I was lucky enough to be at the game that Kyle Hendricks pitched against the Cardinals in which he threw a complete-game shutout with just 81 pitches. How could that one NOT be the Hendricks game? That game would be amazing against even the worst team in baseball. But it wasn’t against the worst team. At the time of that game, the Cubs were chasing the first-place Cardinals. The Cardinals had been hot and had surged into first place.
Still, at least from a WPA standpoint, and we are all about WPA in this space, THIS was the Kyle Hendricks game. As I’ll explore further below, Kyle was both the pitching star and the hitting star. From a WPA perspective, Kyle did so much of the work that another Kyle, Kyle Ryan makes it into the Hero podiums for recording only the first out of the ninth inning.
This stretch of baseball has been one of the best in Cubs history. It’s a long history and there have been some great runs. But you can look at it in small chunks and then just keep pulling back and it is a dominant stretch. They’ve won 13 of 15, 16 of 20, 19 of 24, 21 of 27, 22 of 29, 24 of 32. Those wonderful numbers will happen when you win every series you play for a month straight. The last time the Cubs didn’t win a series was April 12 and 13 when they split a two game set against the Angels when one game was snowed out and another ended on a questionable checked swing call. The last time they lost a series was April 5-7 in Milwaukee to finish the season opening road trip. That one ended when Josh Hader recorded an eight-out save.
This has been a dominant stretch of baseball. Surely, this streak will come to an end at some point. All good things do come to an end after all. With a win in the first game of the series, the Cubs are off to a good start on winning this series.
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 39, May 14: Cubs 3 at Reds 1 (25-14)
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.323). Kyle pitched into the ninth inning for the second time in three starts. He has now pitched at least eight innings in three straight starts. I remember when there used to be a feeling that Joe Maddon was keeping Kyle on a too-short leash. Kyle has earned the right to go deep into these games by being ruthlessly efficient. He threw into the ninth inning while allowing only three hits, one walk (the one batter he faced in the ninth) and striking out seven. He was charged with one run, that by his nemesis Joey Votto.
- Honorable Mention: Kyle Hendricks (.204). Kyle also had three hits (always a nifty feat when you record as many hits as you allow). Among those three hits was a two-run double that drove in the first two runs of the game.
- Hero: Steve Cishek (.106). Steve faced the final two batters of the game and recorded a save. The Cubs have converted their last two saves, both by Cishek, and are slowly inching off of the bottom in that statistic.
- Sidekick: Kyle Ryan (.077). No pressure kid. Just go get Joey Votto out! Mission accomplished. One batter faced, one harmless pop up induced.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.080). Kyle was hitless in four at bats with two strike outs. Baseball is cyclical. For the first few weeks of the season, the Cubs received quite a bit of contribution from the lower half of the order while the top of the order struggled to contribute. Things have flipped a bit. No doubt it will flip again.
- Goat: David Bote (-.062). David struck out three times in four at bats.
- Kid: Jason Heyward (-.059). Jason did draw one walk in five plate appearances. He struck out once.
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Hendricks batted with two outs and runners on first and second in the second inning. He smashed a two run double and the Cubs had all of the runs they would need. (.195)
*Reds Play of the Game: Joey Votto hit a solo homer with one out in the fourth inning to end any hope of a no-hitter or a shutout for Kyle Hendricks who’d been perfect to that point. (.117)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Willson Contreras 9
- Jon Lester 8
- Jose Quintana 7
- Yu Darvish -9
- David Bote -9.5
- Albert Almora Jr. -11
Up Next: The Cubs will look to run their current winning streak to four while the Reds try not to lose a third straight. Yu Darvish makes the start for the Cubs. Yu is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA on the season in 36⅔ innings. Last time out, he lasted only four innings. He allowed just one hit, but walked six, though he struck out seven. He only allowed one run for all of that. It was a weird outing all around. He last won on April 27 in Arizona, his last road start. For whatever it is worth, both of his wins have come on the road and they were his last two road starts. Last year, he faced the Reds once. He won that won, a game in Cincinnati last May 20. In that game, he allowed one run over six innings on two hits and three walks. He struck out seven. Certainly one of the better starts he has had as a Cub. The Reds have just 40 plate appearances against him. Joey Votto leads the way with a .730 OPS in nine plate appearances. In a minuscule sample, Derek Dietrich has a 1.850 OPS in five plate appearances. Eugenio Suarez has managed just two walks in six PA against Yu.
Sonny Gray starts for the Reds. Sonny is 0-4 with a 4.15 ERA in 39 innings of work. His last win came in his last start last year for the Yankees on September 29 against the eventual World Series champion Red Sox. The Reds are just 2-6 in the eight starts made by Gray this year. The 29-year-old righthander has allowed a .663 OPS to righties and a .533 to lefties so far this year. He’s been a reverse-split guy for his career, but this year that’s been more pronounced (career .687 vs. righties and .648 vs lefties). With Gray having spent all of his prior career in the American League, current Cubs have a total of only 14 plate appearances against him. Willson Contreras and Addison Russell each have one hit against him in two at bats. No other Cub has ever reached base against him.
This looks like the best opportunity to lock down a series win. Let’s hope Yu and a rested bullpen can get it done and/or the offense can carry the load.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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