The Cubs offense has gone missing. The good news there is that reports have Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber back in action soon. That returns some balance to the Cubs lineup and bench. Also, Anthony Rizzo and Daniel Murphy were able to enjoy a total day off yesterday in a game the Cubs won. So that’s a plus. Ben Zobrist got the day off with the exception of being used as a pinch hitter. So it was a pretty light day for some of the Cubs key bats. Javier Baez is surely going to need a day off sooner than later as well. Willson Contreras appears to be finally starting to emerge from his recent slump. That’s an important bat for the Cubs as well.
On the flip side of things, the pitching has emerged and is starting to behave the way some thought it would before the season. The Cubs have now won three of their last four games when they failed to score four runs. They have an overall record of 22-47 when they are held under four, so this is a relative hot streak. Of course, if we pull back the lens, that three of four becomes just three of 10. If we pull back to 20 games, they’ve won eight of 20, so there has been some slow progress forward in those games.
On the bonus side, the Brewers lost yesterday and so the Cubs now have a three loss advantage on them with only 14 games left for the Cubs. That translates to a magic number of 12. It’s always extra satisfying to me when the magic number reaches a point relative to the number of games left where it wouldn’t be an out of this world result for the Cubs to do all of the remaining work to finish off the count. It would be impressive, but not out of this world against the remaining schedule for the Cubs to win 12 of 14. The Brewers will not run the remaining table and so the Cubs shouldn’t have to win 12 to win the division. The 97 games I guessed that the Cubs would win still looks to be in play, though a long shot. The five plus games I had them winning the Central by looks a little less likely. As I have all season, I tip my cap to the Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve had a fantastic season and should be proud of it.
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.
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Lester (.459). Jon just kept booking zeroes while the Cubs offense just kept trying to find a way to a put runs on the board. Jon ended up throwing seven scoreless innings allowing only two hits and two walks. He struck out nine. This ties for the 10th largest WPA game of the season for the Cubs. It is Jon’s largest.
- Hero - Justin Wilson (.123). Justin worked a scoreless eighth inning allowing only a single. Justin has emerged as a key member of the Cubs bullpen. Carl Edwards and Jorge De La Rosa were key members of the Cubs bullpen who got a day off yesterday. It also looks like Brandon Morrow will be added back to the pen within the next few days.
- Sidekick - Willson Contreras (.112). Willson had two hits including driving in the Cubs lone run with a two out sixth inning single. Tiny sample size alert, but over his last four games Willson has a line of .300/.462/.400 (wRC+ 146). I’m grasping at straws and I’ll readily admit that, but there haven’t been a lot of stretches like that in the second half of Willson’s season.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Kris Bryant (-.077). Kris had one of his worst days in the big leagues yesterday with four strike outs in four at bats. The Reds have had Kris’ number so far in this series and he is hitless in eight at bats. Even with that stretch, he has a line of .283/.370/.391 (wRC+_110). He could maybe use a day off from a fatigue standpoint, but he’s done just fine since he’s returned from the DL. You can make yourself crazy with what ifs, but I think if you are going to look at a sample as small as the 15 games Kris has had, you have to acknowledge what a huge difference one or two plays can make. He had a double off of the basket that missed a home run by inches and Lorenzo Cain took at least a double and maybe a triple away from him in that same series. If you had even four bases onto a 54 plate appearance stretch, you massively change his ISO and slugging.
- Goat - Ian Happ (-.071). Ian was hitless in three at bats and struck out once. Ian is the model of efficiency, he’s had one hit in the series and it won a game and gave him a Superhero award.
- Kid - Victor Caratini (-.056). Vic had just one hit by pitch to show for his three plate appearances yesterday. Vic’s bat has been one of the things keeping the Cubs going as he finally seems to be settling into the league as a hitter.
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras batted in the sixth inning with two outs and Javier Baez on second base. Willson was able to guide one through the second base hole vacated by the shift for an RBI single. (.160)
*Reds Play of the Game: Jose Peraza singled with one out in the ninth off of Jesse Chavez to put a little drama into the ninth inning. (.083)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Javier Baez 20.5
- Sidekick - Cole Hamels 15.5
Up Next: The final game of the series and the season between these two teams. The Cubs have won 11 of the first 18 games. A win today would complete a three game sweep and would give the Cubs 12 wins in 19 games against the Reds for the second consecutive season. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mound. He is 13-9 with a 3.97 ERA. Over his last seven starts he is 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA. His last two starts have been 6⅔ inning victories over the Milwaukee Brewers. I’m not sure it is even a coincidence, but all three of Jose’s wins over his last seven starts come against National League Central foes with that third win coming over these Reds. Jose is 2-1 against the Reds this year. He’s thrown 17 total innings and allowed six runs against them. In his last five starts against them he is 3-1 with a 3.71 ERA.
The Reds will send Luis Castillo to the mound. Luis is looking to record his first 10 win season in the big leagues. He is 9-12 with a 4.66 ERA. Over his last seven starts, things look better though as he is 3-4 with a 3.69 ERA. He’s pitched into the seventh inning three times over that stretch and one them all. The last start was a win over the Dodgers in which he allowed four hits a walk and run in 6⅓ innings of work. He struck out nine. He’s started four games against the Cubs this year and is 1-1 in those four starts. He’s allowed 12 runs in 18 innings of work, so the Cubs have hit him a bit.
Anthony Rizzo has struggled in 13 plate appearances against Castillo (.237 OPS) and Javier Baez is not a lot better in 12 (.523). Daniel Murphy has done well against him in 10 (1.178). Kyle Schwarber has two home runs, a double and three walks in nine plate appearances against him, so I’m sure Kyle would love to be in the lineup today. All together, the Cubs have an .808 OPS over 109 plate appearances against Castillo. That includes one walk in 10 plate appearances for three Cubs starters against him.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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