The Cubs faced a good pitcher on Wednesday. That pitcher’s defense let him down a little bit, but the Cubs flat-out ambushed him in the second inning, plating six runs. Meanwhile, Cubs pitching was combining on a one-hit shutout. I use the word dominate in my stories and headlines quite a bit, but let’s be clear... this was as dominating a performance as you’ll see. We all expected that the Mariners weren’t quite as good as their fantastic start to the season. But their fall from grace has been epic and painful over the last week or so.
As we watch two teams headed in completely different directions, this is a good time for some perspective. I told you dozens of times last year that things were going to be all right. Depending on where you set your bar, things were all right. That team won 95 games and made the playoffs. No one gets a parade for that kind of season if it ends in an early playoff exit. But, that kind of season is an accomplishment.
Anyway, I don’t want to bum anyone out thinking about the epic disaster that was the last handful of games for the 2018 Cubs. That isn’t my point. I’m here to tell you while things are great to try not to get too high. This team is now 15-6 since they started the season 1-6. That kind of pace would be a 116-win season. Even as someone who thought this team would win 97 games, I’m not buying any part of this being any kind of unstoppable juggernaut.
Nor am I buying the Cardinals as a 110-win team. These teams are good, they aren’t that good. The Brewers have cooled off considerably from their hot start. Do I believe they are going to finish well off of the pace in the Central? No.
There is a ton of baseball left. Injuries, scheduling, matchups and random dumb luck will work together to pick one of the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers to win the Central. At least one of the other two has a reasonable chance of also making the playoffs. The Pirates and Reds may be too adequate for three teams to come out of the Central. But regardless, I believe it is way too soon to pencil anyone in or book any postseason reservations. Things can change.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the ride while the Cubs are sprinting towards the top. But buckle up, the next week and a half will see the Cardinals and Brewers come to town and those will be good measuring sticks. Nothing will be decided between any of these teams over that time period. But, it’s always good to get a litmus test as to where things stand.
Game 28, May 1: Cubs 11 at Mariners 0 (16-12)
- Superhero: Javier Baez (.147). When it gets lopsided quickly and keeps going in that direction, what you did in your first at bat is huge. Baez hit a homer in his first at bat. He later added an RBI-double and another double besides. He scored two and drove in two. He’ll need rest soon, no doubt. But he was more than up to the challenge in this one.
- Hero: Jon Lester (.089). When I watch a game, I do sometimes root for some guys to end up on the podiums a little harder than others. So I was happy Jon was allowed to throw seven shutout innings and end up way up here. He allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out eight. I did mention that this game was flat out domination right? The Mariners have been one of the highest scoring teams in baseball.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.086). I feel like one of the themes early in 2019 is massive reversals of fortune. The Cubs have struggled for years, even while being a generally top tier offensive team, with scoring runs with two outs. But suddenly, the Cubs are piling on two out runs. I’m also watching Jason Heyward, who struggled for three seasons as a Cub to catch any kind of a break, seemingly catch one or two every single day. I swear he already has more hits on weird bounces and seeing-eye hits than he’s had for the last three years combined. Jason found three holes on Wednesday in four at bats. He had two singles, a hustle double, a run scored and an RBI.
- Billy Goat: Albert Almora Jr. (-.061). This one wasn’t close. Albert made three of the Cubs first eight outs in the game Wednesday. Like I said, what you do early is magnified for WPA in these blowouts. The Cubs as a team had 10 hits in 34 at bats in the game. That’s a .294 batting average which is pretty nifty. If you take Albert and his hitless in five at bats out of that number, it goes all of the way up to .345.
- Goat: Daniel Descalso (-.001). Poor Daniel. Yes, he was hitless in two at bats. But the Cubs were up nine before he had his first at bat. They were already registering at 99.9% chance of winning. There was almost nothing he could have done to add any WPA.
- Kid: Dillon Maples/Taylor Davis (.000). I can’t break this tie. Davis reached on a walk and came around to score a run. Maples struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning. Neither of these performances belong down here. Tough luck boys.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez’ solo homer leading off the second opened the flood gates. Javy’s WPA on that event was .111. This is his fourth time already producing a positive WPA play of the game. No one else has more than two (Bryant and Bote).
*Mariners Play of the Game: Mitch Haniger was the first Mariner hitter. He reached on a two-base throwing error. It was all downhill after that for the Mariners. (.061)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom Three:
(# = returned to minors)
- Javier Baez 9.5
- Jon Lester 7
- Willson Contreras/Jason Heyward 6
- Kyle Hendricks/Yu Darvish/Kyle Schwarber -6
- Albert Almora Jr. -7.5
- #Carl Edwards Jr. -8
Up Next: The Cubs head home with an off day Thursday. They’ll open a three game series with the Cardinals on Friday. The Cubs come in having won four in a row and seven of 10, all against teams with winning records. As I write this, the Cardinals are coming off of their fifth straight win on Wednesday. They’ll have another game on Thursday, so root for a 20+ inning game!
Kyle Hendricks is on the mound. Kyle is traditionally a slow starter and 2019 is no exception. He is 1-4 with a 5.33 ERA in 25⅓ innings of work across five starts. He lost the last time out, allowing 10 hits, a walk and seven runs against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Kyle was 3-0 in four starts against the Cardinals in 2018 and had a 2.93 ERA over 30⅔ innings of work. Players on the current Cardinals 40-man roster have combined for 244 plate appearances against Kyle with a .748 OPS. Marcell Ozuna leads the way with a 1.157 OPS in 26 plate appearances. Marcell has had a strong start to his season (.961 in 114 PA in 2019 compared to a career .787), so he’ll be one to watch.
Jack Flaherty is the expected starter for the Cardinals. He is 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA in 31 innings of work across six starts. Last time out, he was fantastic against the Reds. He picked up a win for seven shutout innings. He allowed four hits, one walk and struck out four. He faced the Cubs three times last year and was 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 12⅔ innings of work. The Cubs have a total of only 55 plate appearances against Flaherty. Anthony Rizzo has a 1.056 OPS in nine plate appearances and Willson Contreras a 1.400 in five.
Flaherty, who will turn 24 after the regular season ends, is righthanded. He’s been pretty good against both right-handed hitters (.674) and left-handers (.685).
This looks like a tough matchup on paper.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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