Every now and then a photographer grabs what I feel like is the perfect picture for this article. I thought today’s was just that. Albert Almora Jr. and Anthony Rizzo high fiving one another as the Cubs celebrated another win. Two big blows defined this game for the Cubs. On a day where the wind was blowing out, the Cubs slugged three homers and the Phillies only managed one. To top that off, the Cubs had a three-run homer from Rizzo and a grand slam from Almora, so they made it count.
And so it is that the Cubs have returned to a season high 11 games over .500. It seems like the Cubs have been struggling a little bit of late, but the good news is that even at 4-4 over their last eight, that still leaves them right at their high point of the season. That also leaves them with the best record in the National League Central (two games ahead of the Brewers by way of four less losses), the second best record in the NL (1½ games behind the Dodgers by way of three less wins), and the fifth best record in baseball. By run differential, the Cubs lead the NL and are third in baseball behind the Astros and Twins(!).
Importantly, the Cubs are getting contributions from a bunch of players. Tyler Chatwood played a big part in last night’s win. The Phillies did a really nice job of running up Cole Hamels’ pitch count. But then Chatwood came in and allowed only one run over four innings on a fairly difficult night to pitch. Pitcher wins can be somewhat funky for relief pitchers, but this makes three for Tyler on the year. He’s holding steady near the top of Heroes and Goats standings which would have probably been about a 1,000 to 1 line if someone placed lines on such things.
Of course, this team lives and dies by the Four Horsemen of Doom in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. When all four of them are healthy, that’s a scary group. Increasingly, the Cubs have been batting Kyle Schwarber ahead of those four. Kyle has a .257/.402/.459 (wRC+ 124 in 97 PA) since April 25. Kyle missed a home run by a couple of inches last night as well. Almora has been batting behind that group. In that same stretch, he has 88 PA with a .337/.360/.602(!) line that is good for a 156 wRC+. This is becoming one fierce lineup to pitch to.
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 47, May 22: Cubs 8, Phillies 4 (29-18)
- Superhero: Albert Almora Jr. (.245). I was pretty hard on Albert through April, I’d be the happiest man in the world if I knew that Albert was aware of it and smirking at me every time he crushes. (I know my youngest daughter enjoys reminding me of it.) Albert only managed one hit in four at bats last night. But a two-out grand slam in a tie ball game will play.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.215). Anthony has now been on the positive side of the ledger in four straight games and he appears totally settled back in following the injury. He too only had one hit, though he drew a walk. He scored twice and drove in three with one of the farthest hit balls I’ve ever seen in Wrigley Field, striking the Budweiser sign above the right field scoreboard.
- Sidekick: Tyler Chatwood (.110). Tyler threw four innings and allowed three hits, one walk and one run via a solo homer after he had an 8-3 lead in the eighth. He struck out three and, as noted above, picked up his third win. Four base runners in four innings will play as well. Tyler has been a remarkable turn around story so far in 2019.
- Billy Goat: Cole Hamels (-.114). Cole had a game earlier this year against the Dodgers at Wrigley where he walked a large number of hitters because he just wouldn’t give in against a strong hitting team. This one felt similar to me. Though it wasn’t walks, he ran up a pitch count trying to be very deliberate and not give in to a talented Phillies team with the wind blowing out. The net result was nine hits, two walks and three runs allowed in four innings. He also was hitless in two at bats at the plate (-.070)
- Goat: Addison Russell (-.056). Addison was hitless in four at bats with a strike out and was the only Cubs regular who didn’t get in on the fun in any way offensively.
- Kid: Javier Baez (-.053). Solo homers when the team is up 7-3 in the eighth don’t move the needle a lot. And so it is that Javy comes up on the down side. He also had a first inning walk out of his four plate appearances. Still, it was great to see Javy’s presence back in the lineup, even if the heel didn’t look 100% to me.
WPA Play of the Game: Albert Almora Jr. batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fifth with the score tied at three. He launched one into the brush in center field for a grand slam and basically put the game out of reach. (.334).
*Phillies Play of the Game: J.T. Realmuto came up with another big hit against the Cubs with an RBI-double with two outs in the first inning that got stuck in the ivy to cost the Phillies a run. (.116)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Willson Contreras 9
- Tyler Chatwood 8.5
- Jose Quintana 7
- Yu Darvish -7
- David Bote -8
- Carl Edwards Jr. -10
Up Next: The two teams conclude their four game set this afternoon. The Cubs will be looking to take three of four in the series with three straight wins. The Phillies will be trying to split the series and five wins in seven games.
Jon Lester is just the guy the Cubs want on the mound in a big game. Jon is 3-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 43 innings of work. He’s coming off his worst start of the year last time when he allowed 10 hits, one walk and five runs in just 4⅓ innings in Washington. He’s won his last four starts against the Phillies dating back to 2016, allowing only five runs (three earned) over 25⅓ innings. Included was one win last September against them when he threw six scoreless innings allowing eight hits and no walks while striking out seven. Current Phillies have a total of 195 plate appearances against him with a .718 OPS. Sean Rodriguez leads the way with 68 PA (.806) OPS, including four homers. Maikel Franco has struggled badly against Jon with a .283 OPS in 15 PA. J.T. Realmuto had hit him hard though (1.319 in just 9 PA).
The Phillies counter with their ace Aaron Nola. Aaron has had a bit of a rough start to 2019 despite a 4-0 record. He’s posted a 4.47 ERA in 52⅓ innings. But, over his last five starts, he is 2-0 and has allowed only seven runs in 27⅓ innings. He’s certainly trending in the right directly. Last time out, he threw six innings against the Rockies and allowed eight hits, one walk, one run and struck out 12(!).
Aaron was on the mound for the Lester win last September. The Cubs managed five hits, two walks and four runs on the strength of three homers in that one. Aaron did strike out 11 though. In his career, Nola is 1-1 with a 5.12 against the Cubs. The one win came way back in July of 2015. Aaron has really struggled against left-handed hitters so far this year (1.029 OPS in 103 PA). He’s been much stronger against righties (.702 in 130 PA). Current Cubs only have 60 PA against Nola. Anthony Rizzo has two homers in just nine PA against Nola (1.889 OPS). Javier Baez also has a homer against him in six PA (.967) and Addison Russell one in three plate appearances (1.667).
This one looks surprisingly good on paper given the pitching matchup and the quality of the opposing team. I suspect looks could be deceiving and this one will be another nail biter.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Albert Almora Jr.
Other (please leave a suggestion in the comments)