This game was a comical mismatch on paper. The Cubs came in with the best record in the National League, the Marlins with the worst record in baseball. Cole Hamels, the cagey veteran, faced off against a Marlins lineup that had rarely put up even four runs in a game this year. The potent Cubs lineup that has been consistently among the league leaders matched up against young Sandy Alcantara who they’d beaten only a few weeks earlier.
If all of that hadn’t been enough of a mismatch, the Cubs forced Alcantara to throw 40 pitches in the first inning and moved out to a 3-0 lead. Every team is going to have a clunker once in a while and I’ve been saying for a few days that this team was due for one of them. But how does a team have a clunker AFTER a dominant first inning? Certainly the four double plays the Cubs grounded into didn’t help. They did draw 10 walks in this one. They even had eight hits. Without doing any research, I’ll tell you confidently that most teams that draw 10 walks and have eight hits win the game. Especially ones that had two home runs among the hits.
But the Cubs bullpen let them down. Amazingly, after having a sub-2.00 ERA for over a month, there were screams across Twitter as the game was finishing up last night for the Cubs to add a reliever. Never mind that there is at least a chance that they got Carl Edwards Jr., a key piece of this bullpen, back last night. Because Pedro Strop had a bad outing. This was his second blown save of the season. Since he’s only had six chances, that’s not great to be sure. Pedro has 20 blown saves in five plus years as a Cubs reliever. He’s had 114 holds and 23 saves over that time. But indeed, he’s blown 20 saves. He’s had 373 appearances as a Cub with a 2.71 ERA.
Surely, the Cubs should make the panic move and sign Craig Kimbrel. Craig blew five saves last year, his highest total since 2011. That, of course, fails to include the postseason. The postseason in which he allowed seven runs in just 10⅔ innings. Kimbrel’s ERA over three seasons with Boston? 2.44.
Kimbrel would undoubtedly help this year’s Cubs team. What he’d do to future years with his salary and the extrinsic costs of acquisition? That might not be great. Bottom line is, relievers blow games. The Cubs handed the ball to Pedro with a lead and he failed to convert. On a night when the two teams combined to walk 16 batters, Pedro struggled with his control and walked three batters. He’s now walks five of them this year.
What really happened in this game was the Cubs sent two of their three worst players by wRC+ to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth. First Albert Almora Jr. then Ben Zobrist hit ground balls at a time when they needed someone to drive a ball and produce a run. The Cubs plated one run after loading the bases with no outs. But that was the chance to take back control of this game. If I was going to make a knee jerk reaction to this game, I’d look at the combo of Ben Zobrist, Almora and Mark Zagunis, who are some combination of the third, fourth and fifth outfielders. At some point the Cubs have to upgrade that group.
Oddly enough, I wrote over the weekend about the Cubs having three 6-5 wins in their seven game wining streak. I pointed out that to that point there had been just 22 such games across the major leagues. Well, the streak ends with a 6-5 loss. Of course it is nothing more than a statistical quirk, but I thought of it when Kris Bryant hit his home run in the ninth inning.
I’m just going to turn the page and write this one off as one of those frustrating games that every team has several of every year. Certainly, if Pedro suddenly loses his control on a long term basis, there would have to be a corresponding move. But I’m not going to throw a guy in the trash over one bad outing.
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 32, May 6: Cubs 5, Marlins 6 (19-13)
- Superhero: Anthony Rizzo (.199). Anthony reached base three times in five plate appearances, including a two-run homer in the first inning and a walk. April 21 to present, Anthony has a line of .346/.417/.808 (wRC+ 210) in 60 plate appearances. When he gets hot, he can really stay there for a long time.
- Hero: Brad Brach (.118). Brach was also getting trashed last night on Twitter for his ongoing walk problems. He did walk one, the first one he faced. He did also pitch a scoreless eighth inning. Brach’s walk problems have indeed been perplexing. He also has a 2.57 ERA in his first 14 innings of work. Regression is expected, but perhaps control returning could also happen for a guy who has never really had extreme walk problems?
- Sidekick: Kyle Schwarber (.100). Kyle had two hits, an RBI and a walk in four plate appearances. In a quieter (and shorter) streak, Kyle has a .357/.457/.571 line (wRC+ 167) over his last 35 plate appearances dating back to April 25.
- Billy Goat: Pedro Strop (-.682). The biggest stinker of the year (by WPA) for the Cubs. Pedro faced four batters and allowed three walks and a single.
- Goat: Javier Baez (-.102). For the ninth consecutive day, Javy reaches a podium. Six of those are in the wrong direction, which would seem to say slump. But, Javy did have a double and a walk last night in five plate appearances. His line over those nine games? .300/.349/.650 (wRC+ 150). Nothing to see here, he’s still playing very well and if anything is having a slight sequencing problem.
- Kid: Ben Zobrist (-.091). Ben had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. The double play he hit into to end the sixth was a back breaker (following Almora’s failure to get a run in with the bases loaded and no outs).
WPA Play of the Game: After Pedro Strop had walked the first two batters of the ninth inning, Neil Walker was sent up to pinch hit. Neil lined a single to right and loaded the bases. (.204)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo’s homer in the first with one out. (.175)
There will be a separate piece on the standings later today.
Up Next: The same two teams are back at it today (weather permitting). The Cubs will be looking for their eighth win in nine games. The Marlins will be looking for back to back wins for the first time since April 19 and 20 at home against the Nationals.
Each team will send its best pitcher to the mound. For the Cubs that means Jon Lester. Jon is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings of work. Last time out he was brilliant, going seven innings in Seattle and allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out eight. He faced the Marlins once last year and it didn’t go so well. It was last year’s opening day game when he lasted just 3⅓ innings and allowed seven hits, three walks and four runs (three earned). He only struck out two in that one. He has never faced the Marlins in Wrigley Field. The young Marlins team doesn’t have much history against Jon. Collectively their 40-man roster has a total of 128 plate appearances with 60 of those (.861 OPS) belonging to Curtis Granderson dating back to both of them playing for years in the AL East. Martin Prado has a 1.063 OPS against Jon in just 16 PA.
Caleb Smith, who some of you will remember as a Rule 5 selection of the Cubs in 2016, has been fantastic for the Marlins so far this year. He’s 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 36 innings of work. The Marlins have won his last four starts. For a team that’s only won 10 games, that’s a significant statistic. Last time out Caleb beat the Indians with seven innings of four hit, two walk, one run work. He struck out eight. All three of the wins for Caleb came at home. He did face the Cubs in that opening series last year. He threw 5⅓ innings allowing four hits, three walks and one run. He struck out eight. That was the start of that 17 inning game in the opening series.
The Cubs 40-man roster has a total of only 23 plate appearances against Caleb. Kris Bryant had a double and a homer in three at bats (though he struck out the other one). Caleb has been pretty tough on both righties (.548 OPS) and lefties (.531).
This has all of the earmarks of a pitchers duel, particularly assuming the game is played in cool, damp early season weather.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Carl Edwards Jr.