be the year. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suggesting they still wouldn’t win the division. I just started wondering if in the end this team would just pull up short again and we’d be back in wait til next year mode. Then my brain reminded me, we aren’t going to be able to assess this team until the very end. Cole Hamels will be the first potential shot of adrenaline Wednesday night. Will he be rejuvenated by being in a pennant race and with a team with a shot at a championship? Then bringing this article full circle, there is Kris Bryant. Can they get him enough rest and get him back onto the field healthy and productive by some time in August? Finally there is Yu Darvish. Can they get him back pitching? He left a bullpen session optimistic the other day. Can he return for the final month of the season and be a front line starter?
Brandon Morrow will return as well. He hasn’t been missed quite as much given the lack of leads to protect and the admirable performance of Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Carl Edwards Jr. This team has the depth to keep winning regular season games. But it needs its stars back healthy and dominating. This is going to be a team that we aren’t going to know until the last possible moment what they are capable of. It’s going to be a frustrating, uneven ride to the finish. There are probably at most six teams that have any real chance of winning a World Series. Don’t fret too much. I’m certain the Cubs are still one of them.
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 104, July 28 - Cubs drop second straight, 6-2 (60-44)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jesse Chavez (.037). Not the world’s most exciting first time in the Superhero spot. But Jesse Chavez threw three scoreless innings. Given the extreme number of comebacks including a small handful of comebacks of more than five runs, he did a good job keeping the game winnable to the end. For those of you not keeping track at home, that’s eight scoreless innings to start his Cubs career.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.018). One man alone against the world. It has felt that way sometimes. Javy had just one hit yesterday in four at bats. But it was a two run homer.
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek (.006). Steve threw a scoreless seventh inning as the Cubs bullpen threw five scoreless innings.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jose Quintana (-.369). He certainly wasn’t helped by his defense, but he didn’t execute his pitches either. He allowed six runs on six hits and three walks in just three innings of work.
- Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-.083). One of the downsides of all of the injuries is the Cubs not having enough depth to optimize match-ups in the way that has been so successful under Joe Maddon. Albert has been over-exposed the last month or so. He was hitless in four at bats and grounded into two double plays.
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.031). Tommy flew out to end the inning with runners on first and second in the fourth to end one of the better scoring chances the Cubs had all day.
WPA Play of the Game: Marcell Ozuna came to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning. Jose Quintana had already walked in a run and certainly didn’t want to do that again. Ozuna hit a grand slam and that was basically all she wrote for this one. (.128)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With one out and a runner on first in the fourth inning and the Cubs trailing 6-0, Javier Baez hit a two-run home run. (.054)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 23.5
- Hero - Brandon Morrow 13
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop 12
Up Next: The two teams have a Sunday night game to wrap up the three game set. The Cubs have already lost their first series in over a month. They will be looking to avoid their first three game losing streak since then. The Cubs are surely also looking forward to their first day off since the All-Star break, a stretch that has seen them play 11 games in 10 days.
Kyle Hendricks gets the start for the Cubs. Kyle is 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA and in his last seven games he is 1-3 with a 5.20 ERA. Not a great season for Kyle and not a great trend either. Last time out, he threw five innings against the Diamondbacks in a loss. He allowed seven hits, two walks and three runs. The one positive was he kept the ball in the park, that has been a big problem for him this year. Kyle has made two starts against the Cardinals this year and in those two starts he has thrown 10⅔ innings. He’s allowed 16 hits, five walks, two home runs, and six runs. Those numbers aren’t great, but he won one of the two of those.
The Cardinals counter with John Gant who is 3-3 with a 3.44 ERA. He’s 1-3 with a 3.76 ERA over his last seven starts. So he’s still pitching pretty well, but you can see some of the Cardinals struggles in that a pitcher with a 3.76 ERA managed just one win in seven starts. He hasn’t pitched since facing the Cubs on July 21. In that start he threw five innings and allowed four hits, three walks and no runs. He didn’t get a decision in the game. That is his only start against the Cubs this year. He also faced them back in 2016 and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 4⅓ inning start and took the loss.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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