It might not have felt like it during that five-game stretch, but last night’s game was inevitable. The dam eventually had to burst and when it did, it was likely going to be an outburst. Old friend Francisco Liriano was the man on the mound when the Cubs bats finally broke through. While I’m still totally comfortable with the Cubs position in the division, I will say that on a day that the Cardinals and Brewers both won, it was not a moment too soon. With the win, the Cubs are four up in the loss column on the Cardinals and five on the Brewers. The Cubs have 37 to play. If the Cubs don’t collapse themselves, they’ll be the one National League preseason favorite to follow through on those expectations. Or at least that’s the way it looks.
Jon Lester, for the second straight start, looked like the Jon Lester of the first half. He allows hits, an occasional walk, doesn’t really strike any ne out and puts up a line that statisticians will say is largely unsustainable. Meanwhile, he just keeps piling on numbers onto an already impressive career. It’s too soon to look at the body of his work and determine for sure if he’ll one day end up in Cooperstown, but he ought to have a really interesting case, particularly if he can get another title or two. But voters have been awfully finicky about letting pitchers into the Hall, so he’s surely got plenty of work left to do.
The offense once again was long ball heavy. At least this time, there were multiple homers. David Bote’s two-run homer in the fifth appeared to break the dam. Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo went back to back in the ninth to put this one out of reach and save an inning on Pedro Strop’s arm. Along the way, the Cubs collected 11 hits and four walks. Daniel Murphy showed his strong approach at the plate and tallied two of those 11 hits. Kris Bryant is also inching closer to a rehab assignment which is expected to be a quick one (surely at least in part because the minor league seasons are just about over).
There is no question this should have been a two game sweep based upon the pitching match-ups. But the Cubs got out with one. Now home for seven games against the Joey Votto-less Reds and the Mets. Hopefully, the positive vibes from this game can carry over to the home stand.
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 125, August 22 - Cubs bats bust out in 8-2 win (72-53)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - David Bote (.230). David has been getting a steady diet of breaking pitches at or below the strike zone. He showed some patience yesterday and took a couple of walks. He also hit a long two-run home-run to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
- Hero - Pedro Strop (.171). Pedro was summoned with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cubs were up 4-1 but Victor Martinez who had been wearing out Cubs pitching all series was at the plate. Pedro got a short fly to center. He then issued a walk before getting a ground out to end the inning and preserve the lead.
- Sidekick - Jon Lester (.169). Jon did his part, keeping this one close with 5⅔ innings of seven hit, one walk, one run baseball. He struck out three.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.101). After one day in the top three for the cumulative standings, Anthony lands up here and will drop back a bit. I can pretty much guarantee we haven’t seen the last of him at the top of the standings. He had just one hit yesterday, but it was a home run.
- Goat - Justin Wilson (-.097). When Russ used to write this piece he talked a lot about fruit baskets. Justin, Anthony Rizzo owes you one. Justin faced one batter and normally surehanded Anthony misplayed it to load the bases and bring Strop into the game.
- Kid - Ian Happ (-.080). Ian had just one hit in four at bats. He struck out once. He did score a run.
WPA Play of the Game: Francisco Liriano threw four strong innings to start this game. But Albert Almora Jr. lead off the fifth inning with a single and David Bote lined a two-run home-run just over the left field wall for a 2-1 Cubs lead. (.215)
*Tigers Play of the Game: With one out and runners on first and second, Justin Wilson was summoned to face Niko Goodrum. Niko grounded one to Anthony Rizzo’s right. Rizzo glided across as he has so many times. It looked like it might be a close play at second and I think as Rizzo was preparing to throw to second he became indecisive, the ball slipped out of his hand and the Cubs were unable to record either out. (.097)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Javier Baez 19.5
- Sidekick - Ben Zobrist 16
Up Next: The Cincinnati Reds come to town. They’ve lost six of 10, 12 of 20 and 17 of 30. So after a nice bounce in the middle of the season, the Reds are slowly declining again. Of course, you may remember that the Reds have won seven of 12 in the season series. All seven of the remaining games are at Wrigley Field, so it is time to fix that.
Cole Hamels gets the call in game one of a four game series. Cole is 8-9 with a 4.00 ERA on the season. Over his last seven starts, he is 4-2 with a 3.89 ERA. One of the worst starts of Cole’s career will roll off of his rolling seven after tonight. In that one he allowed seven runs (three earned) in two-thirdsof an inning against the Tigers. Last time out he threw seven shutout innings against the Pirates in picking up his third win as a Cub. He allowed five hits, two walks and struck out three. He was aided by a string of double plays turned by the Cubs defense. Cole hasn’t faced the Reds since 2016, but that was a good one. He threw six innings and allowed five hits, two walks and one run while striking out eight. The Reds have a significantly better record against lefty starters at 18-15 as opposed to 38-56 against righties.
Anthony DeSclafani will be the Reds hurler. He is 6-3 with a 4.12 ERA. But he’s heading in the right direction with a 3-2 record and a 3.32 ERA for the Reds. The Reds resurgence was driven in no small part by getting some consistently solid starting pitching. They have the bats to be a menace, so when they get decent pitching they can be tough to beat. Last time out Anthony lasted 7⅔ innings and allowed six hits, one walk and one run. He struck out five. He got a no decision for his fine work. He’s faced the Cubs once in 2018 and he won that one. He lasted 6⅓ innings and allowed only three hits, four walks and two runs (both solo home runs). The Cubs haven’t hit Anthony hard since 2015. In fairness, they have only seen him twice since then with the other being in 2016, but those last two starts have both been wins for DeSclafani and he’s allowed only five runs in 12⅓ innings.
Hopefully Hamels is as good as he has been for the Cubs. This is a tough lineup, even without Votto. This is far from a gimme tonight. We’ve seen the Cubs bats go from ice cold to blistering hot a number of times in the past. Let’s hope this is one of them.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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