The Cubs front office has made so many acquisitions through the years in so many ways. They’ve drafted players, they’ve signed international free agents, they’ve made trades, they’ve picked up players off of the waiver wire. Some of those acquisitions have gone very bad. Some of them have been amazing. Many of them were somewhere in the middle. They may have plugged a hole or provided depth or whatever. But this year’s trade deadline acquisition may have been the best one yet. I loved the Jose Quintana trade and I still think the best is yet to come from him. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila was a shrewd move. And of course Aroldis Chapman was absolutely the move that had to be made.
It’s early. We can’t judge anyone on four games. There have been some pretty putrid players in baseball history who have strung together four good games. So I’ll leave that tap of the brakes right there. That said, Cole Hamels hasn’t just plugged a hole in the Cubs rotation. Of course he did that. If he’d just been a cagey veteran like Dan Haren a few years back, a guy who would grind through five or six innings and just make sure you didn’t have to spend six or seven innings in the bullpen every fifth day, that would have been valuable. But Cole Hamels has been flat out dominant as a Cub. This team has been muddling along recently, but Cole Hamels has suddenly emerged as a rock. A guy who appears as if he’s going to give them a solid outing every fifth day. I haven’t looked around yet since last night’s game ended, but I know even last week after the Nationals start, there were already calls for Hamels to get the ball in Game 1 of the playoffs.
There’s a reason we don’t make these decisions in August, but how remarkable is that? I was very active around Cubs Twitter and on Bleed Cubbie Blue when the Hamels trade was coming together. I saw the reactions. And they were generally not good. He’s over the hill! He’s getting lit up by lousy American League teams. I’d point out that his numbers away from Texas were still pretty fantastic. I’d point out that the stat heads have said that their home park is currently grading out as the worst park to pitch in throughout baseball. Sure, some of those numbers look worse because the Rangers pitchers are terrible, but this isn’t the 1980s anymore. Stat heads know when there is noise in data. They can’t always fix it, but they work hard to drown out unrelated factors.
It’s just four games. He could fade back to what he was. It could just be a good groove. Or, with something to play for, with an elite defense behind him, he has rediscovered his prior dominance. I understand the first thought there. We spent so long as Cub fans chasing veteran players and trying to wring out a few more good months from them. Often we’d get a good performance or two and then a lot of bad. But this front office is pretty shrewd. I’m not sure any deal will ever outdo getting Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for two guys who had no real long term role in the organization. But if this continues, this one is going to sit right next to that one. I’m loving every minute of 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 121, August 17 - Cubs use seven double plays and strong start from Hamels to win back to back 1-0 games from Pirates (71-50)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Cole Hamels (.498). Cole threw seven innings of five-hit, two-walk, three-strikeout ball. He was of course aided by a number of good defensive plays behind him, including five double plays. There have been a number of strong WPA games already this season, but this one ranks in the top five.
- Hero - Jesse Chavez (.281). Jesse picked up his first save as a Cub. He came in with a runner on base and one out in the ninth. He walked one batter, but he then got the record tying double play ball to close it out.
- Sidekick - Jorge De La Rosa (.148). Jorge also inherited a runner and recorded two outs. How else? By way of a double play. Jorge is the 42nd Cub to appear in Heroes and Goats this year.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Javier Baez (-.210). He put the ball in play four times yesterday but had nothing to show for it. The slump continues.
- Goat - Addison Russell (-.108). I really feared the he and David Bote failing to get at least one insurance run in the ninth inning would bite the Cubs in the butt, but it did not. Addison was also hitless in four at bats.
- Kid - Ian Happ (-.108). The Cubs managed just six hits and three walks as the offense continue to struggle in Pittsburgh. He did have one hit in four tries, but struck out twice.
WPA Play of the Game: The nature of WPA play of the game is generally that hitters are here for positive reasons and pitchers for negative reasons. This is only the fourth time this season that a relief pitcher for the Cubs has the positive play of the game. Jesse Chavez faced David Freese with one out and runners on first and second in the ninth inning. He got a double play grounder to third. (.335)
*Pirates Play of the Game: Cory Dickerson’s lead off single in the ninth inning. (.134)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 21.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 17
- Sidekick -Ben Zobrist 16
Up Next: Game 3 of the four-game set today between these two teams. Tyler Chatwood returns to the rotation for at least one start. He is 4-5 with a 5.06 ERA on the season. He hasn’t started a game since July 26 and things weren’t going well then. He’d had a 1-1 record and just 35⅔ innings pitched over his last seven starts with a 6.81 ERA. His last start was against the Diamondbacks and he received a no decision after throwing 4⅔ innings and allowing five hits, six walks and four runs. He has made one start against the Pirates, way back in April when the Pirates were formidable at the plate. He took the loss in that one, allowing nine hits though only one walk in five innings of work. For whatever voodoo was involved, the Cubs were 11-8 in games started by Tyler this year.
The Pirates counter with another talented young starter in Joe Musgrove. Joe is 4-7 this year but sports a fine 3.49 ERA. He’s been even better over his last seven starts, with a 2-4 record despite a 2.70 ERA. Let’s hope the Pirates continue to not provide a lot of support behind him. He’s lost his last three starts despite allowing only five earned runs (seven total) over 20 innings. Last time out, in San Francisco, he threw six innings and allowed seven hits, one walk and four runs (three earned). He started a game back at the end of May against the Cubs and recorded a win. He threw seven innings and allowed seven hits, four walks and just one run. He struck out five.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Jorge De La Rosa
The Infield Defense