As the analytics side of baseball gives front offices and teams more and more information on improving performance, we see the launch angle revolution. We see better and better shifting and defensive positioning in general. Pitchers are being taught how to tunnel their pitch arsenal so that it is harder to discern the difference between pitches. There are so many changes that fundamentally change the product on the field.
The result? More strikeouts. Fielders perfectly positioned to field balls that would have been hits years ago. More home runs. Some games, you watch and it feels like those are really the only three outcomes.
Then there was last night’s game. The Cubs had a barrage of hits and walks against Jake Arrieta over the first five innings and managed just a single run off of him. We got to see exactly what the numbers have shown about Jake. He’s not as dominant as he was during his time in Chicago. When you allow that many runners, you expect some crooked numbers. But, as has been the case for him most of the year, he wiggles out of jams more than we might ordinarily expect. We’ve watched Jon Lester pull off those feats any number of times since he’s been in town.
Meanwhile, Yu Darvish was shutting the Phillies down for the first five innings. Then, the Phillies bunched all of their own runners together in the sixth inning. It was largely a series of balls that were not squared up but yet kept being just outside of the reach of a Cubs defender. The result was a three run rally.
Still, the Cubs put two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth via the walk. Then Daniel Descalso, probably the coldest hitter on the Cubs right now, smacked a gapper between left and center. It looked like either one of the outfielders could have gotten to the ball if the other hadn’t been there. But both approached the ball tentatively so as not to run into one another and the ball split the two defenders and got to the wall. Then the throw back to the infield struck Descalso’s foot sliding into third for a triple and bounced out of play. The Cubs had the lead to the ninth inning.
There will be frustration over the bullpen allowing runs in the ninth and 10th innings. The thing is, Brad Brach had a game-ending strikeout on a checked swing by Andrew McCutchen. It’s a judgment call and it was certainly close, but that isn’t a lot of comfort for a team that has also lost a game this season based on a similar checked swing.
The Cubs also lost two challenges. Both plays were about an inch the wrong way. The Phillies also lost a challenge on an extremely close play. That was the thing about this game, for five innings we watched two savvy veteran pitchers dueling in a 1-0 game. Then the last five innings of this game was a whole collection of inches here and maybe a foot there. Unfortunately, the Phillies won that last part 5-3. The net result one frustrating loss.
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 45, May 20: Cubs 4, Phillies 5 (27-18)
- Superhero: Daniel Descalso (.291). Daniel had a two-run triple and a walk in five plate appearances. This was one of his best games in weeks.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.126). The same could be said for Heyward who had two hits, a walk and run scored in five plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.108). Anthony had an early RBI single and then added two more hits. His lack of speed ultimately changed the complexion of the game as there were two different plays in the fifth inning on which I feel a number of other Cubs would have scored from third. He was held on the first and thrown out on the second.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Ryan (-.307). He pitched one inning and allowed one-game winning homer.
- Goat: Brad Brach (-.209). This space should likely say he pitched one inning, allowed one hit and struck out two while recording his first save as a Cub. Instead, it reads two hits, one walk, one run, one strikeout, one blown save. I will say this, I really don’t like asking Brach who’s been walking a batter an inning fairly consistent all season to intentionally throw pitches out of the zone. I realize it is conventional wisdom with an 0-2 count. But Brach had been hammering the strike zone until they started trying to get Harper to chase.
- Kid: Kris Bryant (-.155). The Cubs managed 11 hits and four walks. Kris Bryant had none of either. He was hitless in five at bats, often batting with traffic in front of him.
WPA Play of the Game: Daniel Descalso’s two-run triple was effectively a three run homer for WPA purposes because the net result was the same. It turned a 3-1 deficit to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth with only one out. (.527). This is the single largest WPA event of the season to date for the Cubs.
*Phillies Play of the Game: J.T. Realmuto’s solo homer with two outs in the tenth was the game winner. (.416). This is the single largest negative WPA event of the season for the Cubs to date.
Look for a separate article later today with the year to date standings and a look at team hitting, pitching and fielding statistics.
Up Next: The Cubs will look to return to the win column and snap a four game winning streak for the Phillies. They’ll send Jose Quintana to the mound. Jose is 4-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 51⅓ innings. He has lost his last two starts, allowing three runs in each. Last time, it was three runs in five innings on six hits and a walk. That one was in Cincinnati. Jose faced the Phillies twice last year and didn’t get a decision in either despite pitching well. he threw a total of 11⅔ innings and allowed only six hits, three walks and three runs while striking out 17. He also faced the Phillies once in 2017. In that one he took a loss when they plated six runs on nine hits and four walks in just five innings.
Current Phillies have a total of 78 plate appearances against Q and have a .796 OPS. Andrew McCutchen leads the way with 15 PA (.928) OPS. Three current Phillies have homered against Jose, including Sean Rodriguez, Rhys Hoskins and Jake Arrieta. Bryce Harper has managed only a sacrifice fly in four plate appearances.
The Phillies counter with talented young right-hander Zach Eflin. Eflin is 5-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 56 innings of work. He too is coming off of a loss. That one was against the Brewers and he allowed seven hits, two walks and four runs in just five innings of work. He did win his three starts prior to that with two complete games and just two runs allowed in 25 innings of work. He faced the Cubs twice last year and was 1-1 and allowed five runs (four earned) in 12⅔ innings. He won his start in Wrigley and lost the one in Philadelphia. Overall, he is 1-1 with a 3.20 ERA in three starts over the last two years.
The Cubs have just 60 plate appearances on the current roster against Eflin but have an .813 OPS. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have 11 and 10 PA respectively. Rizzo has been held down a bit (.636) but KB has done quite well (1.300) with six hits in 10 at bats. Zach has been extremely effective with a .569 OPS allowed to right-handed batters but less effective against lefties .809.
This is another tough one on paper. Totally not surprising against another first place team and playoff hopeful. Hopefully, the Cubs can turn the tables tonight.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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