Finally, the Cubs got an easy one. It looked easy on paper and then it played out that way. How about that for a change? The Cubs only have to survive one more late game, an overnight flight back to Chicago afterwards and then staggering their way to wherever they are calling home in order to finally, finally get an off day. I sure hope most of them have scheduled a day in their bed or on the couch with Netflix or a good book. They’ve certainly earned it.
29 consecutive days at the ball park now in this stretch. Back on August 21 when this stretch started in Detroit, the Cubs began the day 71-52. The trip started with a frustrating 2-1 loss that was the second straight loss, dropping the team under 20 games over .500. A seven-game winning streak followed and set the tone for the stretch of games. The Cubs have flown from Chicago to Detroit to Chicago to Atlanta to Philadelphia to Milwaukee to Washington to Chicago to Washington to Chicago to Arizona and will end back in Chicago. Holy frequent flier miles Batman! Through the first 28 games of this stretch, the Cubs are 18-10 (.643 winning percentage). That’s a 104-win pace. That’s how you deal with adversity.
There isn’t a lot to be gained by spiking the football, but this is why I kept saying even at the worst of times that everything was going to be okay. Yes, it was frustrating and a little nerve-wracking as the Brewers cut the deficit to one. But that team went on quite a stretch of winning baseball to get there. It is hard to sustain winning percentages well above 60%, much less the rare air the Brewers were playing in. In those two series against the Cubs, their backs were against the wall. The bare minimum they could win was four of six and that’s what they got. It gave them a chance. That said, not every team with its back against the wall can just turn it on and win those games. Ask the Rockies who really needed to get two wins out of their series with the Dodgers this week and might get swept.
I don’t know if the Brewers ran out of gas after beating the Cubs four of six and winning 11 of 13. That’s a narrative. More likely, baseball is hard and things even out. Either way, they’ve lost four of five now to the Reds and Pirates. Such is life when the two best in-division records are held by the third and fourth place teams. The American League East may have the best 1-2 punch in baseball. But the Orioles win less than one of every three division games. The Blue Jays are 14 under. The Pirates are over .500 in the division (and on the season). There is no question at all that the National League Central is is a deeper division.
The Cubs magic number has reached eight with 11 left to play. The Cubs are capable of winning eight more games. That wouldn’t be an insane result. They’ll probably win at least one or two less than that, but the Brewers have reached a point in the season where they cannot lose another game. Every other team in the National League is at least two losses behind the Brewers and so the Cubs magic number is six against the rest of the league. As has been said repeatedly, the National League Central champion is going to have home field advantage throughout the National League playoffs. The Cubs would only have home field advantage against the Indians and maybe the A’s in the World Series. But bear in mind, the Cubs pitchers are terrible hitters collectively and they have a deep and talented group of hitters. Yes, they’ve under performed, but it isn’t likely the guy who will play DH is some guy with 150 plate appearances on the year. One option would be to DH Daniel Murphy and thus shore up the Cubs defense to where it was most of the year. A lot of baseball between here and there though. Let’s hope we can resume that discussion.
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 151 - September 18 - Cubs heat up in 9-1 thrashing of D-Backs (89-62)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Daniel Murphy (.196). Daniel’s bat showed signs of life yesterday for the first time in a bit. He had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. Included was a two-run home-run in the second inning.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.162). Javy homered for the second consecutive day and added a single to it. Two hits, two runs, two RBI, two strike outs. A very 2018 Javy day. Javy’s NL ranks hits 9, doubles 7, triples 2, homers 4, runs 7, RBI 1, stolen bases 10, average 10, on base 43 (oops), slug 1, OPS 6. Christian Yelich leads him in five of those categories. Javier Baez is second among position players in the NL with 6.0 bWAR (Lorenzo Cain at 6.6)
- Sidekick - Mike Montgomery (.144). Absolutely nothing wrong with Mike’s performance, but when it is 2-0 before you throw your first pitch and 5-0 before you go out for the second inning, WPA doesn’t give you a whole lot of credit. I do though. It can be tough to pitch when it is so long between innings and Mike was great. He allowed just four hits, and a walk in six innings. One of the hits was a solo homer, the only real blemish on the night. He struck out eight.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.042). If you were with me in the Rizzo wins a fourth Superhero of the Year in five years, we’re probably going to be disappointed. Anthony had one hit in four at bats. It was a two-run single. But it was already 5-1 at the time, so he didn’t get much of a bump.
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.027). Willson had just one hit in five at bats. He had an RBI ground out. I think he probably could have beaten that one out if he ran right away. But he wasn’t showboating, the ball legitimately looked like a foul ball right up until when it landed.
- Kid - Terrance Gore (-.001). Terrance grabs an innocent bystander award. He got one at bat late in a lopsided game and ends up one of only three players other than Mike Montgomery as a hitter with a negative WPA.
WPA Play of the Game: It didn’t take long. With two outs and a runner on third in the first inning, Javier Baez hit a two-run home-run. (.157). For the second consecutive night and 15th overall, Javy is at the plate for the Play of the Game.
*Diamondback Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo batted with a runner on third and one out in the first. There is literally no justice in the world. Anthony had a 17-pitch at bat that completely wasted the night of the D-Backs starter. But he ended up with a line drive right to short. He fails to drive in the run. He has some bad BABIP luck. And he ends up as the Billy Goat behind the effect of this at bat. (.054)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 23.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 22
- Sidekick - Cole Hamels 15.5
- 4th - Kyle Hendricks 14
Up Next: The final game of this three game set. The Cubs have guaranteed a season series win by winning four of the first six games. The D-Backs will be looking to avoid a home sweep as they watch a once promising season go down in flames. The Cubs will send Cole Hamels to the mound. It looks like Cole will have two chances to reach 10 wins for the 10th time in his career. Cole is 9-9 with a 3.67 ERA. Over his last seven starts he is 2-0 with a nifty 1.75 ERA. The Cubs have failed to secure him a win four consecutive times, a stretch over which he has allowed just seven runs in 23⅓innings. Last time out, Cole threw 6⅔ against the Reds and allowed eight hits, two walks and two runs (both solo home runs). Cole hasn’t faced the D-Backs since 2013. There are only three D-Backs who have seen Cole even 10 times. One of those is Jeff Mathis who has never reached base in 10 plate appearances including six strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks will counter with Robbie Ray. I always think of one of the Ghost Riders from Marvel lore (Robbie Reyes) when I think of Robbie Ray. Robbie is 5-2 with a 4.14 ERA on the season. He’s 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA over his last seven. Let’s talk again about lack of run support. Over his last five starts, Robbie has allowed eight runs in 28 innings and has only two wins to show for it. Last time out, Robbie pitched well against the Astros allowing two hits and three walks in 5⅓. He struck out six and only allowed two runs. Robbie faced the Cubs back in July and pitched very well. He threw seven innings and allowed four hits, one walk and one run. He struck out six and received a no decision. The Cubs have very little experience against Ray. Daniel Murphy leads the way with 11 plate appearances. Collectively, the Cubs have a .445 OPS against Ray in 68 plate appearances. This could be a tough one.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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