I’d be the happiest guy in the world if I heard the Cubs had gone out after Tuesday night’s game to celebrate Anthony Rizzo’s birthday Wednesday (and Jason Heyward’s today). People get angry about stuff like that. Every game being sacred and all of that. But I tend to think they are human and that it’s pretty hard to dial it up to 11 for 162 games. The Cubs largely appear to have had it turned up to about 3 for the game against the Royals last night. It wasn’t pretty.
To be fair to Jose Quintana, for most of the first six innings he was very good. He was the latest guy in the Cubs rotation who I’ve seen trashed and have it suggested that he be left out of the playoff rotation. The collective voice of Cubs nation always wants to have its cake and eat it too. There has been complaining all season long that the starters don’t go deep enough into games. If Jose would have been lifted after six, he would have left having allowed three hits, two walks and two runs over six innings with three strikeouts. Even accounting for the opposition, that’s a good start. Yes, he lost it quickly, but that’s not a reason to leave a guy off of the playoff roster and out of the playoff rotation. That’s a time when you are often going to try to get just twice through the lineup and then turn it over to the pen and playing match-ups.
The offense was putrid. On the relatively safe assumption that a team with the best record in the league with less than 50 games to go in the season makes the playoffs, I’d definitely be terrified if some team could throw a whole rotation of guys the Cubs have never seen before. It’s a bigger research project than I want to tackle, but I’d be very surprised if my recollection is off that the Cubs have struggled mightily against pitchers they haven’t seen. This isn’t just recency bias, I definitely recall that there was a stretch a while back where they were doing quite well against those guys. But it has been brutal again lately. As my regular readers know, I preview these pitching match-ups almost every day. I’m therefore keenly aware when I describe how terrible a guy has been lately and then he throws a great game. I feel like I watch those games with the full blush of embarrassment. As if it is my fault they struggle in those spots.
I wondered if the Cubs truly play down to their competition. The Cubs have played 17 different teams this year (they haven’t yet played any games against the Nationals). I looked at the Cubs records against each team and then tried to group the teams into three tiers. Here is what I found. Top Tier (Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Indians, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers) Cubs 19-15. Middle Tier (Rockies, Cardinals, Pirates, Giants and Twins) Cubs 22-20. Bottom Tier (Reds, Mets, Tigers, Marlins, Padres, White Sox, Royals) Cubs 25-13. You could quibble about the placement of either of the Twins or Reds, but it won’t really matter. The Cubs play a little over .500 against the decent and good teams and then pile up the wins against the bad teams. The extent is different for different teams, but that will almost always be the actual case. If you are wondering then, the Cubs have 16 games left against top tier teams, 18 against mid-tier teams (Nationals will fall here), 12 against bottom tier teams.
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 114, August 8 - Cubs shutout by lowly Royals 9-0 (66-48)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Anthony Rizzo (.016). He had a lead-off single to start the game. Pretty much the rest of the game was downhill for the Cubs after that. He had just the one hit in four at bats.
- Hero/Sidekick (tie) - Victor Caratini and Albert Almora Jr. (.000). Each was retired as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a 9-0 game. I could split hairs and put Caratini ahead of Almora because the first out is always more negative than the second, but I won’t bother.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Willson Contreras (-.127). It isn’t just that he was hitless in three at bats. The Cubs had a chance to flip the game in the seventh inning after back to back one out singles. But Contreras took a called strike three.
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.085). Ian was hitless in three at bats. But hey, he didn’t strike out.
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.066). As you go, the Cubs go Javy. He was hitless in three at bats. The Cubs mustered just three hits and two walks.
WPA Play of the Game: Light hitting Drew Butera came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning. He had a two-run double (.174) to provide all of the runs the Royals ended up needing.
*Cubs Play of the Game: With one out and the bases loaded in that second inning, Adalberto Mondesi stepped to the plate. Jose Quintana needed a strikeout or a double play to escape the jam. He got a strikeout. (.075)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 29.5
- Hero - Ben Zobrist 16
- Sidekick - Pedro Strop 15
The more striking thing happened at the bottom of the chart where Willson Contreras has moved within striking distance of falling into last place. Willson Contreras in high leverage spots this year (.183/.293/.268), in Medium (.283/.368/.409), in low (.318/.400/556). I could keep going. He has a .692 OPS with two outs and a runner in scoring position, .656 with late and close, .644 if the game is tied. WPA correctly paints a picture here of a guy struggling in the biggest situations.
Up Next: The Cubs have an off-day today (I’ll update H&G Season standings for tomorrow). Tomorrow they start a three game set against the Nationals. They are off again Monday and then again the following Monday. Three off-days in the period of 11 days. Then they play 23 consecutive games between August 21 and September 12 with the season’s final six games against the Brewers coming in that stretch. This next week and a half it will be important for the Cubs to rest up for that run. The good news is just about half of those games will come with expanded rosters. The Cubs should be able to add a ton of arms who have contributed at times this season to the September roster.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Seriously, no one