There is nothing quite as zesty in modern baseball than an off day following three disappointing games. On Saturday and Sunday, the Cubs were unable to hold bullpen leads late and then Monday’s game was a comedy of errors. After an offseason that thoroughly disappointed much of Cubs fandom, this was in every conceivable way, a terrible start to the season.
Already, I’m seeing the calls for firing Joe Maddon. I guess I can see where that sentiment comes from. But I’m certainly one who is blinded by the 387 wins, four post season appearances, two division crowns and one World Series championship he’s won in his four seasons as a Cub Manager. Further, I’m not sure how this is his fault. He was handed this team. I’m not of the impression that Mark Zagunis being on the team and starting against leftys is a rogue decision. I’m not sure that using Carl Edwards Jr. in the eighth inning, with this group of relievers, is an off-the-wall decision.
Joe is managing the team he was handed. Yu Darvish flat out failed to get the job done in Saturday’s game. Jose Quintana was a smart decision. He got shelled in two appearances against the Braves last year and dominated the Brewers. As the fifth starter, it made total sense for him to not start until the Brewers series and thus be available out of the pen if the pen was needed early in one of the games in Texas. On Sunday, the strike zone was garbage (for both teams). On Monday, the team made six errors for the first time in more than a decade. The game was torpedoed essentially before it even got started with a tragedy of errors in the first inning.
A 1-3 start is always going to loom 10 times larger than the 1-3 stretch every team will have in June or July or August when even the best of teams wears down with the rigors of the season. It’s further magnified when the team you are chasing starts out 4-1. It’s magnified even further when your fan base by and large that you didn’t make the right moves in the off season.
Of course, this is all magnified because we are Cubs fans. For those of us who’s fandom goes back more than five years, we have an ingrained history of everything eventually going bad. I think the average Cub fan sees the baseball world like late fall. They stare at the trees and they are waiting for the leaves to brown, the grass to stop growing and everything to die off for the winter.
It doesn’t have to be that way. This could just be a 1-3 stretch. This team can come together. Another 90 plus win season is still there for the taking. I won’t research history. I won’t look at last year’s Dodgers team that reached the World Series after having been nine games out of first during the season. I won’t see how bad their record was and how strong they finished. Because I know baseball history is littered with those teams.
I will point to slow starts for the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros though. Baseball is hard. It’s extra hard in March and April. When every team believes they can be that special team that defies expectations and makes a surprising run. Somewhere between 10 and 20 of the teams in Major League Baseball are flat out pretenders. They have no real shot at all of winning a championship and many of them have no shot at all of reaching the post season. But they don’t accept it yet. The Texas Rangers believe they can be a surprise team. The Braves certainly don’t think they are a pretender coming off of a National League East crown.
It’s going to get better. I don’t know if better will start on Wednesday or Thursday or this weekend. But better times are ahead. You can of course lose a division title in April with a terrible start, but you can’t win one. The Brewers have a bit of a lead on the Cubs already. Certainly, when you figured that the edge between the two teams would be very small, you hate to give them a head start. But they gave us one last year, worked things out, and then ran us down. It can be done.
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 4, April 1: Cubs 0 at Braves 8 (1-3)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.049). Willson drew two walks in four plate appearances and that was good for the top spot on a day when there weren’t a lot of positive contributions.
- Hero: Kris Bryant (.036). The Cubs did have nine hits and drew four walks in this one, despite the scoreless effort. Kris had one of each in his four plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Brandon Kintzler (.004). The start of this season has been so bad that I’m not assuming anything bad or good is real. But, Kintzler does have two scoreless outings for what that’s worth. Last night, it was two strike outs of the only two batters he faced.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.326). To be sure, Kyle was far from sharp last night. As has been the case the past few Aprils, his velocity was down. When his velocity is down, he has a tendency to get hit hard. Kyle’s results have always improved as the season wears on. So last night’s result didn’t shock me even a little. Not Kyle’s part anyway. The failings of the defense did. 4 1⁄3 innings, 10 hits (including one that should really be classified as a team error for a ball that landed between three fielders and should have been caught), three walks and two earned runs. The Cubs significantly lowered their team ERA in a game they lost 8-0.
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.071). Jason did have one hit in four at bats. But he hit into a costly double play when the outcome of this game was still in doubt.
- Kid: Mark Zagunis (-.047). With people already angsty that Kyle Schwarber was sitting, it doesn’t help that Zagunis and Heyward both contributed to the loss. On the bright side, Mark did have a pair of doubles in four at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs and runners on second and third in the first inning, the Braves were leading 2-0. Brian McCann was at the plate. He singled scoring two runs. (.114)
*Cubs Play of the Game: David Bote batted with a runner on first and no outs in the second inning. The Cubs were trailing 4-0. He singled and the Cubs were in business (.047).
Cumulative Top 3/Bottom 3:
- Javier Baez 5
- Kyle Schwarber 3
- Daniel Descalso 3
- Four players with -3
Up Next: The Cubs have a Tuesday off day ahead of five straight games to end this opening road trip (and a sixth to start next week at home). The Cubs will send Jon Lester to the mound Wednesday. Hey, the Cubs are 1-0 when Jon starts (with a +8 run differential!). Jon allowed two runs over six innings of work on opening day. In his career, he has made nine starts against the Braves. In those starts he is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA. To be fair, some of those positive results were against a much less talented offensive team than this current group of Braves.
The Braves will counter with Julio Teheran. Julio lost his only start and has a 5.40 ERA so far on the young season. Julio has had good results against the Cubs as well. He’s made eight starts against the Cubs and he is 3-1 with a 3.44 ERA over that time. This Cubs core has been together much longer than that of the Braves, so much of Teheran’s results are against current Cubs. So this should be a tough matchup. Perhaps the first low scoring game of the Cubs season?
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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