On Friday night in Washington, Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels squared off. The two had a memorable Sunday Night Baseball duel last season after Cole came to the Cubs. A game that I remember as much for the awesome display those two put on as I do for the epic David Bote walk off that ended it. Over time, you remember a few games here or there that stick out to you and I suspect that will be one of a few games... Bryant’s three homer plus a double game, Jake’s two no hitters and that Sunday Night Baseball are the regular season ones that flood in the fastest from the old memory bank.
Then a weird thing happened. Friday night’s game took a left turn. What had been a 3-2 game saw the Cubs pour on 11 runs over the final three innings and allow four of their own. Kris Bryant did that three homer thing again. Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber also chipped in with homers.
This is the thing about looking at paper matchups and assuming you know what will happen. Luis Castillo was everything that he was advertised and after the Cubs plated two early runs against him, the Reds completely shut the door. But Scherzer was good, though not good enough. Even during his portion of the program, the Cubs were leading 3-2. But then the Cubs absolutely bombed the Nationals bullpen.
They’ll face another very good pitcher today and sure, it is entirely possible that he will shut them down and the Cubs drop their third in four games. But it is also possible that either A) they actually just do some damage against him or B) they could wait him out in a close game and then try to beat the Nationals pen again. There are always a good handful of ways a game could go.
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 42, May 18: Cubs 14 at Nationals 6 (26-16)
(Author’s note: at the time of writing Fangraphs has not assigned any WPA to the one out that Carl Edwards Jr. recorded. The Play log for the game does not even list that Carl faced a hitter... the last out of the seventh inning apparently never occured. There will be a ripple effect, however nominal for that outing, but I do not believe it will alter the final standings, if/when a correction is issued.)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.205). For one night at least, Kyle Schwarber looked like the lead off hitter they thought he could be in 2016. He drew three walks in six plate appearances and ultimately scored three runs and drove in two. In the eighth inning, he hit a two-run homer that started the Cubs onslaught over the final two innings.
- Hero/Sidekick: Albert Almora Jr./Kris Bryant (.194). Albert had an early two-run homer against Max Scherzer (.161). He also had a second hit and scored two runs in five at bats. I’ve been hard on Albert, but I have to point out that his season took a dramatic turn in Arizona at the end of April. From that point until now, he has a line of .303/.303/.515 (wRC+ 114). He does have a .347 BABIP over that time, but his career number is .328. That isn’t a crazy stretch for a guy who is striking the ball well lately.
Kris Bryant had a monster night with four hits in six at bats including three home runs over the final three innings of the game. He drove in five. Kris has reached the point where his numbers have corrected enough that there is no point in just looking at his hot streak. Kris is up to a season line of .277/.405/.581 (wRC+ 161). His BABIP is up to .288, but recall that his career average is .341.
- Billy Goat: Brandon Kintzler (-.212). Regression is one mean mistress. Brandon allowed three hits and two runs while only recording two outs. After a fantastic start to the season he’s struggled quite a bit lately.
- Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.102). Anthony has become a bit of a slow starter the last couple of years. After a short break with his back injury, he looked a little off. Hopefully he’ll take less time to snap back than he did to start this season. Anthony is an incredibly valuable hitter when he’s grooved in and as the only top hitter from the left side, he really balances the lineup. Anthony had one hit in five at bats and scored a run.
- Kid: Daniel Descalso (-.070). I could have pointed out the regression monster in regards to Daniel too. Since his minor injury, he’s really struggled at the plate. He was hitless in three at bats and was basically the only Cub who didn’t get in on the party.
WPA Play of the Game: This game was only 3-2 when Kris stepped to the plate with a runner on first and one out in the seventh inning. Kris hit the first of his three homers. (.191)
*Nationals Play of the Game: Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer against Cole Hamels with no outs in the third inning. (.164) That made it a 3-2 game.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Willson Contreras 11
- Jon Lester 8
- Javier Baez/Kris Bryant 7.5
- David Bote/Albert Almora Jr. -9.5
- Carl Edwards Jr. -11
Up Next: The Cubs will look for a second straight win while the Nationals try to avoid a second straight loss after two straight wins. Jon Lester will be on the hill for the Cubs. Jon has had a fantastic start to the season that has seen him on and off the ERA leaders due to a handful of starts he missed due to injury early in the year. He is 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA in 38 2⁄3 innings. He’ll need to throw five innings and maintain his era to appear among the leaders for at least one day. Every inning he throws after 4⅓ innings will keep him on the list an extra day. Maybe he’ll go 7⅓ and take a giant step towards cementing his place on the leaderboard.
Jon threw 6⅔ in his last start, a win over the Brewers. He allowed nine hits and a walk, but was only charged with one unearned run. His last earned run was allowed back on April 25 and that is the only earned run he’s allowed in his four starts since returning. All together, he’s been charged with only one earned run in 26⅔ innings since April 3. Last year he had just one start against the Nationals and that one wasn’t pretty. He only lasted 3⅔ innings and allowed 10 hits, one walk, three home runs and was charged with nine runs (eight earned). Overall, he is 0-2 and has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) in 23⅓ innings as a Cub against the Nationals. Surprisingly then, the current Nationals only have a collective .618 OPS against Jon in 219 plate appearances. Howie Kendrick leads the way with 52 plate appearances (.477 OPS). Ryan Zimmerman is a National who has hit Jon well with a .939 OPS in 25 plate appearances, including two home runs.
Stephen Strasburg is the opposition. He’s 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA over 57 innings of work. Last time out he was a loser in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. He threw six innings and allowed four hits, two walks and two runs. He struck out seven. That line is a fantastic one against that team. He’s actually lost his last two starts, both of those were on the road. Last year, he faced the Cubs once and that was in one of the Cubs trips to Washington in September. Stephen threw 5⅔ innings and allowed six hits, three walks, and three runs (two earned) while striking out six. He didn’t get a decision. Over the last three years, he’s faced the Cubs once each year. He is 1-0 and has allowed seven runs (five earned) in 19⅔ innings of work. The Cubs have 172 plate appearances against him with a .627 OPS. Jason Heyward leads the way with 47 plate appearances and a .994 OPS. One Cub who has really struggled against Strasburg is Javier Baez (.143 OPS in 14 plate appearances with six strikeouts). Dare I say maybe he should finally get his first non-start of the season?
This matchup doesn’t look totally impossible on paper with a struggling Nats team and how good Jon has been all year long. Let’s hope the Cubs can sneak another one out and have a chance to go for a sweep on Sunday.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Albert Almora Jr.
Other (Please leave your suggestion in the comments)