Over the last 10 days, the Cubs played the Brewers six times. The Brewers have played like a team with its back against the wall. Which is fair, they were a team with its back against the wall. They did what they had to do. The Cubs on the other hand played like a tired team. Which is fair, because they are a tired team. It isn’t just 23 days at the ballpark. I don’t watch any American League games, so I will be careful with talking about something I don’t actually know, but it sure seems like a bunch of teams in the AL started mailing it in months ago. In the National League, almost all of the teams are still playing very hard when they can be spoilers. I can’t even really remember the last time when it seemed like the other team just mailed it in. Maybe the second game in Detroit three weeks ago. But they’d just beaten the Cubs the day before even then. So the Cubs have had to scratch and claw for everything.
It isn’t going to change in Washington today where the Nationals just took two out of three from the Cubs last weekend or over the weekend against the Reds who just took two out of three from the Dodgers. Right now I’m looking at Joe Maddon and I’m flashing back to the Bartman game. I feel like for the last four days Joe had a job. He had to be the most public voice advocating for his players. That playing a game today in Washington was lunacy for a team that had already been at the park 23 straight days. The advocating is done. The team is in D.C. This is literally that kind of Bartman moment. It happened. Now turn the page. You can stand around and whine and feel sorry for yourselves. If you take that line, enjoy watching the Brewers win the Central. There is no question this team could win coming from a wildcard spot. Totally not the end of the world, but you will give up what you worked all season long on.
Or you could flip the page. You have what you have. Figure it out. Get back to what you do. Play the hand you were dealt. Back then, I always thought Dusty needed to go out to the mound. Rarely is there time in baseball for a Lombardi speech, but that moment begged for going out there and saying that was one little piece of bad fortune. This team is filled with winners. Play like winners and you will reach the promised land. Instead he stood by and watched the team melt down. Joe is looking out at the field and seeing tired players everywhere he looks. So get them time off.
If you’ve played much poker in your life, you know that you don’t get good cards often enough to totally just wait around for good cards and hope they work out. Sometimes you just have to play the hand that you were dealt and make the most of it. For better or worse, the eight guys who started last night, those are your core starters. So here’s the plan. Every day from here until the end, two of those eight guys get a day off. One of those eight has a hard day off. He gets used like a backup catcher in a mid-season game. He’s not going into the game unless there is an emergency. So one guy gets a full day off. No BP. No cage. No bat in his hands. He just finds a spot on the bench and chills. The soft day off, he can go in as a defensive replacement or whatever. Rotate it around the diamond. I know that Taylor Davis and Terrance Gore aren’t here to start games. You didn’t bring Chris Coghlan, who at least has been here before, so that you could have a horde of relievers. Jason Heyward isn’t well enough to play. So you play the hand you were dealt.
In the bullpen, it’s the same thing. You have Maples and Norwood and Duensing and Rosario. Damn, a whole lot of those guys got into last night’s game. Regardless, you have to use those guys for an inning here or there. You have to get an extra day off for some of these guys. Steve Cishek is toast right now. Jesse Chavez is surely headed there as he has seemingly pitched two of every three games since he became a Cub. You have to squeeze an extra batter or two or three out of your starters. Be a little less quick on the trigger with them right now. It’s not the way you do things, but those starters have more left in the tank than the pen does right now.
Of course, the hole in the plan is that playing Victor Caratini at third base weakens one of the strengths of the team and possibly extends an inning or two. Starting Terrance Gore in the outfield weakens the batting order. The hand this team was dealt sucks. But you have to play the hand that you were dealt and you have to win it. This morning, Fangraphs still has the Cubs at over 70 percent to win the NL Central. This isn’t over. Almost every game left is in Chicago. Just three left after today and those are against a Diamondbacks team that is fading fast. They can still hit, but they are struggling to get 27 outs without taking a lot of damage. Can’t look ahead though. One day at a time. Let’s do this.
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 145, September 12 - Cubs come up empty against Brewers in 5-1 loss (84-61)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kris Bryant (.112). Kris had his best game since returning from the disabled list. He walked, singled and had an RBI double in his first three plate appearances. He missed by a few inches of a home run. Hopefully, he’s rounding into form, the Cubs would be markedly better if his bat would get going.
- Hero - Tommy La Stella (.082). Tommy slowly appears to be emerging from his mid-season slump. He’s had a couple of key pinch hits recently. That bat is going to be a difficult one for Joe to leave off of the post-season roster. A good pinch hitter is a powerful weapon in a close game.
- Sidekick - Jesse Chavez (.058). Jesse, please, please, please be honest with Joe and Jim Hickey every day about how you are feeling. Jesse has been the steadiest arm in the pen since he got here. Hopefully he doesn’t run out of gas before the end of the post-season. Jesse was shakier than usual last night with a hit and a walk, but recorded a scoreless inning.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Daniel Murphy (-.178). It’s a popular narrative to blame Chili Davis for what ails the Cubs offense. I assure you that Daniel’s not spending much if any time with Chili. Daniel does what he does and there isn’t a whole lot of time left in the season. The Cubs have seen an endless wave of elite pitchers lately and it has sent almost every hitter on the roster into a tailspin at the same time. Aside from whatever happens in Arizona, the Cubs shouldn’t see another elite pitcher before the post season. Daniel was hitless in four at bats.
- Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.161). Anthony was also hitless in four at bats. Really, it is just about everyone struggling right now.
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.154). Just one walk in four plate appearances and that was immediately followed by a caught stealing (because of course, that would be one of the times Albert Almora Jr. couldn’t get his bat on a ball to execute a hit and run).
WPA Play of the Game: Kris Bryant last had the WPA Play of the Game on June 19 against the Dodgers. Last night, he batted with two outs and a runner on third and the Cubs trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth. He had that ball off of the basket for a double and gave the Cubs a ray of hope.
*Brewers Play of the Game: Curtis Granderson’s lead-off home run in the ninth inning off of Steve Cishek. (.100) Cishek is out of gas, that needed to be Pedro Strop’s inning. Steve allowed two home runs in his first 59 innings of work this year. Over his last nine appearances covering 6⅓ innings, he’s allowed three. He’s also allowed three other hits and three other walks in that time, good for an 8.53 ERA.
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Javier Baez 17.5
- Sidekick - Cole Hamels 15.5
- 4th - Ben Zobrist 14.5
- 5th - Anthony Rizzo 14
Up Next: The Cubs traveled through the night to Washington D.C. (with Anthony Rizzo still in eye-black and his uniform on if you haven’t seen it). I’m looking at a weather report that says mid-80s with thunderstorms possible in the area. Al will surely have a more detailed report for you later today. At this point, you had to travel, I’d like to see them get the game in and be assured that day off on 10/1. This team will be in the playoffs and that day off will be timely.
The Nationals have gotten hot. They’ve won five in a row, which is one short of their longest streak of the year. After taking the final two games from the Cubs, they went on to Philadelphia and swept the slumping Phillies. Clearly the Nationals are enjoying playing spoiler much more than they handled being the presumptive favorites dealing with two young, ascending division rivals.
The Cubs will send Mike Montgomery to the mound. Mike is 4-5 with a 3.85 ERA on the season. Mike has only made two starts since returning from the disabled list. In those two starts, he’s allowed six runs in 8⅓ innings. So things haven’t been great. This is a big moment. We’ve seen Mike rise to some big moments at times in the past. Let us hope this is one of them. Mike has never started a game against the Nationals.
Joe Ross is on the mound for the Nationals. This is take two at getting his first 2018 start. He was supposed to start last Friday and threw a little over one inning before rain washed away the game. Joe is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Usually guys coming back from TJS see an uptick of velocity. But at least initially, control and stamina can be issues. The Cubs bats are going to need to have a good approach in this game and put some runs on the board. With a team out of the race, you always want to put some runs on the board as early as possible and see if you can’t get them to mail in a few innings.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Tommy La Stella