Heavy sigh. Here we are again. Do you remember when it felt like the Cubs were invincible? It wasn’t that long ago. They had a pretty long run between losing any series between early April and mid-May. This long stretch of games has really cut the legs out of a red-hot Cubs ball club. Fatigue and injuries have clearly set in. With the departure of Ben Zobrist from the team, minor injuries to Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant have challenged an offensive core that is actually pretty shallow. Accordingly, the offense has slowed down a little. The starting pitcher is getting a little less support leading to a lot more leverage in their appearances. Between the added high effort innings and the string of consecutive games, the starting pitching has really stumbled.
Topping things off is the damage that has done to the Cubs bullpen. The Cubs bullpen is one that I’d label is a maintain type of bullpen. They aren’t world beaters. When things are going well, like they were in that 40+ day stretch of strong Cubs performance, they will usually get the job done. When you can mix and match them and optimize matchups, they’ll get it done. They are not a bullpen like last year’s Brewers pen or the one we’ve seen the last two days in Houston. Yesterday, the Astros bullpen basically helped them to steal a game. They came in starting with the fourth inning. They did allow three runs, but they really slowed down the Cubs until their bats could get rolling.
To be fair, during that hot stretch when everyone was fresh, the Cubs did steal a couple of games like that out of the pen with long appearances by Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery . It just looks difference when the Astros throw arm after arm at you with guys throwing in the mid to high 90’s with wicked stuff. Almost top to bottom, the Cubs assembled a staff on grit and savvy rather than stuff.
It’s so easy to over react in baseball. Even as someone who preaches patience every day, it can be hard while watching a game like last night and not do some of it. I don’t watch baseball except when the Cubs are one of the two teams. So I’ve seen precious little of the Astros since they’ve risen to prominence. It’s easy to have two thoughts. First, I’m really jealous of the team they’ve put together. They appear to have a much deeper stable of sluggers than the Cubs have to offer. And as I noted above, they seemingly have an endless wave of pitchers with nasty stuff to throw at you.
That second thought after playing the Astros is the one that I have to tamp down. It is the urge to suggest the Cubs throw in the towel, trade off some pieces and rework the roster. I mean, when you watch a game like last night, it is so easy to feel helpless. The Cubs knocked the Astros starter out in the fourth inning. The problem was, they only had a 3-1 lead at the time. The pitchers would go on to allow eight runs and the Astros had a somewhat easy victory in the end. I can’t even lean into Kris Bryant hurt, Javier Baez at less than full strength, a depleted bullpen, etc. because the Astros have played this series without some of their biggest stars (okay, that’s still really frightening to me). But the larger point is this: despite the enormous talent base of the Astros, they didn’t reach the World Series in 2016, they didn’t reach the World Series in 2018. Nothing is guaranteed for any team. No matter how great any team is, one bad series can cost them a championship come October.
The Cubs continue to lead the National League Central. The whole division is now separated top to bottom by five games. But, the Cubs are still on top. Tomorrow, they’ll finally get a day off. They need that day off. But they better enjoy it, because there is still a ton of baseball between now and the All-Star break without a lot of other time off. The Cubs picked themselves off the mat after their 2-7 road trip to start the season. They’ll pick themselves off the mat again soon.
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 53, May 28: Cubs 6 at Astros 9 (30-23)
- Superhero: David Bote (.299). David had a monster night at the plate in the loss. He had two home runs and a double, drove in three and scored twice in just four at bats. David has proved to be a bit streaky in his young career. Going back to May 10, he’s had a .372/.449/.628 line (wRC+ 181). Of course that line is massively inflated by a .542 BABIP during the stretch. Still, that’s a 49 PA stretch that is nice to see after he went through a slow patch.
- Hero: Addison Russell (.154). The controversial Cub hit his third homer in four games last night. But I was most impressed by the two walks he drew. Patience at the plate has long been one of the weak spots for Russell. With that, Russell now has the highest BB% (9.4) and the lowest K% (18.9) of his career. If he stays healthy, I believe we’ll see the breakout for Russell that has been delayed by injuries and then compounded by off the field issues.
- Sidekick: Kyle Schwarber (.102). Kyle had a solo homer and a walk in five plate appearances last night. He also struck out twice. I do start to fear that Kyle’s whole career is going to be most memorable for two things. Cannon shot home runs and watching him take borderline strikes.
- Billy Goat: Jon Lester (-.443). This makes three straight Billy Goat starts for Jon. In this one he lasted 5⅔ innings, allowed eight hits, three walks and seven runs. He struck out three. This one was surely a bit frustrating for Jon as a couple of the really well hit balls appeared to be very good pitches. There were also a couple of not really well hit balls that just found space.
- Goat: Brad Brach (-.334). I for one have really not seen anything too exciting about Brach. I don’t know if he is still working his way back from the injuries that delayed the start of his season or what. I know there aren’t a lot of options but I’m just not impressed. He threw 1⅓ innings, allowed a home run, two other hits and a walk. He did strike out two.
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.156). Willson was hitless in five at bats and struck out three times. Willson’s in a baby slump. Over his last 10 games played, he has a .226/.333/.355 line. Of course, that line is still good for a wRC+ of 90 which isn’t totally awful.
WPA Play of the Game: Alex Bregman hit a two-run homer off of Brach with two outs in the sixth inning. That tied the game at 6-6. (.299) Bregman was the very first batter Brach faced.
*Cubs WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber slugged the Cubs fifth homer of the day as part of back-to-back homers with David Bote in the top of the sixth. (.173)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 14.5
- Willson Contreras 10.5
- Tyler Chatwood 8.5
- Kyle Schwarber -9.5
- Yu Darvish/Carl Edwards Jr. -10
Up Next: The teams wrap up their series tonight. The Cubs will be looking to avoid a fourth straight loss and sixth in seven games. The Astros will be looking for a third straight win and fifth in their last six games. Kyle Hendricks will hope to stop the bleeding. Kyle is 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 62 innings of work on the season. Last time out, he received a no decision against the Reds after having a minimum qualification quality start. He allowed six hits, three runs and one walk in six innings of work. He did strike out nine. Kyle has been very good over his last seven starts, with a 4-1 record and a 2.77 ERA in 48⅔ innings. Kyle has never faced the Astros. Current Astros have a total of just 19 plate appearances against Kyle and six of those are by Monday’s starter Gerrit Cole.
Wade Miley will get the start for the Astros. Wade is 5-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 62⅓ innings. Last time out he was superb against the Red Sox. He threw six innings and allowed only four hits, two walks and one run while striking out eight. Over his last seven starts, he is 4-0 with a 3.32 ERA. Wade made two starts against the Cubs in 2018 and won both of them. He threw 11 innings and allowed four runs (three earned).
The 32-year-old left-handed pitcher has been extremely tough on left-handed hitters (.516 OPS allowed). Right-handed hitters have done quite a bit better (.738). Current Cubs have 98 career plate appearances against Miley. Anthony Rizzo has the most PA (23) but has struggled (.367 OPS). Oddly, those struggles have only included one strikeout, so he’s able to put the ball into play, just very ineffectively. Kris Bryant would be a welcome addition to the Cubs lineup on any day, but against Miley even more. Bryant has a .962 OPS in 12 career PA against Miley. Addison Russell and Willson Contreras both own homers against Miley in limited PA.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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