My only criticism about Thursday night’s game would have been that the Cubs could have added another run or two so that I could truly enjoy watching Jon Lester bounce back from his recent struggles. He was fairly dominant last night, but with just a 1-0 lead, it was tense throughout. But, in the end Jon Lester and three relievers combined on a 1-0 shutout. With the win, the Cubs have back to back wins. They’ve also won two of their last three and three of their last five games in which they failed to score four runs. That’s been a struggle this year with a cumulative record of 16-37 in those games.
You wouldn’t know it from the doom and gloom around the team, but the team is 9-5 in August. It’s been talked about and it is a fair point that even in some of the wins, the team has had quite a bit of struggle in their game. I will grant that usually when a team gets blown out when it loses and sneaks one out when it wins consistently, that is usually a bad team. But this team is now 20 games over .500. It has a two game lead over the entire National League and a 3½-game lead within the division. This isn’t a bad team. It’s a team missing some of its best players. But if they can keep finding a way to win right now and then this team continues to add significant pieces in September, this team has a real shot at reaching the World Series.
I pointed it out yesterday, even with the recent struggles, the team actually hasn’t lost two straight games in three weeks. Today they’ll try to win three straight for the first time since the All-Star break. But even without any sustained winning streak, this team has been slowly adding to its lead. If they can continue to add to that lead in the division, when Kris Bryant comes back, they should have enough depth to get a few guys some extra rest down the stretch.
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 120, August 16 - Lester, three Cubs relievers combine on 1-0 shutout of Pirates (70-50)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Lester (.382). Jon threw six innings and allowed only five hits while striking out eight. Cubs pitchers issued no walks on the night.
- Hero - Pedro Strop (.200). While taking the train home from Wednesday’s game when I heard an older fellow first express frustration with “hats to the left” and then talk about all of the leads that Pedro Strop has blown. I’m glad I don’t live in the same world that guy does. My Pedro Strop is having one of the finest years of his career. Probably the finest. He did hit a batter in his inning of work.
- Sidekick - Carl Edwards Jr. (.142). The fun thing for me is that if appropriate, the three relievers who threw last night would be the sixth, seventh and eighth inning relievers once Brandon Morrow returns. Those four guys are a heck of a close for a ballgame.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - David Bote (-.084). David had just one hit by pitch to show for his four plate appearances on the day. I didn’t see the data, but it still looked like he hit the ball hard a couple of times.
- Goat - Addison Russell (-.078). Addison put the ball in play all four times he was up. He didn’t have anything to show for it. A lost season at the plate for Addison, at least by his own standards and expectations.
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.065). I remember thinking that Javy was worn down last year at one point and then he played almost a month consecutively and his numbers took off. He looks worn down and beat up to me again. But Javy being Javy I’ll assume this is just a speed bump and he’ll get it back in gear. He did have one hit in his four at bats, but he struck out twice.
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ stepped to the plate with one out in the fourth inning and launched a solo homer. The only run the Cubs would need. (.130).
*Pirates Play of the Game: After back to back two out singles in the third inning, David Bote came to the plate with two outs. He flew out to right. (.055). On a night the Pirates only had one runner reach second base, that was as big as it got.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 24.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 17
- Sidekick - Ben Zobrist 16
Up Next: In their effort to win three straight, the Cubs will send Cole Hamels to the mound. Cole is 7-9 with a 4.22 ERA for the season. Of course, as you all well know, he’s been much better than that as a Cub. He has thrown 18 innings as a Cub and allowed only three runs (two earned) for a nifty 1.00 ERA. He’s allowed only 11 hits and four walks while striking out 20. His first start as a Cub was actually in Pittsburgh if you didn’t remember and he won that game with five innings of three hit, two walk, one unearned run baseball. He left that one early with a high pitch count, but was very effective. Hopefully, he can be a little bit more economical as all of the Cubs top relievers have now thrown in consecutive games. It could look like Brandon Kintzler and Justin Wilson at the back of the pen today.
The Pirates counter with Trevor Williams. Trevor is 10-8 with a 3.66 ERA on the season. He is trending in the right direction for the Pirates with a 4-3 record and a 2.75 ERA over his last seven. Last time out he threw seven shutout innings in San Francisco allowing only five hits and a walk. He’s won four of his last five and only allowed two runs in 29 innings over those five starts. The opposition in those games isn’t too shabby (Giants, Cardinals, Mets, Indians, Nationals). So know that Trevor has been in a pretty good groove of his own. He’s faced the Cubs once this year and in that one he picked up a win with six innings of four hit, one walk, one run baseball. That was in April. Prior to that start, he had made three starts last year against the Cubs and allowed eight runs in just 13⅔ innings of work. So the Cubs are familiar with and have had some success against him historically.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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