Every now and then a series finishes and the thought that comes out of it is more about the opposition than the Cubs. The Pirates threw four starters at the Cubs with sub-4.00 ERAs. There doesn’t appear to be a Clayton Kershaw or a Max Scherzer in the bunch. Just four straight guys who pass the eye test as MLB pitchers. Then every time they went to the pen it seemed that they brought in another guy who throws hard with some movement. The Pirates appear to have the makings of a very fine pitching staff. It made me see why they would trade for Chris Archer, knowing they’d have him in-house for a couple years. They are clearly in need of some bats, but I could definitely see what they were building over there.
My larger thought over the weekend was this. First and foremost, I tip my cap to the six teams in the American League who have lapped the field in the American League. I essentially only watch the Cubs, so I can’t speak to the relative talents of any of them other than the Cleveland Indians who looked good if not spectacular in the four games the Cubs played against them. (I know I didn’t want to see any more Trevor Bauer.) With that caveat out of the way, I know there is a tendency to assume those American League teams will just stomp all over whoever reaches the World Series. Certainly, all six of those teams have a winning record in inter-league play.
But here is the thing. I’m going to crossover and use football for a second because the math is easier. Would you rather be in a division with one team that was 16-0 and two other teams that were 8-8, a division that had two 12-4 teams and an 8-8 team or a division with one 12-4 team and two 10-6 teams? All three of those hypothetical divisions features teams that are a combined 16 over .500, but they just aren’t equal. I don’t care what strength of schedule might say. I didn’t go look at it relative to this thought. Part of the process of running up a gaudy record is usually playing a lot of teams that have mailed it in.
The Cleveland Indians play in a division where four teams essentially never left the starting gate. The Twins have occasionally flirted with .500, but seriously. The Indians are 20 games over .500 against their own division and one game under against all of the rest of baseball. The Yankees and Red Sox play in a division with an average Rays team and two horrendous teams. The AL West has been a fairly strong division. But it certainly helps the AL teams that only six teams in the AL have been playing for anything since June. Many of them weren’t playing for anything even that long.
At the All-Star Break and into the trade deadline, 11 teams in the National League were still relatively within reach of a playoff spot. Right this very minute, there are still eight teams in the National League within five games of a playoff spot. When was the last time the Cubs played a team that was mailing it in? Given that even the woeful Reds are still playing hard and trying to get closer to .500, there really aren’t a lot of nights off. Incidental and yet ironic to my point, the Cubs will finally play two games this week against a team that has been mailing it in. Of course that’s an AL team in the Detroit Tigers. (Was your answer to my question the Kansas City Royals? I rest my case.)
We all like to think that the Cubs should just steamroll the Pirates, the Reds, the Nationals, whatever. Just know that it is a little tougher when the other team is still rolling out essentially the team it rolled out on opening day. The one they thought would give them a shot if things broke right for them.
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.
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Pedro Strop (.349). Pedro wasn’t dominant on Sunday, but he recorded six outs during the ninth and tenth innings, giving the Cubs every possible chance to win the game late. He allowed a hit, a walk and hit two batters.
- Hero - Carl Edwards Jr. (.269). Carl recorded four outs in the sixth and seventh innings. He allowed a hit and a walk.
- Sidekick - Jason Heyward (.098). Jason had a double and a walk in three plate appearances in the game after coming in late.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Brandon Kintzler (-.362). He allowed the decisive solo home run in the 11th.
- Goat - Albert Almora Jr. (-.172). In his defense, I had to rewind the game to understand why he was walking away from the plate after his at bat to end the 11th with the bases loaded. Among the various things contributing to the Cubs offensive woes has been some awful sequencing on when bad calls from umpires have occurred.
- Kid - David Bote (-.167). Some team was eventually going to pitch Bote well. To Bote’s credit, without having looked at any data, the eye test said he was still scalding the ball fairly regularly just right at people.
WPA Play of the Game: In an extra inning game, you are always going to see a large WPA event (or two). Adam Frazier’s walk-off home-run was one. (.465) This one rates as the fourth largest negative WPA event of the year.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Pedro Strop’s ninth inning was aided by some nifty defensive work. With one out and the bases loaded, the Cubs pulled Ben Zobrist into the infield to give them five infielders. The Cubs then turned a second base to right field to first base double play. (.333) Fitting that the plays of the game would include a solo homer and a double play.
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 20
- Hero - Javier Baez 19.5
- Sidekick - Ben Zobrist 16
Up Next: The Cubs have an off day on Monday and then will not have another one until Thursday, September 13. The Cubs only have two days off after Monday until the end of the regular season. September 1 call-ups can’t come soon enough. Tuesday night, the Cubs will begin a two game series in Detroit. Tomorrow morning I’ll have my usual off-day look at the Cumulative Standings for Heroes and Goats. As usual, I’ll also look at the National League standings, run differential, playoff odds, team hitting and team pitching statistics.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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