Oof. That wasn’t an ideal couple of days. Someone made an insane decision to start Friday night’s game with no real window to get the game in. That allowed the Cubs to burn Jon Lester’s start on Friday. Incidentally, I’m going to hold up Friday night’s game as case number one of a place where I’d consider using an “opener.” On a day like that where your weather people would have to be telling you that there doesn’t appear to be a window, or at least a consistent window, that might be the spot where you send someone else out there to start the game. If the rain for some reason doesn’t materialize, you could consider bringing your starter in later. Or use it as a bullpen game. Whatever. In a pennant race, losing Jon’s Friday night start is a mini-disaster. If he comes back Monday and beats the Brewers, I’ll erase that disaster from my memories as winning Monday is twice as valuable as winning Friday (Saturday).
Then on Saturday, there were more rain delays throughout the day. In this stretch of 23 games in 23 days, the Cubs had no real viable starter to make an emergency start. They tried Jaime Garcia, but he had no command/control and that became a bullpen game against one of the best pitchers in the National League. That was certainly going to be a disaster waiting to happen. Your very best hope for that game was that you could keep it close and try to steal it late. However, despite the thought that heading into this series you could score at will against the Nationals bullpen, that just hasn’t been true. The Nationals pen hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve been very good.
Game 2 is going to be one of the games I recall if the unthinkable happens in this season. Cole Hamels was staked to a four-run lead. The lead just slowly wilted away until the Cubs were ultimately done in by a Bryce Harper two-run home-run. I’ll be forever baffled by the Nationals disappointing season. Even with the trades they’ve made, there is an awful lot of talent there. Clearly injuries played a part in their season, but that team absolutely should be in the National League East race which is seeing the Braves and Phillies stumble to the finish line.
From the Cubs perspective on Saturday night, I know I’ve become one of the bigger critics of Albert Almora Jr. Does everyone have that guy? The one who they just kind of irrationally don’t care for? I think I was broken this year by all of the “OMG Almora HAS to play EVERY day!!!” people. Every time he fails to do something (like have a good at bat or get a hit once in a while), I’m probably a little harsher about it than the average Cub fan. So I’m going to take irritation from the RBI “triple” that was part of the Nationals comeback. If Albert Almora needs more playing time, then he NEEDS to catch that ball. He’s out there for his defense and he just didn’t get to the right place on that one. I’m sure I’m once again being hard on him there, but that’s just where I’m at right now.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s games 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 141, September 8 - Cubs pummeled by Nats 10-3 (83-58)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jorge De La Rosa (.074). Jorge was very effective in relief with three innings allowing one hit and one walk.
- Hero - Ian Happ (.012). Ian was hitless in three at bats with two strike outs. He did get hit by a pitch which gave the Cubs a glimmer of hope in the sixth as they’d put two one before Tommy La Stella grounded into a double play.
- Sidekick - Daniel Murphy (.011). Daniel had a one hit in three at bats. The hit was following the Happ hit by pitch in the sixth.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Jaime Garcia (-.207). Jaime faced five batters and allowed three hits and a walk. But he did strike one batter out?
- Goat - Tommy La Stella (-.079). He had a first inning double. He was retired in his other three at bats, including that sixth inning double play grounder that snuffed the last chance the Cubs had to get back into this game as it was still only 3-0 at the time.
- Kid - Randy Rosario (-.058). Randy’s line isn’t much better than Garcia’s, but I don’t recall reading anyone suggesting that he should be burned at the stake or that the Cubs punted a game by having him pitch. He faced four batters and allowed one hit and two walks. He was charged with two runs.
WPA Play of the Game: With the bases loaded and only one out in the first inning, Juan Soto faced Jaime Garcia. He singled to right scoring two runs and finishing Garcia’s Cub debut. (.114)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Daniel Murphy singled with one out in the sixth following the Ian Happ hit by pitch. (.043). For all of the hand wringing in some corners of Cubs Nation about the Garcia start, despite the feels like of the situation, the Cubs brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth inning with one out. If Tommy La Stella singles in that spot, and Tommy has a good history against Scherzer, maybe the Iowa pitching staff doesn’t continue being shuttled into the game. You can’t know how things would sequence, but the first two batters in the seventh inning singled and three of the first four. It’s impossible to know what might have been.
Game 142, September 8 - Cubs lose early 4-0 lead in 6-5 loss (83-59)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Victor Caratini (.264). Vic’s bat has shown signs of life recently, particularly a little bit of pop finally. He had just one hit in the second game, but that hit was a grand slam. It’s a tiny sample, but since August 23 in 30 plate appearances, he’s hit .286/.310/.500 (wRC+ 116). Of course he’s also got a 33.3% K rate over that time. But baby steps.
- Hero - Kris Bryant (.132). Kris had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. He drove in a run and scored a run. I miss MVP Kris. If anyone sees him, they should send him back to the Cubs.
- Sidekick - Willson Contreras (.115). Willson was hit by a pitch leading off the ninth inning. I had long since gone to bed. If you were awake for that, I bet for a brief moment you thought this was going to be one of those times where the Cubs came out of a rain delay fired up and got things done.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Justin Wilson (-.332). The line isn’t great. He faced four batters and allowed a home run and a walk. But the home run was to Bryce Harper. That stuff is gonna happen sometimes. That guy is pretty good and he’s had a massive second half. Anyone who doesn’t think their team would be better with Bryce Harper on the field is misunderstanding something. I’m not talking about the financial implications of that move, just actually having him on the team.
- Goat - Steve Cishek (-.184). Steve had some really bad luck and that was where the game died. He faced three batters and allowed two hits. One of those two hits was a Trea Turner topped ball that died in the wet grass. The other was an Anthony Rendon double.
- Kid - Ben Zobrist (-.176). Ben pinch hit with Contreras on first and one out in the ninth inning and grounded into a double play to end the game.
WPA Play of the Game: Justin Wilson has been on fire of late. So of course he was summoned to get Bryce Harper with the Cubs clinging to a 5-4 lead in the seventh with a runner on second and one out. Justin allowed a two-run home-run. (.357). The first time since June 19th that Justin has been victimized for the Play of the Game. This is the ninth largest negative WPA play of the Cubs season (but only Justin’s second largest).
*Nationals Play of the Game: Victor Caratini batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning. I actually had to rewind to see this one. I mean Vic was batting with the bases loaded and two outs and I looked away for a minute. Who would have expected a grand slam? (.330)
- Superhero - Pedro Strop 22
- Hero - Javier Baez 18.5
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo 17
- 4th - Cole Hamels 15.5
- 5th - Ben Zobrist 14.5
Up Next: The teams will try to conclude their season series, weather permitting. The teams have split their first six games so the Cubs will be trying to tie up this series and win the season series. They’ll send Mike Montgomery to the mound to do so. Mike is 4-5 with a 3.85 ERA on the year. He’s made two starts since returning from the disabled list. He is 0-1 with six runs allowed in 8⅓ innings of work. He’s allowed 11 hits and four walks. He has struck out 11, so he’s been a little better at getting a strike out, but has struggled to consistently get outs. He has never started a game against the Nationals. No National has even five plate appearances against Mike. Bryce Harper has two hits including a double and a walk in three plate appearances against Mike. That can’t last, right?
The Nationals will counter with Erick Fedde, who is 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA in 33 innings of work. Erick’s work has been intermittent this year. His seven starts consist of one in May (loss to Padres), four in June (split two with the Phillies, a loss and a no decision with the Yankees), a one inning start against the Red Sox in July and then his most recent start. That one was a five inning no decision against the Cardinals earlier this week. He allowed four hits, two walks and four runs while striking out seven. The Cubs faced him once last year. Fedde got a no-decision but not before the Cubs had eight hits, four walks and four runs in just 5⅓ innings. He did strike out seven but allowed three home runs. Willson Contreras took him deep twice in three at bats that day. Kyle Schwarber also homered in that one. More of that, please.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Day?
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Jorge De La Rosa