While I was watching Monday night’s Cubs victory, I had some thoughts. I really wanted Justin Verlander last year. That went really well for the Astros. I was very excited when they acquired Cole Hamels this year. That has gone really well through two starts for the Cubs. (To be fair, the Pirates are an above average offensive team, but the Royals are terrible, the returns are really early at this point). And then my brain laughed and said, I really, really proactively feel sorry for the next team that grabs an aging veteran hoping to regain former glory in a mid-season trade. The percentages aren’t great on those kinds of trades. Getting some innings? Sure. Getting some veteran leadership and playoff experience? Of course. Reversing a career decline? That’s quite a bit more uncertain.
Cole turned in another quality start. The Cubs bats were relatively quiet facing yet another pitcher who they’ve never seen before. That’s going to be the case again tonight and tomorrow in Kansas City as is usually the case when you face teams from the other league. Sometimes you might bump into a guy who has traded leagues and of course the Cubs see the White Sox every year, so there is some familiarity with their pitchers, but by and large there will be a lot of seeing unknown pitchers. That can be tricky for sure.
The offense last night was provided almost entirely by Javier Baez. If the Cubs finish with the best record in the National League and he more or less stays on the pace he has, I’m going to be extremely irritated if he doesn’t win the National League MVP. He plays stellar defense, fantastic base-running, and a ton of energy. Of course he’s always provided those things. But now he also provides one of the best stat lines in all of baseball. He is seventh in the NL in WAR (third among position players, first in offensive WAR). He’s 10th in batting average, first in slugging, seventh in OPS, sixth in runs, seventh in hits, first in total bases, fourth in doubles, third in triples, sixth in homers, first in RBI, sixth in stolen bases, ninth in adjusted OPS+, seventh in runs created, first in extra base hits, eighth in offensive win percentage, second in intentional walks (and these aren’t because the pitcher is batting behind him anymore), fourth in WPA (hey, that’s us!). You get the picture. This is one dominant season.
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 112, August 6 - Cubs bounce back with 3-1 victory in series opener (65-47)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Cole Hamels (.261). Cole threw six innings and allowed seven hits, one walk and one run. He only struck out two, but he battled through six innings against a lousy Royals lineup. He figures to see the Nationals in his next start if everything stays on schedule. That should be a better test than this one was. Let’s see if he can make it three straight to start his Cubs career.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.217). Javy homered in the sixth to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead and then added some breathing room with an RBI double in the eighth.
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek (.112). Steve had a perfect inning, striking out one. On the year, Steve is 2-1 with three saves and a 1.89 ERA (2.92 FIP) in 52⅓ innings of work over 55 games. He’s averaging just a touch under 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work. He had been everything the front office could have asked for in a free agent. He and Brandon Morrow (when healthy) have been fantastic in the pen.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Willson Contreras (-.123). Willson did have a second inning single, but he struck out in his other three at bats. Twice he struck out with men on base and once with runners on second and third and only one out in the eighth inning.
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.091). Ian saw a little less traffic than Contreras did, but his night was even worse. He was hitless in four at bats with four strike outs. Ouch.
- Kid - Kyle Schwarber (-.084). Kyle had one walk in his four plate appearances. The Cubs had nine hits and four walks on the night, but six of the hits were spread among just three players.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez was the first batter to face Royals reliever Kevin McCarthy. He greeted him with a long home run to center field. That gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead. (.154). This is the 13th time Javy has been responsible for the play of the game, 12 of them have been positive events. He’s responsible for two of the top five individual events on the season. This is the season of Javy.
*Royals Play of the Game: Jason Heyward grounded out to third with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning with the score tied 1-1.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 31.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist and Pedro Strop 15
Javy crosses the +30 plateau for the second time. Let’s see if he can stay there this time.
Up Next: Game two of a three game set between these two teams. The Cubs will look to hand the Royals their sixth straight loss. Mike Montgomery will be the man on the mound to do it. Mike is 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA on the season. He’s tailed off a bit after a great early run of starts. He’s just 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA in his last seven starts and has allowed three or more runs in five of the seven starts. He did only allow one the last time in 5⅓ innings of work against the Padres. He allowed seven hits, one walk and struck out two. He last started against the Royals in 2016 before being traded to the Cubs. He threw 6⅓ innings of five hit, one run, no walk baseball in picking up the win. He also threw a complete game shutout against them in 2015. Both of those games were against Royals teams that were significantly better than this one.
Brad Keller is the Royals starter. Brad is 4-4 with a 3.39 ERA in this, his rookie season. He too has tailed a bit of late with a 3-2 record and a 4.14 ERA over his last seven starts. Last time out he threw 6⅓ innings against the White Sox and allowed five hits, three walks and two runs while striking out nine. He got no decision in the game. A bit over a month ago he had back to back strong starts against the Mariners (in Seattle) and the Angles, so he does have the ability to put together a strong start from time to time. Let’s hope the bats break out of a recent funk in this one. It has been 20 games now since the Cubs had a 10+ run game. They’ve scored 40 runs over their last 10 which is a full run below their season average.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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