I could have gone with the headline “another one bites the dust,” or at least something to that effect. Unfortunately, the Cubs have piled up eight losses already on the young season. I suspect it is little comfort to Cubs fans that the defending champion Red Sox have already lost nine or that the perennial playoff team Yankees have already lost seven. Or even that the team that knocked the Cubs from the playoffs last year has lost nine.
Certainly, some teams that expect to be playoff teams are off to rough starts. Almost certainly one or more of the Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, and Rockies will miss the playoffs because of a cold start. It can definitely happen. But there is a lot baseball between now and then and I’d be greatly surprised if any of these teams are giving up the fight because of a rough start.
If you’ve followed my writing with any regularity, you know that my glass is pretty much always half full. So you know I’m not panicking. I know that most of you aren’t either. A few of you are no doubt over reacting and I get that. And the majority of you get it that it is a marathon and not a sprint. But it’s just hard to see the silver lining when a team hasn’t even won back to back games once in the first 11 games.
So I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m going to talk through a couple of key spots in the game and see how WPA viewed them.
The first inflection point in this game occurred in the bottom of the third inning. Yu Darvish had been pounding the strike zone for the most part and challenging hitters in the cold. Two Pirate hitters took him deep. That doesn’t bother me one bit. I thought this was one of the better starts Yu has had as a Cub. Unfortunately, not a very high bar.
I’m talking about the bottom of the third inning. Jason Heyward singled. Albert Almora Jr. followed with a single of his own and the Cubs had runners on first and second for Yu Darvish. Yu has a grand total of 51 plate appearances in his career with a line of .109/.128/.217. He’s had a total of four sacrifice bunts in his career.
This is another stupid thing that happens with no designated hitter. In a game that you figure to be extremely low scoring, you have a terrible major league hitter up there with very little chance of a good outcome. This isn’t because Darvish isn’t a good athlete. He certainly looks like a guy who is in pretty good shape. I remember videos of him prior to being a Cub where he can pitch decently well with either arm. But he averages just over seven plate appearances a year so far in his big league career. That number is trending up, but in any event he wasn’t regularly asked to hit until 2017, his sixth year (fifth season due to injury) in MLB.
There was a passed ball (.050 WPA) so Yu didn’t even need to bunt. Just hit a grounder or a fly ball of medium depth and at least pressure the defense. But no, Yu struck out (-.061) for the 30th time in 51 career plate appearances. Please die on the hill of this being one of the great parts of baseball. The Designated Hitter can not come quickly enough for me. Daniel Descalso followed with a strikeout of his own (-.079) and that was pretty much it for the third inning.
Later, Yu got the first out of the sixth inning. Starling Marte followed with what looked like a radar guided grounder from some Bugs Bunny cartoon. It was deflected slightly by Darvish, then just trickled under the gloves of both Javier Baez and Daniel Descalso (-.017). Francisco Cervelli then followed a Marte stolen base (-.014) with what almost looked like an accidental contact of the ball and resulted in a single (-.035). Those two flukey singles spelled the end of Darvish’s night.
Kyle Ryan was summoned and I thought the umpire missed a call on the first pitch to Josh Bell. Regardless, Bell made solid contact to right field to score the Pirates fourth run (-.065). Ryan then made a wild pickoff throw to first and a fifth run (-.022) was charged to Yu (unearned). That’s a ball that Anthony Rizzo usually snags at first, but on the cold night Anthony looked just a touch “off.”
The bullpen did technically throw 3⅔ innings of scoreless ball, though they did allow the two inherited runners to score. That ended up being back breaking as this whole game might have played out differently had the Cubs not been chasing a 5-1 deficit when they managed to get some runners in the seventh and eighth innings. But, for what it’s worth that is now 15⅔ innings of the bullpen not being charged with any runs.
Much of the last four innings of the game for the Cubs consisted of the Cubs working deep counts before chasing balls out of the zone, save for a run-scoring rally in the eighth that was ultimately snuffed by Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez.
These cold weather games aren’t a lot of fun for anyone. I never read too much into them and they are usually easily dismissed for what they are. But with the extremely slow start, it’s hard not to be frustrated by a game that could easily have gone differently. Jordan Lyles and Felipe Vazquez pitched fantastically and I tip my cap to them for their efforts.
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 11, April 10: Cubs 2, Pirates 5 (3-8)
- Superhero: Jason Heyward (.204). I can’t stop my mind from wandering with what if’s considering the recent stretch from Heyward. The Cubs had only six hits last night and Heyward had three of them. Included among them was a solo homer that was one of the few bright spots on the night. I just have to type that Jason Heyward has a .371/.452/.714 line that is good for a wRC+ of 188. And his BABIP of .321 would not be one of the two highest marks of his career if it were a full season number.
- Hero: Javier Baez (.050). Javy had a very nice run scoring double in the eighth inning. He also had a nice at bat in the sixth inning in which he worked a full count. Unfortunately that one ended with him chasing ball four above the strike zone.
- Sidekick: Albert Almora Jr. (.017). Almora had that single in the third inning and on a night where not a whole lot went well for the Cubs, that was enough to land him here.
- Billy Goat: Yu Darvish (-.171). Yu threw 5⅓ innings, allowed five hits, no walks, and four runs. Two home runs and two fluky singles doomed his night. He did strike out four.
- Goat: Daniel Descalso (-.135). He was hitless in four at bats including a key strike out with runners on second and third in the third inning. He’s cooled off a bit and has only one hit and one walk over his last four games (16 plate appearances).
- Kid: Kyle Schwarber (-.132). I’m happy to see Schwarber getting opportunities to play a bit more, particularly against left handed pitching. Though he did look completely over matched by Felipe Vazquez, that’s certainly not a small club. Unfortunately, Kyle had a really rough night, striking out four times in four at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: Starling Marte batted with two outs and a runner on first in the third inning. He hit a two-run homer. (.190)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Javier Baez batted with runners on first and second and one out in the eighth inning. He doubled, scoring one. (.112)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
(# - returned to minors)
- Ben Zobrist 11
- Javier Baez 7
- Willson Contreras/Jason Heyward 5
- Kris Bryant/Yu Darvish -5
- Kyle Hendricks -6
- #Carl Edwards Jr. -8
Up Next: Should weather permit, the teams will meet one more time tonight with each team having a chance to win the series. The Cubs will send Jose Quintana to the mound for his second start of the season. In two appearances, he’s thrown just seven innings and has a 10.29 ERA and has allowed 10 runs total. Last year, Jose faced the Pirates twice, didn’t factor in the decision in either and lasted five innings in each. He allowed two runs in one and one in the other. He did beat the Pirates once in a Cub uniform back in August of 2017. He’s never been the losing pitcher against the Pirates in a Cub uniform. Pirates hitters only have a total of 85 plate appearances against Jose and they haven’t hit him very well (.231/.268/.449). That includes 14 plate appearances by Lonnie Chisenhall and 11 by Corey Dickerson who are both on the injured list for the Pirates. That leaves only Starling Marte with more than 10 plate appearances against Jose and he’s struggled in those (.452 OPS).
Joe Musgrove has made two appearances and one start for the Pirates as well. He’s throw a total of nine innings and hasn’t been scored upon. He sparkled in his one start against the Reds. He threw seven innings of three hit, one walk ball while striking out eight. He faced the Cubs twice in 2018 and won both of them. Each time he threw seven innings and allowed only one run. Current Cubs have a line of (.180/.275/.311) against Musgrove over a total of 69 plate appearances. Anthony Rizzo is the only Cub with 10 or more plate appearances against Joe and he too has struggled. (no hits, .300 OPS) Daniel Descalso and Albert Almora Jr. each have doubles in small sample sizes and Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant have homers. Hopefully, if the game is played, the Cubs can start to solve the Musgrove riddle.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed