It never ceases to amaze me that despite all of the successes of this Cubs organization 2015 to date, the largest problem is offensive in nature. I just couldn’t have seen that coming when this team was being built. In 2012, the first pick by the new front office was Albert Almora Jr. In 2013, it was Kris Bryant. Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ followed. There was little question what the philosophy of this organization was going to be. This team was going to pound you into submission.
Oh sure, they were making scrap heap pickups like the Jake Arrieta/Pedro Strop heist. They robbed seemingly every half way decent pitching prospect from the Rangers organization. But the calling card for this team was going to be offense.
To be sure, at 5.06 runs per game, the Cubs aren’t exactly inept offensively. The MLB average is 4.76 runs per game. The Cubs now rank 12th overall. Last year, their 4.67 runs per game (MLB average 4.45) checked in at 11th. They score runs, but just not at any exceptional pace and certainly not with any consistency.
I always try to preach not to read too much into a slump for a player and so I supposed I’d also extend that out when the team is struggling. But the offense is decidedly heading in the wrong direction. Since June 1, the Cubs have played 17 games (can I express my frustration again with the stupid MLB schedule that actually gives players MANY fewer days off when you get into the grind of the season and hot weather?!?). In those 17 games, they are 8-9. Ho hum. Whatever. There were nine road games in there and most of the games were played against teams that believe they’ll be in the hunt for playoff spots. In those 17 games, the Cubs have scored six or more runs just five times. Three of those came on three consecutive days during the last homestand June 3-5. Just one has come over the last nine games.
The frustrating thing is that the pitchers held the opposition to three or fewer runs nine times over that stretch. When the league average is approaching five runs per game, holding opponents to three or fewer should be golden. Alas, four times in that stretch, Cub pitching held opposition to three or fewer and lost. That’s a crying shame for this team and it has become all too common the last two years.
As a team, the Cubs are hitting .234/.302/.399 in June (year to date is .251/.326/.446). My first instinct was that maybe this was a bit of a home/road issue, but interestingly year to date, the Cubs are .247/.340/.433 at home, .255/.332/.458 on the road.
This too shall pass. I just want to express that I’m as frustrated as any of you. It isn’t “supposed” to be like this. But here we are.
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 72, June 18: Cubs 1, White Sox 3 (39-33)
- Superhero: Cole Hamels (.277). Cole deserved better than the no decision last night. For a fourth straight start he was fantastic. He threw seven innings, allowing six hits, two walks and one run. He struck out eight. I’ve been supportive of the Hamels acquisition and then the retention throughout. It is gratifying to be right occasionally when I plant my flag.
- Hero: Kris Bryant (.111). Kris had three hits in four at bats. He struck out in the other one.
- Sidekick: Brandon Kintzler (.104). Brandon is somewhat quietly (unless you follow Jesse Rogers on twitter. Jesse has a new favorite Cub) having a very strong season out of the Cubs pen. A friendly reminder that sometimes it can take a while to adjust to a new team setting.
- Billy Goat: Pedro Strop (-.422). With a variety of aches and pains, Pedro just hasn’t been consistent this year. I’m far from questioning healthy Pedro Strop. But the back of my mind is recalling that Pedro came back too quickly in order to try to help the Cubs in the playoffs last year and admitted that he wasn’t actually healthy. Maybe last night was just an off night. Just the same, I’d love for the Cubs to not have to lean too heavily on Pedro up until Craig Kimbrel is ready. That way Pedro can work himself back into the mix slowly and then get a rest at the upcoming All-Star break.
- Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.163). Anthony had just one walk in four plate appearances. Hitting behind Bryant who was on base all night, that racked up the negative WPA.
- Kid: Javier Baez (-.155). Speaking of people who just haven’t looked the same over the last few weeks... Javy was hitless in four at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: With a runner on first and no outs in the ninth inning, former Cub prospect Eloy Jimenez slugged a two-run homer. Game. Set. Match. (.348).
*Cubs Play of the Game: In an odd bookend, Eloy batted with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning. He grounded into an inning-ending double play. (.146)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
*= injured list
- Kris Bryant 16
- Anthony Rizzo 11
- Cole Hamels 8
- Pedro Strop -7.5
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Jason Heyward -14
Up Next: The White Sox will seek a two-game sweep and their fifth win in seven games. The Cubs will be looking to avoid a second straight loss and their seventh loss in nine games. They’ll send Jon Lester to the hill. Jon is 5-5 with a 4.08 ERA in 70⅔ innings on the year. Last time out he was hit hard by the Dodgers allowing nine hits, one walk and six runs in just five innings. He struck out seven and walked one. He was the loser in that game after having won his two previous starts. Jon is 3-4 with a 6.28 ERA in his last seven starts.
Last year, Jon faced the White Sox twice and won both times. He threw a total of 10⅔ innings and allowed 12 hits, three walks and four runs (three earned). Current Sox have 80 plate appearances against Lester with a .723 OPS. Jose Abreu has the most PA (16) and has had very good success (1.104). Former Cub Welington Castillo has 12 PA (1.000). Tim Anderson has unusual results. In nine PA, he has reached base only once, but that was via a home run (.556 OPS).
Lucas Giolito has been a sensation for the White Sox in 2019. He is 10-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 81 innings. In his last seven starts, he’s a perfect 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA. In only one of those starts did he allow more than a single run. Last year, he faced the Cubs twice and he was 1-1 and allowed eight runs in just 12⅓innings. He and Lester faced each other last September 22 on the South Side.
Current Cubs have just 53 PA against Lucas. Javier Baez leads with seven PA, including a homer (1.262 OPS). The other three of the Cubs big four have six PA against Gioito without much success (Bryant .333, Contreras .167, Rizzo .500). As one would expect, the Sox hurler has fantastic splits in just about every situtation. Giolito has allowed a .546 OPS in 163 PA against right handed hitters and a .483 in 151 against lefties. He has allowed a .611 OPS at home and just a .428 OPS on the road.
This is as tough a matchup as is possible with Lester on the hill. Lester has been less than exceptional for the last month or so and Giolito has been out of this world. Let’s hope the Cubs can turn the tables on the Sox 24 hours later and keep it close and steal an unexpected win.
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