What goes up must come down. That doesn’t mean it had to come back down the next day. After a euphoric win on Friday, this team thudded back down to earth and it wasn’t pretty. So far this year, the Cubs have had trouble punching through to 20 games over .500. The Cubs fall back to 18 over. The good news is that no one in the National League looks super likely to get there. The Dodgers on paper looks like a team that would get there, but with yesterday’s loss, they are only 10 over with 44 to play. To get to 90 wins (18 over for a 162 game season), they need to finish out the season 26-18. Doable? Probably. Likely? Starting to doubt it. The Brewers? They’d need to to finish the season out with a 23-19 record. Doable? For sure.
So the question then becomes, can the Cubs finish out at a .500 clip? The answer emphatically yes, they can finish the season out at .500. Are they guaranteed to? No. Obviously this team has struggled to put together any kind of consistency, particularly since the All-Star break. This is gone on long enough that I can’t totally dismiss it. Hopefully, some of the walking wounded start walking through the door within the next couple of weeks. Yu Darvish will throw another simulated game this afternoon. A rehab stint could be next. He is saying confident things, seemingly for the first time in months. Kris Bryant has begun swinging a bat and has acknowledged that he needs to be aware of the demands he puts on his body with his rigorous daily work.
Of course there is one guy who I think could go a long way towards putting the Cubs over the top and coasting into the division crown that many of us have thought all year long they’d do. That man is Jon Lester. Saturday he was battered yet again. I noted it yesterday that he’s really struggled over his last seven starts and now you can run that number to eight. This has reached the point that I get to with every player. Either he isn’t healthy or he is tipping his pitches. I know he over performed all of his peripheral numbers in the first half, but I can’t believe that regression just whipsawed like that. Whatever the case, the Cubs need his leadership at the top of the rotation. Hendricks is getting more and more locked in as he always seems to do in the second half. Cole Hamels has been a breath of fresh air after his drink from the fountain of youth coming over. But this team needs big Jon leading the way. I hope he finds 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 116, August 11 - Cubs pounded early and often in 9-4 loss to Nationals (67-49)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.039). I know no one looked like any kind of hero yesterday, but Rizzo did reach base twice in three plate appearances yesterday with a single a hit by pitch. Anthony is rocketing up the season standings. Unfortunately, he was also picked off and caught stealing in the game (two separate events).
- Hero - Albert Almora Jr. (.032). These blow out losses have a really low bar for reaching the hero podiums. Albert had one hit in four at bats and struck out twice. He scored the Cubs only run while the game was still competitive.
- Sidekick - Addison Russell (.028). There weren’t many bright spots yesterday, but Addison was one of them. He had three hits in four at bats. They were all singles, but it has to start somewhere.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jon Lester (-.409). Oof. Jon lasted just 3⅔ innings. He was tagged with 10 hits, one walk, three homers and nine runs (eight earned). He took the loss.
- Goat - Javier Baez (-.078). Javy had a sacrifice fly in three plate appearances before getting a few innings off.
- Kid - David Bote (-.031). David had one hit in four at bats. The Cubs did actually manage 11 hits in this one to go with two walks. But it was just a sloppy performance all around.
WPA Play of the Game: Jon Lester recorded the first two Nationals hitters on Sunday. Then Bryce Harper had a two out single and it brought Ryan Zimmerman to the plate. Ryan hit a two-run home-run. (.180)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With the Cubs trailing 3-0, Almora lead off the bottom of the third with a single and that brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate. He recorded the 1000th hit of his career, a single putting runners on first and third with no outs. (.094)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 25.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist 16
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop 15
For a little while there, Javy’s lead at the top looked insurmountable. Of course he slumped for a little while once earlier this year and then found a whole new level of hot. Anthony Rizzo is in hot pursuit of the leaders though.
Up Next: The two teams complete their three game series with some Sunday night baseball. Cole Hamels will look to win this series for the Cubs in his third start of the year. He has won each of his two starts as a Cub and is 6-2 this year in games not started at Rangers park. Cole’s season numbers aren’t bad, 7-9 with a 4.38 ERA, but his last seven are still pretty terrible at 3-3 at 7.09. There were three terrible starts in his last five with the Rangers (two at home and the other included four unearned runs in one inning) and two not good starts there. So his numbers still aren’t much to look at. But as a Cub, he has thrown 11 innings, allowed 10 hits, three walks, two runs (one earned). He’s struck out 11. Let’s hope his resurgence as a Cub continues. He hasn’t started against the Nationals since 2015 when he was in their division and faced them three times. For what little those numbers are worth, he was 1-1 and allowed seven runs in 21 innings of work.
Max Scherzer is on the mound for the Nationals. Max is having another Cy Young type of season, so this will not be an easy one. Max is 15-5 with a 2.28 ERA. In his last seven, he’s 5-1 with a 2.87 ERA. He hasn’t lost a game since July 2 and that one was against the Red Sox, who if you haven’t heard beat everyone, everyday. His last time out he pitched against the Braves in Washington. He threw seven innings and allowed four hits, one walk, a home run and one run. He struck out six. He didn’t get any support though and didn’t record a victory. Max started once in the regular season last year against the Cubs and it was a dominant outing. He threw six innings and allowed just two hits, no walks and one run. He struck out six. Of course he pitched twice against the Cubs in the National League Division Series last year and had a 3.68 ERA in 7⅓ innings of work (it sure felt like more than that, didn’t it?)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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