I love today’s picture. It has the feeling of Willson soaking in the moment. Willson hit his ninth homer in the second inning last night. Last year, he hit his ninth home run in August. It’s early, there is a lot of baseball to be played and there are some remarkable performances going on across the league. That said, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez are playing like two guys dueling for an MVP. In the end, of course we’d be ecstatic for either one if they did go on to that kind of accolade. But the bigger picture is that having two guys like that firing on all cylinders, leading this team is pushing it higher and higher.
This hot streak for the Cubs shouldn’t have been hard to see coming. The Cubs had been bobbing along at .500 with Javy, Contreras and Jason Heyward trying to carry the offense without a lot of contribution from the historic core of the Cubs offense in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. But those two weren’t going to stay down for long. As those two heat up, and as the other trio hasn’t really stopped what they are doing, this is becoming one very long and potent lineup. Couple that with strong pitching performances nearly every day and you have a pretty unstoppable combination.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. We watched the Brewers streak out to an early lead in the Central. Then the Cardinals picked up the baton when the Brewers stumbled a bit. They’ve recovered ably from their hiccup and are playing good ball most days. The Cardinals have now stumbled and it was the Cubs to pickup the baton. The Cardinals will recover and there is very little reason to believe that this division won’t be a tight one all of the way down to the finish line. But enjoy this while the Cubs are rolling. To be sure, they might be playing their best baseball since 2016. Nothing in sports ever feels quite so good as the feeling when it seems like you’ll never lose again.
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 31, May 5: Cubs 13, Cardinals 5 (19-12)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.177). 13-5 wins are a lot of team effort. But, credit goes to the guys who get it rolling. Willson had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He scored two and drove in two. His second inning homer was the only run in this game through four innings despite the 18 runs scored.
- Hero: Jose Quintana (.157). I had three thoughts about Jose’s start. First, dude continues to deal. Second, he let up a couple of runs at the end of his start for the second consecutive start. If there comes a time later in the year where Joe is a little quick with the hook, these are the things to remember. Third, Albert Almora Jr. usually catches that ball that led to the two runs that Q did allow. Uncharacteristic for him to be in the wrong spot.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.116). Just one hit in four at bats on the night. But that hit was an RBI-triple the scored Willson Contreras with the second run. Jason has cooled a bit (one hit and no walks in his last 10 plate appearances), but he does not need an elite bat to provide substantial value to the team. Alas, he does still have an elite bat over his first 115 PA of 2019 (.305/.409/.505 wRC+ 141)
- Billy Goat: Javier Baez (-.083). This makes eight consecutive appearances in Heroes and Goats. Javy is literally in the middle of something big every game. He did have one hit in four at bats and scored two runs. He grounded into a double play in the fourth (-.047) for his biggest negative of the day. The one hit was a double, but didn’t come until it was 7-2 in the bottom of the eighth.
- Goat: Albert Almora Jr. (-.019). Two late doubles, two runs scored and an RBI in four at bats weren’t enough to keep Albert out of this spot (after Q was dropped for his two hitless at bats).
- Kid: David Bote (-.011). David had an RBI double and a sacrifice fly in four plate appearances. Early at bats matter so much in these blowouts. Two out runs has been a big thing for this Cubs team. David’s eighth inning RBI-double was the first of six two out runs in the eighth.
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs in the sixth inning, Yadier Molina squared one up pretty good. It held up just long enough to be caught up against the wall in center field. Unfortunately, Almora misread it and missed the fly. That’s of course a double since he didn’t get a glove on it, but Almora absolutely catches that ball nine times out of 10. The Cards scored two runs to cut their deficit to 3-2 at that time. (.189)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Jason Heyward’s triple in the fifth inning drove in a run with no outs to make it 2-0. (.136). Heyward would score on the Bote sac fly and make it 3-0 one batter later.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
(# = returned to minors)
- Willson Contreras 9
- Javier Baez 7.5
- Jon Lester/Jose Quintana 7
- #Carl Edwards Jr. -8
- Yu Darvish -9
- Albert Almora Jr. -10.5
The next full installment of the standings will be released on Tuesday, May 7.
Up Next: The Cubs and Marlins to have a chance to see a very unique scenario for a game this late in the season. If the Cubs can take the first three games of this series (they are already 3-0 against the Marlins this season), then they’d have won more games in a row (10) than the Marlins have won all season (9). The Marlins have lost three in a row and seven of eight, so it is not crazy.
The Cubs will send Cole Hamels out to start this series. Cole is 3-0 with a 3.19 ERA in 36⅔ innings of work so far this year. Last time out he received a no decision in Seattle when he allowed four runs (two earned) in 5⅓ innings. He has already faced the Marlins once this year and he was the winner, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing three hits and no walks. He recorded eight strikeouts. Players currently on their 40-man roster have a total of 150 plate appearances against Cole, but half of those belong to Martin Prado (.819 OPS).
Sandy Alcantara will be the Marlins starter. He is 1-3 with a 4.86 ERA in 33⅓ innings of work. Last time out he took a loss at home against Cleveland. He threw 5⅓ innings and allowed six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks. He had only one strikeout. He hasn’t won since March 31 when he threw eight shutout innings against the Rockies. He was the opposing starter in the game Hamels won back on April 17. Sandy allowed seven hits, a walk and five runs in six innings of work in that one. He did strikeout seven. The Cubs have a total of 33 plate appearances against Alcantara and only a .626 OPS in that small sample that includes some prior relief work against the Cubs.
Alcantara has been hit harder by lefties (.789 ops and all three homers he’s allowed) than righties (.701). He’s only made two starts on the road this year, so his home/road stats don’t have a lot of meaning yet. The Cubs will be the second team to see Alcantara twice. The first was the Indians. The first time they faced him, the Indians managed only two hits and four walks against him in five innings of work. The second time they had seven hits and three walks in 5⅓. So Indians hitters appear to have adjusted faster to him than he did to them.
All signs point to a good chance of an eighth straight win. Let’s keep it rolling!
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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