That was about as smooth a debut as could reasonably have been expected for Cole Hamels. The Cubs jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs and sending nine players to the plate in the very first inning. They chased Pirates starter Nick Kingham. Cole then threw five effective innings without allowing any earned runs. The Cubs added a couple more in the second and then it was just a matter of Joe divvying up innings among the relievers.
During the three seasons prior to this one, the Cubs compiled the best record in baseball from August until the end of the year. That isn’t a birthright and there are no guarantees. But I just love that on August 1, the Cubs played one of the cleanest games they have in quite some time. The Cubs have played .500 ball since the All-Star break and during that time the Milwaukee Brewers have caught back up to first place. At least until they lost one last night and fell a game back.
That Brewers team has played with a ton of confidence and poise all season long. They want no part of being underdogs in this division. They don’t want to talk about fading down the stretch or about their under-manned starting rotation. They believe they can win. Occasionally in sports, a team that has a ton of belief in itself can overcome odds and probabilities and do the impossible. I still tend to think talent finds its level and that the Cubs pull away down the stretch and win this division comfortably. But the Brewers have continually defied expectations. So we shall see.
For now, it’s exciting that Hamels was able to come in and immediately provide the team with a lift. It was only five innings, but that was a really strong start. It might have been even more were it not for a first inning error that made Hamels throw a ton of pitches right out of the gate. Still, the blow out allowed Joe Maddon to get work for two guys who he’s hoping to raise from the ashes in Tyler Chatwood and Brian Duensing. The Cubs bullpen is extremely deep now and should eventually get better with the addition of Brandon Morrow. If one or both of Duensing or Chatwood can get back on track, that bullpen gets even longer. The Cubs should be able to selective go out at winning games largely out of the bullpen.
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.147). The box score shows Javy as two hits in four at bats. He was also walked twice, once intentionally. He had a double, reached on an error. He also got picked off with some over-aggressive base-running in that first inning but ended up scoring when the resulting throw went wild. He added an RBI to his league-leading total. It was, as usual, quite a night for Javy.
- Hero - Ben Zobrist (.109). Ben has won the fight with father time this season. Joe Maddon has done a great job of getting him some extra rest and not over using him. And here in August, Ben is scorching hot with another three hit game. He’s got his season line up to .310/.399/.447 (wRC+ 131). From July 4 to present, it is even better than that at .369/.434/.508 with a 154 wRC+.
- Sidekick - Cole Hamels (.088). Add another line to my spreadsheet. The Cubs add two new players and one of them immediately makes a podium visit. Cole is the 40th Cub to appear in Heroes and Goats this season. (43 Cubs have appeared in games for the Cubs this year.) Cole was credited with five innings pitched, allowing three hits, two walks and striking out nine. He allowed one unearned run.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Addison Russell (-.020). Addison has been a magnet for the negative podiums this year and last night was no exception. Cole Hamels had the largest negative score even with his single after leaving five men on base in the first two innings. Addison had a single and a walk in his five plate appearances. But he too left the bases loaded in the first inning and that was the highest leverage at bat he saw on the day.
- Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (.000). He was retired in his only at bat as a pinch hitter. With the blowout, there were going to be some innocent bystanders getting unlucky in this one and Albert was one of them.
- Sidekick - Brian Duensing (.001). With three players tying for the last spot (Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Schwarber and Duensing) I did actually make a subjective decision for once. One run allowed in one inning is less than two base-runners allowed in one inning is less than two hits, an RBI and a run in five at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez has been involved with the Play of the Game more than any other Cub, this being his 12th appearance here. This is the third straight game he is here and this one has the distinction of being the smallest WPA Play of the Game of the Cubs season. Javy reached on an error in the first inning, advanced to second on a hit by pitch of Ian Happ after trying to steal second on multiple pitches that were fouled off and the one that hit Happ. Then he decided he’d steal third. Only Nick Kingham was still holding the ball. Kingham turned and threw towards third. The throw was wild and Javy scored on the play. This looks like an over-aggressive bad base-running play and the TV coverage did not do a particularly good job of showing the play. Kyle Schwarber was batting with runners on first and second and one out. I have to assume there was only one infielder on the left side of the field and he was awkwardly positioned. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this wasn’t as bad as it looked on TV.
*Pirates Play of the Game: Francisco Cervelli batted with runners on first and second and two outs in the first inning with the Pirates already trailing 4-0. He had an RBI single. (.076)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 30.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist 16
- Sidekick - Brandon Morrow 13
It’s Javy’s world and he’s just letting all of us live in it. This is the fifth consecutive game in which he is on one of the positive podiums and this is the second straight Superhero after starting the stretch with two Hero podium visits. He is the first Cub to reach the positive 30 plateau.
Up Next: After splitting the series with the Pirates, the Cubs return home for a four game series with the Padres. The Padres come in with a 42-68 record, worst in the National League. They’ve won just two of their last 10, four of their last 20 and seven of their last 30. They were just swept in a two game series at home against the Giants and that wrapped up an 0-5 home-stand after having been swept by the Diamondbacks. They’ve lost seven straight. And the Cubs swept them before the All-Star break in San Diego.
The Cubs have Mike Montgomery on the mound. Mike is 3-4 with a 4.03 ERA. He’s 1-2 with a 4.97 ERA over his last seven starts. Last time out he was knocked around pretty well by the Cardinals allowing 12 hits, one walk and five runs in just five innings of work. He’s definitely not heading in the right direction. He faced the Padres once last year and was fantastic. He threw six shutout innings allowing just three hits, two walks and he struck out four. He’s actually made two career starts against the Padres and has yet to allow a run in 15 innings pitched against them as the other was a complete game shutout.
Robbie Erlin is the Padres starter. He is 1-3 on the year in 59.2 innings of work, largely out of the bullpen. He has a 3.47 ERA across all of his starts. He made two spot starts earlier this year and neither went well. He was 0-2 with seven total innings pitched, 14 hits allowed, two walks and 12 runs allowed (11 earned). He has never started a game against the Cubs. Given that Erlin is a left handed pitcher, my initial hypothesis was that he is a lefty specialist trying to start games and getting beat up when he faces an all right handed lineup. Oddly, it’s the opposite. He’s a reverse split lefty. He has an opponent OPS of .606 against righties and .769 against lefties. It’s all very weird. Let’s just hope he continues to struggle as a starter.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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