I shouldn’t have to dig into glass half full/glass half empty discussions after the first weekend of the season. Alas, here we are. The Cubs scored 28 runs in their first 27 innings of the season. The 1999 Cleveland Indians were the last team to eclipse 1,000 runs in a season (1,009). The single season record if you include 19th Century baseball is 1,220, if you don’t, it is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. 28 runs in three games has the Cubs on pace for 1,512 runs.
Of course, the Cubs pitchers allowed 23 runs in three games. The Cubs are on pace to allow 1,242 runs. But hey, in this crazy scenario, the Cubs still finish with a run differential over 200! So even in that bizarro alternate world, they would win somewhere around 94 games.
If you aren’t ready to assume they are going to win 94 games based off what we saw, then good, you were paying attention. That said, as I always do I’m going to encourage you to be patient. Nothing we saw this long weekend is set in stone. The Cubs aren’t likely to set any single season runs scored record. Nor are they likely to allow 1,200 runs.
Three games should not lead you to any conclusions. There were some encouraging signs out of the offense. Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras particularly are guys I was super encouraged by over the weekend. But practically everyone looked good. Steve Cishek was good, Jon Lester was what we expect to see out of him at this point. All of the other pitchers? Not so good.
- Edwards 0 innings 3 runs
- Quintana 4 innings 2 runs
- Darvish 2⅔ innings 3 runs
- Strop ⅔ inning 2 runs
- Montgomery ⅓ inning 3 runs
- Hamels 5 innings 5 runs
- Chatwood 1⅔ innings 3 runs
Those are some ugly numbers. Quintana has the best ERA of the bunch at 4.50. To be fair, the Cubs pitchers walked 20 hitters in 25+ innings of work, so they dug a lot of holes for themselves. I’m going to tip my hat to the Rangers. I haven’t seen them play in years and I suspect they are a team that is very likely to lose 90+ games again as they rebuild. But, their hitters were extremely patient. It seemed like in all three games they laid off of virtually every pitch near the strike zone. I’m not sure how they managed it, but they didn’t chase at almost anything.
I suspect if that is their approach in every game it will go worse. For the last two games of the series, virtually none of the strikes near the zone were called (for either team) and some of the strikes actually in the zone weren’t called (for either team). The Cubs hitters were somewhat patient themselves (18 walks in 27 innings is pretty fantastic as well) but were much more aggressive at the plate. The strike zone that was called in this series did the Cubs no favors. But you don’t want your margin slim enough that a few bad calls sink your whole weekend.
Plain and simple, the Cubs weren’t good enough to win more than one of three games in this series. But I don’t see a sky falling. Many Cubs pitchers missed time in spring training for one reason or another. I was worried before the season ever started about bullpen health and I’ve seen enough to justify that as a legitimate problem in the early going. Unfortunately, the Brewers have picked back up right where they left off. If the Brewers are going to be a 95+ win team, a lot of struggle out of the bullpen in the early going could be a real problem in the division. But, let’s see what happens. If Christian Yelich hits 100+ home runs, that will be something special to see. But again, I’m not betting on an early season trend playing out over 162 games.
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 3, March 31: Cubs 10 at Rangers 11 (1-2)
- Superhero: Daniel Descalso (.281). A fantastic first start as a Cub. Descalso had two singles, a double, two runs, and an RBI in five at bats.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.167). Anthony had two hits in five at bats, including a long home run in the eighth inning that pulled the Cubs to within one. He drove in two.
- Sidekick: Steve Cishek (.131). Joe Madden has tried to use Steve as his stop the bleeding guy mid game rather than using him at the back of games. He made need to re-think that while some other guys work through some early problems. Cishek faced four batters, retired them all and struck out three.
- Billy Goat: Mike Montgomery (-.628). It didn’t take long to top Carl Edwards’ performance from game two. But the Cubs have almost certainly already logged two of their worst pitching performances of the year, at least by WPA. At -.628 and -.606 they would have been the third and fifth worst performances last year. Mike faced three batters, allowed two hits, a walk, two of his own runs and two inherited runners. One of the hits was a two-run homer-run.
- Goat: Pedro Strop (-.345). The usually dependable Strop faced only two batters, allowed a hit and a wild pitch for a walk-off Rangers win.
- Kid: Cole Hamels (-.242). Cole is probably the pitcher who was most derailed by the inconsistent zone over the weekend. Four of the five runs he allowed were in one inning and that inning was twice extended by pitches I felt pretty certain were strikes. Cole officially worked five innings allowing six hits, three walks and five runs. He struck out four.
WPA Play of the Game: Once again, Edwards’ performance is topped. The three-run eighth inning homer he allowed to Joey Gallo was a -.368 WPA. The two-out fourth inning grand slam he allowed to Delino DeShields topped it. (-.371). The shot turned a 4-1 Cubs lead into a 5-4 deficit.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Daniel Descalso singled with one out and a runner on second in the eighth inning. Javier Baez came around to score and tie the game at 10-10. (.225)
Cumulative Top 3/Bottom 3:
- Javier Baez 5
- Kyle Schwarber 3
- Daniel Descalso 3
- Albert Almora Jr. -3
- Carl Edwards Jr. -3
- Mike Montgomery -3
Up Next: The Cubs head to Atlanta to face a Braves team that was just swept in Philadelphia in a three game series. The Braves managed only 11 runs in the three games and allowed 23. The Braves have a potent group of offensive players, so I wouldn’t expect that slow start at the plate to continue. But facing a team with some injury woes of its own effecting its pitching staff, maybe the Cubs can keep the offense rolling.
Kyle Hendricks will be the Cubs pitcher in the Braves home opener. He’ll be trying to extend that cold start for the Braves. Kyle has done pretty well against the Braves in his career. Over four appearances (three starts), he’s held them to a line of .222/.282/.319 and is 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA.
He’ll be opposed by Sean Newcomb, the 26 year old lefty for the Braves. Sean has faced the Cubs three times already in his young career and they’ve hit him pretty hard. They have a combined line of .324/.418/.485 against him and he is 0-2 with a 5.17 ERA. Sean is coming off of a 12-9 season with a 3.90 ERA in 2018 for the Braves over 31 appearances (30 starts). I suspect he won’t be a pushover. That said, he walked 15 batters in just 21 spring innings.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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