I spend a lot of time talking about two different ways of looking at things. In the last week, there have been some people both here and around social media who were worried that the sky was falling. That the Cubs might not make the playoffs. In fairness, I’ll note that in this year’s National League, the distance from top to bottom is about as small as you can imagine. After last night, the biggest N.L. division lead is 2½ games (hey, that’s the Cubs!). There are seven teams within five games of a wild card spot. In one of those crazy “if the season ended today” moments earlier this week, the Dodgers would have been sent home entirely. So I will nod to the idea that nothing is set in stone. It is entirely possible for the Cubs, the Brewers, the Dodgers, the Braves or the Phillies who have looked for so long like they’d be the teams coming out of the National League to have a bad stretch of games and to end up on the outside looking in.
But turning things around, the Cubs have now won four of their last five games. Sure, playing the Royals is good for the soul, but those wins do count. No one is asking the American League teams to apologize for winning a collective 70 percent of their games against the Royals and Orioles. The Cubs have won four of five and the one loss in there, the game was tied after seven innings. The loss before that, which I’ve seen described in various places as humbling, embarrassing, and humiliating. That game was tied after six.
The Cubs own a fantastic record this year. They have come from behind to win in close to 40 games already this year. The Cubs have scored 209 runs in the seventh inning or later this season. They’ve allowed 131. Most of the time if the game is tied late, you can expect the Cubs to prevail. But not every time. The Cubs have walked that tightrope over and over again and succeeded. But that doesn’t mean that the margins of error in those games aren’t still relatively small.
We’d have all loved to see the Cubs sweep through six games against two of the worst teams in baseball. Those Padres are suddenly playing well. If you weren’t paying attention, you may have missed the 11 runs they dropped on the Brewers last night in Milwaukee. The Brewers will not be sweeping the Padres either. Despite only winning four of six, the Cubs now own that 2½-game lead in the division thanks to the Padres win over the Brewers. There are 49 games left in the Cubs season and they are four games ahead in the loss column. The Phillies have moved into the second best record in the National League and they are two games behind the Cubs.
There are tough games ahead. It is surely not over, but you can’t ask for a lot more than having the best record in the league by two full games. The Cubs are 19 games over .500, their high water mark on the season. If they go just 25-24 in their remaining games, they will win 90 games. If they continue at their current .584 winning percentage, they will win 95 games. It still looks like the Cubs will win their division and that they have a strong chance at having the best record in the league. It would be nice if they wrap those things up with a handful of games left in the season so that things can be lined up for the playoffs. But, with several days off after the season and before the first game, it isn’t all that hard to lineup for the first game anymore unless you have to play a wild card game. Once you get into the playoffs, it is a matter of how many of your guys are running hot and playing well. To be fair, right now that wouldn’t be a great number. But the Cubs have almost two months to get things in a groove.
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 113, August 7 - Cubs blank Royals 5-0 for second straight win (66-47)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Mike Montgomery (.277). Kudos to Mike who has clearly been making tweaks the last few starts. He mentioned that he was working on altering his pitch mix a bit a few starts ago. I’d been a proponent of Mike in the rotation prior to this season and was quick to spike that ball when he came out of the gate with seven strong starts. I did wonder if his innings load was starting to creep up on him, but now he’s had a couple of very good starts in a row. To be fair the last two have been against the Padres and Royals, but again we’re not throwing back the games just because the other team is over matched. Mike threw six innings (plus one batter) and allowed five hits, two walks and struck out four.
- Hero - David Bote (.222). David had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He drove in three runs including the game’s first two with a triple, his first triple in the major leagues. For those of you who didn’t see it, Joe Maddon acknowledged that David is forcing the issue on playing time with how well he is playing.
- Sidekick - Ben Zobrist (.084). It was largely a two man show last night with Bote and Montgomery, but Ben did have a hit, a walk, an RBI and a run scored before leaving the game with some hip pain. Joe said that Ben might even be back in the lineup today, so it doesn’t sound too serious.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jason Heyward (-.087). Jason had a hit and a run scored in his four at bats. He lands here because he grounded into a fielder’s choice at home his first time up with runners on second and third and one out (-.090).
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.049). Kyle also had a hit in his four at bats. He struck out twice. One of those ended the first inning with a runner on third (-.029).
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.029). Javy had just one hit in five at bats. He did score a run. The Cubs had nine hits and five walks on the day.
WPA Play of the Game: David batted with two outs and runners on first and second in the first inning. He launched a two-run triple to right field for the game’s first two runs. (.178)
*Royals Play of the Game: The Jason Heyward fielder’s choice grounder one batter earlier that we discussed above. (.090)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 30.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist 16
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop 15
Up Next: The two teams conclude their three game series tonight. The Cubs look to send the Royals to a seventh straight defeat. They’ll send Jose Quintana to the mound to do it. Jose comes off winning his 10th game of the year last time. He is 10-7 with a 4.12 ERA. Over his last seven, he is 4-2 with a 4.23. A good portion of the damage over those seven starts came in one start two turns ago against the Cardinals. Last time he threw six innings of four hit, no walk, one run baseball against the Padres. Jose is very familiar with the Royals. He made two starts against them last year and won both. He threw a total of 14 innings, allowing nine hits, four walks, two runs (one earned) and striking out 17. Seems like the right guy for trying to finish the job.
The Royals counter with rookie Heath Fillmyer. Heath has made just four starts in the major leagues. He is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in 30⅓ innings in total. As a starter, he is 0-1 with a 4.74 ERA in just 19 innings of work. Last time out he allowed three runs in just three innings of work against the Twins. He gave up five hits, three walks and struck out three. He’s yet to even reach the 90-pitch mark in a game, so expect him to be on a pretty short leash. The Cubs haven’t reached 10 runs in a long time now, this might be the day.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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