If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think everyone among us was at least a little bit concerned when the Cubs started 1-6. I mean, it’s really hard to watch your team lose six straight games and not be at least a little nervous. Two or three games in a row? Every team experiences that multiple times every year. Four or five? Eh, that starts to get a little unusual. But six or more? You are talking about the kind of losing streak that a good team usually goes years without having.
If you are reading this and your thought is “it’s great that they are 10-4 since that start and just beat the team with the National League’s best record, but I’m still not convinced this team is a juggernaut,” I get that. It’s hard to be supremely confident until something resembling MVP Kris Bryant is visible (though MVP candidate Javier Baez helps offset that at least a little by continuing his excellence). It’s hard not to miss the presence of Jon Lester (though Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels are a big help in that regard). Jon should hopefully be back within the next few days.
Of course, maybe biggest of all, that bullpen certainly still has questions. Literally though, the point of that bullpen is for this team to win games on strong starting pitching and offensive might while the Cubs essentially run a three and a half month long audition for spots in the pen. Joe seems to be slowly giving the starters a longer leash. The starters going deeper means that the relievers only have to cover two or three innings for the most part. If a guy isn’t sharp, Joe can go to his next option. And on a night like last night when things fall into place, he can get five outs from Kyle Ryan who might be the sixth or seventh option out of the pen right now.
Even if Brandon Morrow never returns, it is likely the Cubs will get Mike Montgomery, Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette off of the injured list in the next week or so. The Iowa Cubs boast a small handful of intriguing options including Dillon Maples, James Norwood, Dakota Mekkes, among others. Oh, and Carl Edwards Jr. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve always believed that in a perfect world, I’d start with quantity and work on quality. Bullpens stay in flux over the course of the season. By September, I want to know who my best seven or eight guys are. Along the way, I want to be making a few trades, maybe adding an in-house option or two, and trying to keep all of the arms fresh.
Regardless of your level of optimism, this team is playing very good baseball. They haven’t lost a series since the opening road trip of the season when they got off to that horrible 2-7 start. You may recall that they lost that last game of the trip by two runs and Josh Hader had to be called on in the seventh inning and then close out that win for the Brewers. A tip of the cap to him, he finished that off. But the two Brewer pitchers that did most of the work in that one Hader and Zack Davies, increasingly look like two men working largely alone to hold the pitching staff together behind a top-tier offense.
There’s a lot of baseball to be played. But in two and a half weeks, the Cubs have moved from the worst record in the National League to the middle of the pack. Now no one is very far ahead of them. With reinforcements incoming over the next few weeks, this team looks ready to roll right now.
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 21, April 23: Cubs 7, Dodgers 2 (11-10)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.227). Willson reached base twice in four plate appearances. He had one hit (we’ll talk about more in a second) and one walk. He drove in three runs and scored another. The only down spot? He struck out twice.
- Hero: Jose Quintana (.139). Just over two weeks ago, there were people talking about how disappointing the Quintana trade was as Eloy Jimenez reached the major leagues with the White Sox. Now he’s won three starts in a row. In this one, he threw seven innings, allowed four hits, two walks and two runs. He struck out seven.
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.055). Anthony continues to be not quite locked in. He hasn’t had one real hot stretch yet in the young season. But, he continues to contribute. He hit a two-run homer to extend the Cubs lead to 6-0 in the second. Pouring it on against a team that scores in bunches is huge.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.072). Kyle had just one hit in four at bats and struck out twice. The one hit was an infield single on a ball he hit off the end of the bat but beat out because of the shift. The struggles continue.
- Honorable Mention: Jose Quintana, hitter (-.016). Jose was hitless in three at bats. He struck out twice.
- Goat: Steve Cishek (-.013). Steve faced three batters, struck out one and allowed a pair of singles.
- Kid: Jason Heyward (-.004). Jason reached twice via the walk in four plate appearances. One was intentional, one was not. He nudges out Albert Almora Jr. for the last spot even though Almora grounded into a double play in his only at bat (-.002).
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras batted with two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning. After falling behind 0-2 to Kenta Maeda, it looked like maybe Maeda would escape unharmed. But Willson was having none of that. He laced a double into the corner and all three runs scored to put the Cubs on top 3-0. (.235)
*Dodgers Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber struck out just in front of Contreras with the bases loaded and one out. (.073)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
(# = returned to minors)
- Willson Contreras 8
- Daniel Descalso/Javier Baez 6
- Kyle Schwarber/Albert Almora Jr. -7
- Yu Darvish/#Carl Edwards Jr. -8
Up Next: With last night’s win, the Cubs are the hottest team in the National League with eight wins in their last 10. The Dodgers are right behind though at seven of their last 10, tying two of their division mates (Diamondbacks and Rockies). It’s heartening that the Cubs delivered two of the three losses for the DBacks and one of the three for the Dodgers.
The Cubs will have Cole Hamels on the mound. Cole is already 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA on the young season in 26 innings of work. He’s boasting a 23 strikeout to three walks ratio. Last time out he threw seven shutout innings against the Marlins in Miami. He hasn’t walked a batter yet in the month of April. Cole had one start against the Dodgers last year. He received a no decision in a six inning start in Los Angeles. He allowed five hits, four walks and two runs (one earned) while striking out six. Before that, he hadn’t faced them since 2014.
The Dodgers will have 24-year-old right-hander Walker Buehler on the mound. Buehler is 2-0 with a 5.40 ERA in 18⅓ innings of work on the season. Walker has never started a game against the Cubs in his young career. Daniel Descalso is the only Cub who has even faced Buehler more than once and even that is only five plate appearances. He had one walk in the five plate appearances. In 36 career major league appearances, Walker has been equally tough on right-handed (.595) and left-handed (.578) hitters.
This looks like an excellent match-up on paper at least. We wouldn’t expect anything less in a Dodgers-Cubs game.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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