Oh dear. I knew when I started writing about the Cubs on a regular basis there would be times when this would cease to be fun. Certainly, last October was about as bad as it has gotten in my brief time writing. But this is getting close in a hurry. Oddly, I find myself watching more of the Cubs than I usually do. I’m watching the way you always slow down to get a good luck at an accident or someone pulled over by the police on the side of the expressway. That is with freakish interest given the Freaky Friday that is the Cubs season so far.
I’m going to continue to try to take the high road. I’m not going to panic, I’m not going to pile on and criticize guys who aren’t getting their job done. You can look all over the internet and find things. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to point out the bad. You’ll see that I selected Willson Contreras getting tagged out in a play that will surely be dismissed as hustle and aggressiveness. It was bad baseball. Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies is a fantastic athlete. One that has been eating the Cubs lunch like the biggest bully on the block since he first faced the Cubs. He’s going to get to that ball and he’s going to make that play. Every time. If the ball does bounce away into one of the black holes on the baseball field then Contreras could basically walk home. This wasn’t that situation.
Here is what I have to offer to the discussion today. I will grant that the huge majority of you out there reading and following the Cubs feel vindicated for recognizing that the Cubs desperately needed to upgrade their bullpen in the off season and came up woefully short in their attempts to do so. Indeed, every single arm they added missed time in spring training for one ailment or another. A small handful of them didn’t pitch in spring training.
That said, in Monday’s loss, the Cubs were whitewashed. Their defense completely let them down and that basically gave them no chance in the game. In the other three losses the bullpen broke down. However, this is my counter point. Carl Edwards Jr. blew a game in the eighth inning. Pedro Strop blew a game in the ninth inning. Steve Cishek blew a game in the eighth inning. In no world are those guys going to be out of the mix unless there are seven or eight Craig Kimbrel’s out there to be signed.
Surely, an argument could be made that if say Kimbrel had been signed, then Strop would have been working the eighth inning in the one that Edwards blew. That’s fair. But can you say that Edwards wouldn’t have worked the seventh then? If Kimbrel is here, then in Strop’s blown ninth inning on the road, aren’t you saving your lock down closer for when you have the lead in extras? So isn’t Strop pitching anyway? Wasn’t Cishek the right choice for the eighth inning in game five given the struggles of the other pitchers?
Rosario and Montgomery haven’t been good, but Kimbrel isn’t going to fix that. Edwards was terrible when it mattered most, but he’s not going anywhere. Tyler Chatwood was pitching in long relief. It’s very unusual for a team to have a lockdown eighth reliever in March or April. Enough, you get the point. Yes, it’s bad, but I’m not sure what Joe could have done.
Here is my final thought. The Cubs amazingly dropped to four games out of first place after only five games played. You typically don’t look at games back until about August. And that’s for good reason. If a team gets off to a hot start but plays to a record that is better than their talent level (no matter how you slice it, the Brewers are not a 139-win team) they will come back to the pack (at least somewhat). If a team gets off to bad start but plays to a level well below its talent level (also, the Cubs will not win only 32 games), they will catch up to the pack.
The only time you worry is if your expectation is that on your best day your expectation was to be close to the other team. Therein lies the rub. If the true talent level of this Cubs team is 95-100 wins, then they’ll be just fine. It’s extremely unlikely that even with their hot start that the Brewers will exceed that range. BUT, if you thought that perhaps the Cubs would win somewhere between 88 and 92 wins and you had the Brewers between 87 and 91, then this isn’t great. A reasonable expectation would be for both teams to play to their normal level the rest of the way. But since that is very close to the same level, that probably doesn’t leave enough runway for the Cubs to catch the Brewers. It’s sobering to be sure.
Of course, baseball is weird. There could be injuries or any number of other things that could go wrong for one team or right for the other and everything can completely flip around. Certainly, this isn’t time to line up for the lifeboats. Though I’ll forgive you if you saw that there was a bit of water sloshing around in the lower decks and grabbed a life jacket. The ship definitely has taken on a little bit of water over this first stretch of 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 5, April 3: Cubs 4 at Braves 6 (1-4)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.303). I don’t want to be too hard on Willson for the base-running gaffe. He had the Cubs lone extra base hit among 12 hits. It was a very long two-run homer to center in the sixth inning and gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Willson had three hits in all, two runs scored, and two RBI. He also probably missed a sign on a hit and run...
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.181). Anthony had another hit and two more walks in five plate appearances. He scored what looked like it would be a hu9ge insurance run when he scored on a wild pitch in the seventh inning on a ball that barely got away from Tyler Flowers.
- Honorable Mention: Jon Lester, hitter (.123). Jon was without question one of the hitting stars for the Cubs on the day. He had an RBI single and then drew two walks in his other two plate appearances. He even went first to third on a single.
- Sidekick: Jon Lester, pitcher (.091). I’m so glad Jon still gets this spot on the podium. Jon battled against a tough Braves lineup. He threw six innings and allowed six hits, three walks and two runs. He struck out seven.
- Billy Goat: Randy Rosario (-.390). Randy faced one batter. (You had one job, Randy!) He faced Johan Camargo with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning and the Cubs nursing a 4-2 lead. He allowed a three-run double. That run scored after Randy left the game.
- Goat: Steve Cishek (-.356). I can only be mad at Rosario to a point. It’s an impossible situation to be placed into to enter a bases loaded, no out jam. Especially after having to come into the game on short notice. That all occurred because Cishek faced three batters and walked them all. All would score after Steve left.
- Kid: Javier Baez (-.213). Javy saw a steady diet of pitches out of the strike zone and largely kept swinging at them. He struck out three times in five days and narrowly nudges out Kris Bryant who had the same line.
WPA Play of the Game: This isn’t even funny. The Cubs had eight negative WPA events of -.360 or greater in the 2018 season. They’ve had three in the first five games of the 2019 season. Rosario’s three run double allowed registered at -.390 as a 4-2 lead turned into a 5-4 deficit.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Willson Contreras hit a two run homer with no outs in the sixth inning to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. (.267)
Cumulative Standings Top 3/Bottom 3:
- Javier Baez 5
- Willson Contreras 5
- Three tied with 3
- Five tied with -3
Up Next: The Cubs will look to salvage at least one win out of the series. They’ll look to Yu Darvish to get it done. Yu’s first start of the season was talked about at length. He had the shortest outing of his career and gave up the most walks of his career. Reportedly, a minor mechanical flaw was identified and hopefully that cleans things up for Yu. He’s made only two starts against the Braves and they’ve hit him extremely well (.324/.419/.568) over just 43 plate appearances.
The Braves will send 25 year-old, left-handed, Max Fried to the hill. Max has appeared in two games in the early going in a relief role. He’s thrown 1⅔ innings and allowed two walks out of seven batters he’s faced. He hasn’t struck anyone out, so he’s got some interesting ratios going. He’s made nine starts in his young major league career and overall in 61⅓ innings of work sports a 3.23 ERA. Somehow, it goes with a 2-5 record. He has made one start against the Cubs and is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA after allowing one run in five innings of work.
Small sample size alert, the 77 plate appearances by left handed hitters have resulted in a .758 OPS against Fried and the 193 by right handed hitters have registered a .734. For so many reasons, this is a good opportunity to get Kyle Schwarber in the game. Though, I would not object at all to Mark Zagunis starting in right over Jason Heyward who has grounded into five double plays in five games. The all-time record is 34 and he’s on a pace to obliterate that.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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