The non-waiver trade deadline has passed. The Cubs this year added two relievers and a starting pitcher. Sadly, despite the much hyped starting rotation heading into the season, the starter was necessary because the starting pitching has been underwhelming. Not bad mind, but underwhelming. They were thought to be exceptional and potentially historic. In reality, they’ve logged an ERA of 3.77 over 963⅔ innings across 106 games. Three teams in each league have been better than that among their starters. Tonight, the Cubs will get their first start from Cole Hamels, so we’ll see if that provides a boost.
The Cubs also acquired two relievers. Jesse Chavez gave the Cubs a multi-inning reliever that they didn’t really have within their core relievers. Then they added Brandon Kintzler. Like Steve Cishek, he’s a guy added to the pen over the last year who has closing experience. He’s unlikely to be used in that role with the Cubs, but should provide another arm who can try to escape a sticky situation mid-game.
We can also see that the Cubs have reacted to a recent trend in playoff baseball. If you followed along with the way playoff baseball was played last year, there was an increased reliance on relievers. In more than a game or two, teams pulled ineffective starters very early in the game and tried to steal a game with their bullpen. The Cubs have built a bullpen capable of doing that if need be.
From where I sit, that leaves the Cubs with a three point strategy come playoff time. 1) The Cubs have one of the best offenses in baseball. With David Bote added to the regular 12 hitters, the Cubs will have 13 productive hitters that they can mix and match to try to match-up against even the best opposing pitchers. 2) They will be able to select from Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and (hopefully) Yu Darvish to select the pitchers most likely to shutdown the opposition. 3) Whenever the starting pitcher loses effectiveness, they should be able to mix and match from a deep selection of talented relief pitchers.
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 106, July 31 - Cubs escape early hole but falter late in loss to Pirates (61-45)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.269). Javier Baez had three hits in four at bats. The big blow was a three-run home-run. This makes him the National League RBI leader heading into the final stretch of the season. If Javy doesn’t get serious consideration for National League MVP, there is something I just don’t understand. Javy has carried this team start to finish and to this point, the Cubs still have the best record in the National League (even now, .002 winning percentage better than the Brewers).
- Hero - David Bote (.075). This would have been so much better of a story if I was writing about the single he had pinch hitting in the ninth inning that started the rally that lead the Cubs to another amazing come-from-behind victory. Still, he had a pinch single against the Pirates talented closer and ended up scoring a consolation run.
- Sidekick - Tommy La Stella (.070). Tommy also had a pinch single in this one. It would be extremely helpful if Tommy could get back in a groove. He is a potent weapon when he is hitting off of the bench.
THE THREE GOATS:
Billy Goat - Addison Russell (-.253). Addison had one hit in four at bats. It was a ninth inning
tripledouble. That was the ball game right there. I didn’t see the game last night, but I did see the play. It is definitely hard to see how he was out. I haven’t dissected the play or read others’ thoughts on it, but I’d assume people have correctly pointed out that it’s too aggressive to go for third there. You take your double and you play for the tie on the road. Addison also grounded into a double play in the seventh after the La Stella single.
- Goat - Jon Lester (-.200). Score a point or two for those who said Jon was going to deal with some regression after nearly everything went perfectly in the first half of the season. Jon threw five innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and four runs. He struck out three and allowed a home run. The Pirates have been insanely hot in July, so I’m not going to dwell much on this start for Jon. It is certainly hard to face a team who has seen you a ton while they are swinging the bats well.
- Kid - Willson Contreras (-.182). Willson had just one hit in four at bats himself. The hit was a double, the other three times Contreras made the last out of the inning including once where he grounded into a double play.
WPA Play of the Game: Ben Zobrist doubled and Jason Heyward singled to start the fourth inning. I’ve taken to saying that the Cubs strategy this year is to get guys on base and then wait to see if Javier Baez can drive them in. He did just that with a three-run home-run to tie the game at 3-3. (.188)
*Pirates Play of the Game: Francisco Cervelli hit a two-run home-run with two outs in the third inning to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. (.167). Jon Lester quickly retired the first two batters he faced in the third inning. He then allowed single, double, homer. That was the defining inning in this game really.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 27.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist 14
- Sidekick - Brandon Morrow 13
Up Next: The brief two game series concludes today. The Cubs will be looking to savage a split and avoid a second consecutive series split. Cole Hamels makes his first start of the season for the Cubs. Cole is 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA on the season. As was much publicized at the time of the trade, he was 2-3 with a 6.69 ERA over his last seven starts. Last time out, the Oakland A’s scored seven runs against him in just five innings of work. He allowed nine hits, two walk and two home-runs. Cole hasn’t started a game against the Pirates since 2016 and that start didn’t go particularly well for him either (a loss with six runs, five earned allowed in 4⅔ innings.)
The Pirates look to stay on fire with Nick Kingham on the mound. Nick is 5-5 with a 4.80 ERA on the season and is 3-4 with a 5.50 ERA in his last seven. Nick has not been a huge part of the run the Pirates are on, though he did string three strong starts together before his last one. In his last start, he lasted just three innings against the Mets and allowed seven hits, four walks and six runs. The three starts leading up to that, he threw 18⅔ innings, allowing 13 hits, four walks and six runs. Nick has started twice against the Cubs this year and is 0-1 in 12 innings with a 3.75 ERA. I’d expect a pretty decent start from Nick.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Tommy La Stella