If you are a regular reader of mine, you probably knew I was going to start out with this:
Everything’s gonna be alright.
Everything’s gonna be alright.
And nobody’s gotta worry ‘bout nothing.
Don’t go hittin’ that panic button.
It ain’t worth spilling your drink.
Everything’s gonna be alright
Thank you David Lee Murphy.
Yeah, I bet there a whole lot of people reading this that aren’t buying what I’m selling. I’ll tell you what I’m not buying. I’ve been starting my morning looking at Fangraphs playoff odds before I go over to the game charts. This morning, they have the Cubs with a 65% chance of winning the division. Yeah, that’s probably about right, no squabbles there. Recall that even if the two teams finish tied, they go to a tie-breaker game that will be held at Wrigley Field where the winner almost certainly gets home field advantage throughout the National League Playoffs and the loser hosts the wildcard game. But here’s my question. The Brewers have 91 wins. Fangraphs is projecting them for 93.2. What don’t I see? I started this week projecting the Brewers to win five of six after playing three in St. Louis and hosting the Tigers for three. How could you possibly say that they were only going to win two more? John Gant versus Jhoulys Chacin surely doesn’t have any Brewers fan nervous and I think the Tigers stopped playing meaningful baseball in June.
So how do I see this playing out? I’m going to stick with my Brewers prediction and guess they’ll win three of four. One clunker for a whole week is likely for a team. Either you play bad, the other team plays well, you get a couple of bad bounces, whatever. It’s very hard to win six straight games, even as scorching hot as the Brewers have been. I still believe the Cubs will win four of five to close out this season. Four more Cubs wins and one Brewers loss would give the Cubs a NL Central crown by one game. Obviously there is no margin of error on that. One less Cub win or a Brewer sweep sends it to a playoff game.
At this point, before continuing, I assert the reminder, a 91-95 win season wasn’t particularly derailed. The Cubs didn’t lose this division (if they do), the Brewers stole it. Kudos to them. The irony (not in the ha-ha but more in the Alanis Morissette death row pardon two minutes two late variety) of this Cubs season to me is this. This front office has put together a philosophy wherein they build a strong offensive core and then just keep adding pitching. It’s the way they’ve drafted, it’s the way they’ve approached free agency. Even through this fairly successful season, they continued to add. All but one significant addition (sorry Terrance Gore and I don’t believe Bobby Wilson is even real) made in season was to the pitching staff. This season has stalled because that dynamic offensive core has fallen apart.
Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ. 10 starters for eight positions. Tommy La Stella the pinch-hit specialist and Victor Caratini rounded out 12 hitters. All of them extremely talented hitters. Most of them able to play a variety of positions. So with 10 “starters” and positional versatility, the team believed it had hitting depth. Enter Anthony Rizzo’s early season back issues, Kris Bryant spending more than half the season limited, Addison Russell breaking down off the field and then having his off the field problems resurface, Kyle Schwarber’s late season back issues, and Jason Heyward’s late season hamstring. Contreras appeared to just physically wear down and all of his power left and then eventually his confidence. Almora and Happ to my eye appeared to get exposed as their playing time increased due to injuries. Once Joe could no longer hand pick the best match-ups, they fell off severely in the second half. Things got so bad that the front office did eventually add Daniel Murphy to the mix. His bat certainly plays in this lineup, but his glove is severely out of place on the infield of this team.
The sad irony is, the bats have worn out. There is no offensive groove. There is no high level confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I know these players. I know to a man that they’d tell you that tonight is going to be the night. In interbret’s words, they are all going to go out and get five hits out of four at bats. But there’s confidence and there is confidence. We’ve all seen it. A guy gets in a groove and it is like he’s swinging at a beach ball rather than a baseball. On the flip side, a guy gets totally out of the groove and it’s like he’s trying to hit a golf ball instead. Most of the Cubs are swinging at golf balls right now. Not ideal.
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 157, September 25 - Cubs bats continue to struggle against Pirates pitching in 6-0 loss (91-66)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Javier Baez (.014). Javy had two hits last night in four at bats. Unfortunately the rest of the team mustered just three other hits, two walks and a hit by pitch. Not great.
- Hero - Dillon Maples (.012). He faced one batter and struck him out. With a runners on first and third with two outs, he got the job done. I’m going to advocate here that the Cubs roll with Maples on their opening day roster next year. For better or for worse, give him a good long stretch and see if he can swim.
- Sidekick - Daniel Murphy (.005). He had one hit in four at bats. He also struck out once.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Mike Montgomery (-.238). Mike did everything I’d have expected out of a fifth starter. He had some really great starts and some clunkers. Last night was a clunker. It was poorly timed, but I’m not throwing Mike under the bus. He allowed seven hits, one walk and five runs in four innings.
- Goat - Kyle Schwarber (-.089). Four at bats. Three strikeouts. Once with runners on first and third and two outs. Once with runners on first and second with one out. You can’t pin a loss on one guy when you lose 6-0. Kyle Schwarber had two opportunities to turn this game and didn’t produce.
- Kid - Willson Contreras (-.052). Willson had two strikeouts in three at bats. I’m no longer sure that Willson Contreras in the line-up gives the Cubs the best chance at victory. Baseball seasons are always full of unpredictability. That sentence about Willson is probably the most unpredictable thing I can think of this year involving the Cubs.
WPA Play of the Game: For the second straight day, the Pirates didn’t waste any time. Pablo Reyes hit a three run homer with one out in the first inning. (.222). Am I the only one who had never heard of him before this game?
*Cubs Play of the Game: Daniel Murphy lead off the Cubs first with a single. (.035). Let’s be clear, if the very first batter is your play of the game, you are almost certainly in trouble. Especially if he didn’t hit a home run.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 23.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 22
- Sidekick - Kyle Hendricks 17
- 4th - Anthony Rizzo 15
Up Next: Game three of the four-game set tonight at Wrigley Field. It will be Jose Quintana on the mound for the Cubs. Jose has a season line of 13-11 with a 4.11 ERA. I’m going to give you this stat though. In night games, Jose is 5-5 with a 2.65 ERA in 13 starts (in 17 day starts, he is 8-6 with a 5.32 ERA). He’s also 3-2 over his last seven starts with a 2.97 ERA. Unfortunately, the two losses were his last two starts. In his last two starts, he’s thrown 10 innings and allowed seven runs. Ouch. He’s faced the Pirates once this year. That was an August start in Pittsburgh and he pitched five innings and allowed one run on four hits while walking two and striking out four. He’s only ever made four starts against the Pirates and is 1-1 with a 2.74 ERA.
Ivan Nova is on the mound for the Pirates. Ivan is 9-9 with a 4.01 ERA. Over his last seven, he’s been fantastic. He’s 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA. Last time out, he threw 4⅓ innings of three-hit, two-walk, one-run baseball against the Brewers before the rains came and a lengthy delay put an end to his night. He’s faced the Cubs three times this year and is 2-1 and has allowed five runs in 19⅓ innings. Ben Zobrist has 44 life time plate appearances against Nova with a .431 OPS. Oof. Ian Happ has hit Nova the best with three home runs in 18 plate appearances.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game
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