Dateline 2025: This historian looks back at the moment that changed a franchise. It was July 7, 2018. The Cubs had risen like a phoenix from the ashes after Theo Epstein was hired by the Cubs. Oh, it took a while to put the team together and there was some pain and suffering while it was being developed. But that team won a World Series and competed in three straight National League Championship series. The core of that team also had a few good years after “the Event.” But “the Event” was all that group of people would be remembered for, trumping even that championship that ended 108 years of futility (since surpassed by football’s Cleveland Browns who amazingly still haven’t put even a single team on the field with a winning record).
Yes, the Cubs current second painful period of losing can all be traced back to that day in July. You see on that day, Tom Ricketts started listening to Cubs Twitter during the sixth inning of a game. The collective negativity was just too much for Tom to bear after all of the work he’d done to give Theo Epstein and his buddies all of the resources they could ever need to build a competitive team. So in that sixth inning after Joe Maddon for some reason sent Tyler Chatwood out to throw a sixth inning after the first five mostly terrible innings. So Tom went down to the field and fired Joe Maddon on the spot. The Cubs went on to lose the game 7-2. The in-game firing was odd. But no one was too upset when after the game Tyler Chatwood was designated for assignment in paperwork that was filed by Tom Ricketts himself.
The next morning Theo Epstein and the entire front office staff collectively decided to retire rather than deal with the meddling owner. It was weird when 21 teams put in claims on Chatwood after he was designated. But Cubs fans were amused when Tom decided to stick it to the Brewers by working out a trade of Chatwood to the Brewers in an effort to keep them from winning. Boy were Cub fans mad when he won three games for them in the playoffs en route to the Brewers’ first-ever World Series win. A win which was buoyed by the Cubs quitting 2018 because they just couldn’t beat the Reds. That not only gave the Brewers a number of free victories in the second half and an easy path to the National League Central crown, but also increased their fan base when half the Cubs fan base spontaneously joined the Brewers fan base in protest over the Cubs shutting down what was to Cub fans appearing to be a run at the 2018 MVP by Javier Baez. (The Brewers promotion for half price Old Style and discounted tickets for anyone living north of Chicago were also strokes of genius.)
The Cincinnati Reds rose to prominence in the 20’s. Lead by a young core that was slowly developing during that 2018 season and took a quantum leap forward with the confidence derived from actually forcing a team (that many still believed was the actual favorite to reach the World Series from the National League) to just quit a season in which they were 46-29 (.613) collectively against all of the other teams. Those Reds developed quite a swagger and won multiple championships. Meanwhile, the Cubs finished last place year after year as all but the most desperate of free agents refused to sign with the team that quit.
What? The Cubs won that game? Phew. Everything above must have been a bad dream. Thank God. Some of that stuff was pretty crazy. But I was just going to get to the 2020 season when the Cubs successfully petitioned Major League Baseball and got permission to clone Albert Almora Jr. It was a massive success having a whole outfield of Albert Almora’s running around the outfielder. And of course with Cubs Twitter basically running the organization, all three of them played every single game, no matter what (but it was a really bad idea when they cloned him a fourth time and tried to get him to play short).
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 86, July 7 - The second game the Cubs won this year when even most of their die hard fans gave up on them (50-36)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Ben Zobrist (.284). Ben had two hits in five at bats. He also struck out twice. His bases loaded double in the eighth inning cut the Cubs deficit to 7-6. He later scored what turned out to be the winning run.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.267). The MVP caliber season in the satire above wasn’t really kidding. Javy had a four hit game yesterday and has a .294/.327/.565 with 17 HR and 63 RBI before the All-Star Break. Oh and he picked up his 16th stolen base yesterday and has an outside shot at a 30/30 season. He’s been the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He homered in the seventh to cut the deficit to 7-4 and then had an RBI single to tie the game at 7-7. There is a lot of season to play, but if it ended right now, I have a hard time imagining Javy finishing outside the top 3 in MVP voting.
- Sidekick - Brandon Morrow (.168). Didn’t look like Brandon’s services would be needed yesterday. Until they were. Then he threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the heart of the Reds order.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Tyler Chatwood (-.340). The Cubs have an off day on Thursday in the middle of their West Coast trip. Technically, that would be Tyler’s spot in the rotation. Perhaps the Cubs will use that opportunity to skip his start and then have him take the fifth start after the All-Star game, giving him about two weeks to try to clear his mind and reset things. Tyler threw 5.2 innings, 120 pitches and allowed nine hits, four walks and seven runs, all earned.
- Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-.170). After replacing Jason Heyward mid-game, Albert was hitless in three at bats. His strike out with runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning with the tying run on third was one of those times when Cubs fans just go berserk because he couldn’t “just put the ball in play.”
- Kid - Ian Happ (-.085). Bad Ian showed up yesterday. He reached base just once in five plate appearances and that was via the walk. He struck out three times. Included were strike outs during the seventh and eighth innings while the Cubs were coming from behind.
WPA Play of the Game: The Cubs started the eighth inning with back to back walks followed by back to back singles to cut the deficit to 7-4. That’s when Ben Zobrist stepped to the plate and had a two run double. (.328). In virtually every instance, Ben is the Cub I most want at the plate when we really, really need a big hit.
*Reds Play of the Game: Tyler Chatwood retired the first two batters to start the third inning with the Cubs trailing 2-0. He walked Joey Votto, which really doesn’t feel like the end of the world. Scooter Gennett followed with a single. Eugenio Suarez followed with a three-run home-run to give the Reds a 5-0 lead.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 14.5
- Hero - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 13
Up Next: The two teams will square off, each looking to keep their recent momentum going (Cubs have now won eight of 10 while the Reds have won 14 of 20 largely against three of the best teams in the National League). The Cubs will have their ace on the mound in Jon Lester. He is 11-2 with a 2.25 ERA. He is a perfect 7-0 in his last seven starts and has an ERA of 2.09 over that stretch. He actually had one of his least good starts over that stretch last time out against the Twins when he lasted just five innings and allowed nine hits, three walks and four runs (two earned). He faced the Reds back on May 18 and was terrific, throwing six innings and allowing only two hits, one walk and one run while striking out eight. He was also 2-0 against the Reds in 2017 despite a start last August in Wrigley in which he allowed nine runs (seven earned) in just 1.2 innings of work.
Luis Castillo will be the opposition. Luis in 5-8 with a 5.53 ERA on the season. He’s just 1-4 with a 5.84 in his last seven starts. Last time out he threw much better though against the White Sox. He lasted 6.2 innings in a no decision. But he allowed only six hits, no walks and one run while striking out six. He has pitched twice against the Cubs this season and one of those represents his only win in his last seven starts. In two starts against the Cubs, he has thrown 10.2 innings, allowed 10 hits, six walks and four runs while striking out nine. The Cubs hit him better the second time than the first and now they are seeing him for the third time in about 50 days. I’m hopeful the third time will be the charm and with Lester on the mound today’s game is less frustrating/stressful.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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