For whatever reason, the Cubs station just keeps playing the same song over and over and over again. You know, the one where they hit a solo home run and hope that’s enough to win a baseball game. 2017’s theme, at least for the first 100 games or so was .500. The Cubs would win a few, lose a few, win a few, whatever. But they’d wake up right back at .500 like they were waking up from a bad dream. No matter what they did they were in the same spot. The 2018 season is a different animal. This team isn’t capable of being too much of anything. And yet has slowly drifted upwards all year long. Even with this three game losing streak (the first since losing five in a row June 21-25), they are still 18 games over .500.
The two most consistent themes for this team are A) score four runs and win (54-13 when scoring four runs). B) They have trouble scoring four runs consistently (only 67 times now in 124 games despite averaging around five runs a game all season). Scoring less that four runs has been almost as bad in the other direction (17-40 through last night’s game). Ironically though, despite three straight low scoring losses, prior to that they’d actually won three of five and five of ten in that situation.
So, that leads us to the good news in what’s been going on. The Cubs pitching staff has been doing very well lately. To be certain, neither the Pirates or the Tigers are an offensive juggernaut right now. The Pirates have had flashes this year, but have really tailed off after a very good start. But as we all know, it isn’t always easy to shutdown even the worst teams day in and day out. So I find it encouraging that the pitching is taking a step forward. Cole Hamels has been a huge part of that, but now we are seeing better starts from Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana recently. Hopefully those guys can finish strong and give the Cubs four very good post season starters.
The bats are really not good right now to say the least. The good news? Daniel Murphy is a professional hitter and he’s going to be in the lineup tonight. Kris Bryant took actual swings last night, so hopefully his return is just around the corner too. I also thought that Albert Almora Jr. looked like he had a couple of good at bats last night. Javier Baez had a couple of hits. So maybe, just maybe a couple of these guys who have been in deep slumps are starting to emerge.
I was frustrated that it seemed like the last two plate appearances of the game for the Cubs were two of the very few really strong at bats of the game. No one is going to ask me to coach a baseball team anytime soon, but if I were Chili Davis, I’d be showing those kinds of at bats to the hitters. Of course you always want to try to drive your pitch if you get it early in the count. But when the Cubs aren’t getting those pitches, it seems like they’ve gotten away from the ability to grind out at bats like that. Hopefully the addition of Murphy and the return of Bryant will also be a big boost that comes sooner than later.
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 124, August 22 - Cubs offensive woes continue in third straight loss 2-1 (71-53)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.205). Anthony had a very good night at the plate with two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. One of the hits was his solo home run accounting for the Cubs only run. It was also just about the ugliest looking home run swing and follow through I can remember.
- Hero - Kyle Hendricks (.103). The first inning continues to be a thing with him. He allowed two runs in the first and then followed that with six scoreless innings. He allowed 10 hits and one walk. He kept the ball in the park. It’s true for every pitcher, but with Kyle’s margin of error, it is especially true that he needs to keep the ball in the park and limit walks to be fully effective.
- Sidekick - Albert Almora Jr. (.077). It’s been rough going of late for Albert, but he had two hits and a walk last night in five plate appearances. Hopefully he is getting back on track. He figures to lose even more playing time with Daniel Murphy on the team.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Willson Contreras (-.292). Thank God for Willson’s defense. It is an enormous part of the effectiveness of the Cubs defense. His bat? It just seems to keep retreating further. I don’t know how to not have his arm in the game every day, but he’s totally lost at the plate right now. He was hitless in four at bats last night. One of the four outs was a double play ball and three of the four at bats came with at least one runner on base.
- Goat - Jason Heyward (-.192). Jason had a rough night of his own at the plate, going hitless in five at bats. It looks like many of the Cubs bats are pressing right now, trying to hit five run homers and what not. Jason audibly grunted after one of his outs yesterday and you can see the frustration on him.
- Kid - Tommy La Stella (-.154). Tommy was pressed into the lineup when Addison Russell was scratched. Tommy had a great first couple of months, albeit with virtually no power game, but has really struggled since. Tommy was already getting squeezed out with David Bote performing well as a pinch hitter while also offering defense and power. The addition of David Murphy may very well push Tommy off of the playoff roster.
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras batted in the fourth inning with runners on first and third and one out with the Cubs down 2-0. He grounded into a double play. (.132)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo’s home run leading off the sixth inning to cut the deficit to 2-1. (.118)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 20
- Hero - Javier Baez 19.5
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo 17
The comeback portion of the program is completed. Anthony Rizzo has made the journey from bottom three to top three. The question now is can he deliver the finishing kick and go on to win yet another Superhero of the Year award?
Up Next: The two teams finish off this brief two game series and the season’s four game series. The Cubs will be trying to salvage a split of each. They’ll send their winningest pitcher to the mound to try and do it. Jon Lester is 13-5 with a 3.72 ERA. It has been great over his last seven starts though as he is 2-3 with a 7.68 ERA. He had two starts in that stretch where he was charged with eight earned runs. Last time out, he was very good against the Pirates, picking up a win with six shutout innings. He allowed five hits and struck out eight while issuing no walks. The long ball has been the problem for Jon, so hopefully a very large park will let him string back to back good starts together. Jon hasn’t started a game against the Tigers since 2015. His numbers then weren’t great, but that was a very, very different Tigers team than this one.
Old friend Francisco Liriano will start for the Tigers. He is 3-8 with a 4.72 ERA this year for the Tigers. Somehow, his last seven are even worse than those numbers. Over his last seven, he is 0-4 with a 6.83 ERA. Last time out he lost to the Twins, allowing eight runs (four earned) in just 1⅔ innings. He faced the Cubs back in July and lost. He threw six innings and allowed five hits, five walks and three runs. He didn’t face the Cubs last year, but was 0-2 in three starts against the Cubs in 2016. So he’s surely none too excited for this matchup. I will be stunned and more than a little tilted if the Cubs don’t win this game.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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