Another one bites the dust. The Cubs finished their last road trip of the season by winning four of six games. That also wrapped up the season series with the White Sox with the same record. With seven games to go, the Cubs magic number is five. If the Cubs can win five of seven at home against the Pirates and Cardinals, then nothing the Brewers can do matters. The Brewers play three games in St. Louis before returning home for three games against the Tigers. I think there is a very good chance the Cubs do win five of the last seven games. I’d expect the Brewers to lose at least one of their final six.
The Cubs appear to have already positioned their rotation for the playoffs. From past years, the Cubs have generally continued to start their pitchers down to the last game of the season. Once the team clinches, he usually has them throw short starts only going about five innings. So if you have tickets to see the Cubs this year, I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see a bunch of starts from Alec Mills or whoever. With the shuffling over the weekend, Jose Quintana is lined up as an option for game one should the Cubs choose to do so for a presumed match-up with the Brewers in the National League Division Series. Should that not be the choice, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks would be lined up for games one and two respectively with Cole Hamels in the third spot.
It’s hard to argue with a Lester-Hendricks-Hamels rotation. Cole has faded a little bit down the stretch. Lester has been the team’s ace for a few years now (with all due respect to Jake Arrieta’s time as a Cub). Kyle Hendricks has been dominant down the stretch again. In case you aren’t familiar with those numbers, that’s 7-4 with a 2.48 in 20 career July starts, 15-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 29 August starts and 11-5 with a 2.50 in 25 September starts. In his career, he’s 51-33 with a 3.08 ERA, so it’s not like he’s a bum across all of the other months, but he’s done a ton of damage in the second half through his career. Put differently, he’s 21-21 with a 3.52 ERA over 64 first half starts and 30-12 with a 2.66 ERA over 67 second half starts.
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 155, September 23 - Cubs win second straight with 6-1 win over White Sox (91-64)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Kyle Hendricks (.180). Kyle threw 7⅔ innings of four-hit, one-run ball. He struck out five. Through the end of June, Kyle had allowed 16 home runs and had walked 29 batters in 92 innings. Since that time, he’s allowed six home runs and walked 13 batters in 99 innings. He had a 2.82 ERA over his last 99 innings with 80 strike outs. And over that stretch, his BABIP is a touch over league average at .310. Kyle was fantastic in the second half once again.
- Hero - Kyle Schwarber (.128). Schwarber had a perfect day at the plate with two hits and two walks on the day. Included in there was his first home run of the season against a lefty pitcher. Apparently Hawk Harrelson was getting some kind of proclamation from a local politician at the time. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo (.118). Anthony had two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. He scored a run.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Javier Baez (-.076). The Superhero of the Year is totally going to come down to the last weekend of the year. With one hit and three strike outs in five at bats, Javy falls back out of the lead. The one hit was a double though.
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.039). Willson also had one hit in five at bats. He only struck out twice.
- Kid - Jason Heyward (-.001). A little scorer’s discretion here as Ian Happ was also at the same WPA. However, Ian had a hit a walk and an RBI in five plate appearances. Arguably, that’s a greater contribution to the win than Jason’s hitless at bat.
WPA Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo batted with runners on first and second and one out in the first inning. He doubled to right field, scoring the game’s first run. (.136)
*White Sox Play of the Game: Javier Baez batted with runners on first and second and no outs in the first inning. He struck out. (.052).
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Javier Baez 20.5
- Sidekick - Kyle Hendricks 17
- 4th - Ben Zobrist 14.5
With one start left, Kyle can finish no better than second, but second is very much in play for him. Of course, most of the hitters technically have seven games left, so there are a large number of people who mathematically could still win. Realistically, Anthony Rizzo at 12 is the only only player outside those listed who could still win. The next hitter after that is Ian Happ at 6.5.
Up Next: The Cubs travel north to their Wrigley Field home for the final seven games of the season. First up on the home-stand are the Pirates who are here for four straight night games. The Pirates are 78-76 and need three wins among their final seven to finish over .500 on the season (I’m assuming they aren’t going to make up their game with Miami). The Pirates have been playing decent ball, having won seven of 10 and 13 of 20. They just lost two out of three to the Brewers at home, but before that they had won five straight games. The Cubs have a narrow lead in the season series 8-7. Last year, they won the series 10-9.
The Cubs will send Cole Hamels to the mound. Cole has at most two starts left and maybe only one or a full start today and a short one Saturday. Cole is 9-10 with a 3.90 ERA overall and will be looking to lock down a 10 win season. Over his last seven starts, Cole is 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA despite allowing seven runs in six innings last time out. He allowed eight runs total in the six starts prior to that. Ouch. Cole has already faced the Pirates twice this year and he won both of them. He’s thrown a total of 12 innings and allowed only one run (it was unearned). He’s allowed only eight hits and four walks while striking out 12. The Pirates will face three lefties in this series. They are only 19-25 against lefties this year as opposed to a 59-51 record against right handed starters.
The Pirates will start Jameson Taillon. Jameson has had a very good season. He is 13-9 with a 3.24 ERA. That would be the lowest ERA of his young career and that while throwing already 44⅓ more MLB innings than he ever has before. Despite the heavy workload (relative to his career), Jameson is finishing strong. He’s 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA over his last seven starts. Last time out, he threw seven scoreless innings against the Royals, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out 11. He’s faced the Cubs twice this year and got a win in one and a no decision in the other. He’s thrown 12⅔ innings and allowed 12 hits, five walks and four runs while striking out 10. Dating back to last April, over his last five starts he’s 2-2 with a 4.30 ERA.
On the match-up front, Anthony Rizzo has the most plate appearances against Taillon and he’s done well in them. Over 22 PA, he’s got a 1.434 OPS that includes two home runs and a double. Javier Baez has the highest OPS with a 1.875 over 16 plate appearances including four doubles and two home runs. Kyle Schwarber has a mere .964 over 11 plate appearances that include a home run. All together, current Cubs have a total of 145 plate appearances and a .981 OPS even with a combined two hits in 10 at bats from the pitching staff (one of those was a Jon Lester double). I think the Cubs start things off on the right foot with a win in this one.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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