Just another gorgeous Sunday afternoon in the park. It was a wacky, weird ride to a second straight Cubs victory. The Reds have played some pretty good baseball over the last month or so and the Cubs have witnessed it up close and personally for seven games over the last few weeks. I suspect they are going to be more than a footnote in the National League playoff picture. These days, most of the teams that are off the pace start going through the motions and playing out the string. The Reds have pretty well bottomed out. There isn’t a lot of talent on that team likely to be traded away. They’ve got some good young players already on the team performing well and a manager with an interim status who surely would like a real chance to manage a team on the upswing. I have a hunch that barring injuries, that team is going to scratch and claw its way all the way to the finish line.
The Cubs now have just six games left before the All-Star game. They’ve headed out to California for a pair of three game series split by a Thursday off day. They’ll stop first in San Francisco to face a team that much like last year’s Cubs team seems to be at .500 every time I look up. Not much above, not much below. Then they’ll finish the trip in San Diego. Who doesn’t love a trip to San Diego? The Padres are still not very good. (Does that mean Cubs twitter is going to get over cranky if the Cubs don’t win four out of three games there?)
The Cubs played the last nine games as day games. They won eight of them. They trailed in all eight of the wins and they’ve trailed at some point in their last nine wins. That’s obviously not a great recipe for success. But this team long ago built a belief that no game is out of reach. That’s a healthy belief to have in the back pocket. The comebacks are a testament to a very strong bullpen that keeps games within reach and a relentless offense that is second in Major League Baseball in runs per game and has a healthy lead on the rest of the National League in that category. Some experts and Joe Maddon believed that this was the best group of starting pitchers in recent Cubs history. That will be the story of the second half. If they don’t get better pitching out of that rotation, then the only hope for a third straight National League Central title would be a serious fade out of the Brewers who have played very strong baseball through most of the season. If that pitching starts to live up to its potential, this team could get even hotter and run away with things.
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 87, July 8 - Cubs walk it off in 6-5 win; win seven of eight on homestand (51-36)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - David Bote (.283). David entered the game late and had a single during the Cubs ninth when they left the bases loaded and then the decisive walk to end the game.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.184). All-Star Javy Baez had a two hit game in five at bats. One of those two hits was a two run single with runners on first and third. That’s a pretty impressive outcome. Javy did everything in the first half of the season and improbably has been the best player on this team to this point, I can’t imagine a more deserving All-Star nod.
- Sidekick - Luke Farrell (.142). I cringed when I saw Luke warming up in the ninth. He occasionally throws some pretty flat pitches and more than occasionally they get destroyed. But I tip the hat, he threw a very good tenth inning while knowing if the team didn’t score he was likely to be throwing at least a small handful of innings.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.304). Hitless in five at bats including the last out in the ninth inning with the bases loaded when the Cubs failed to score with the bases loaded and only one out.
- Goat - Brandon Morrow (-.190). Brandon has been very good this year for the Cubs. He made a mistake and it was hammered. Brandon blew the save, but just to irritate those who hate pitcher wins and losses, he picks up the win.
- Kid - Jon Lester (-.158). Jon was given a lead, lost a lead and then left losing. The stat line on his start looks entirely different if the throw and catch between Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras had been clean while Billy Hamilton was playing some little league baseball. Jon threw 6.1 innings, allowing six hits, three walks and four runs. I imagine in the end, the only start Jon cares about is that the Cubs have won the last eight times he started. He’s deservedly headed to the All-Star game with Javy and Willson.
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs in the seventh inning, Javier Baez came to the plate with runners on first and third. On the decisive pitch, Jason Heyward took off from first base. Javy snuck a ground ball just past shortstop and into centerfield to tie the game... and then while the Reds center fielder lobbed the ball back into the infield, Jason Heyward with only a slight pause just kept on running and produced the go ahead run. Heyward scored from first on a single and Baez had two RBI. (.411) *the third largest positive WPA event of the season for the Cubs, but only Baez’ second largest.
*Reds Play of the Game: Adam Duvall’s lead off home run in the ninth inning to tie the game at 5-5. (.332)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 16.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 13
- Sidekick - Jon Lester 12
Up Next: As noted above, the Cubs begin a three game set in San Francisco. The Giants are 47-45. They’ve been as far as five above .500 and as low as five below .500 this season. They are sitting in fourth place in the National League West. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games, but 12-8 in their last 20. They just split a four game set at home with the Cardinals. Before that, they had an interesting road trip in which they swept the Diamondbacks in Arizona and then were swept by the Rockies in Colorado.
Kyle Hendricks is on the mound for the Cubs. He is 5-8 with a 4.27 ERA on the season. He is totally headed in the wrong direction, having a 1-5 record and a 6.29 ERA over his last seven, in what is maybe the worst stretch of his career to date. Last time out, he faced the Tigers and got a no decision after throwing five innings, allowing seven hits, one walk and three runs. The good news in that game was only one walk and no home runs. Those two things have been particularly killing him. One of Kyle’s best starts of the year was in May against the Giants. He threw seven innings, allowing two hits, two walks and one run while striking out seven. Even in that game, he allowed two walks and a home run. Both his walk rate and his home run rate are at career highs.
Andrew Suarez will be the opposition. He is 3-5 with a 3.92 ERA. In his last seven games, he is 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA. This looks to be a tough matchup. Last time out, Suarez was a tough luck loser against the Rockies. he threw seven innings of five hit, one run, no walk baseball and picked up the loss. He did allow one home run, but that doesn’t seem like a real sin in Colorado. Andrew has never faced the Cubs, regular season or post season. The Cubs have struggled a fair bit against guys they’ve never seen before. Let’s hope that doesn’t continue.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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