Uh-oh. I think our photo for the day shows Willson Contreras not running after his long fly ball in the first inning with the bases loaded. I guess it is good that it landed in the basket. I LOVE how excited Willson gets when he comes through in big moments. Batting where he does in the Cubs lineup, there are plenty of times when he doesn’t. But he’s got some big moments too. By WPA play of the Game, four times now he’s had the biggest positive moment of the game (Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez each have six and Kris Bryant five). Coming off of the hottest pitcher in baseball, Lucas Giolito, that was a huge one. Add on that Willson has been slumping just a bit lately (like most of the Cubs), that one had to feel extra good.
Baseball is pretty odd sometimes. This series was easy to figure out on paper. The Cubs would win the first game behind a surging Cole Hamels against Ivan Nova going through one of the worst stretches of his career. Then they’d lose on Wednesday to the presumptive AL Cy Young. I’m not taking credit for anything, because of course like most of you I thought the Cubs would lose to Giolito. Jon Lester hasn’t been as sharp lately and I was definitely buying into the hype. I will say though that I did predict two wins in the series preview and then held out hope that the Cubs would turn the tides and steal one last night. Of course, even then I figured they’d have to hold it close early and win it late. So clearly, I was wrong too. I’m just saying, it isn’t wrong to have hope even when your team is struggling.
I post this a lot and this series is another great time to do it. I know that the ups and the downs are part of the sports experience. The downs make the ups that much sweeter. But I’m always going to try to keep you tethered. The Cubs weren’t finished when they lost on Tuesday and they aren’t going to win the World Series because they won on Wednesday. EVERY good baseball team goes through slumps. For some of them, those slumps don’t last very long and aren’t all that bad even when they are in them. Some really good teams have gone through horrible stretches. Some really bad baseball teams have gone through really hot streaks. It happens. It is hard to sustain ANY level of performance over 162 games.
The last three World Series champions won over 100 games and the fourth had the best record in the AL (the 2015 Royals who had the fourth-best record behind three NL Central teams). But if we go back to a fifth year, an 88 win Giants team that finished a three-way tie for the ninth-best record in baseball won the World Series. It certainly helps to be the best team (duh!) but being a team that is capable of playing very good baseball for a few weeks (did anyone forget that the Cubs played lights out ball for a bit over a month?) can in some years be enough.
And as a final note, if you are like me, try not to forget that a season can be enjoyable even when a World Series isn’t won. That should absolutely be the goal of this team. It has the talent to do it. Accepting anything less isn’t the right answer for them. But for me? I deeply enjoyed the 1984 and the 1989 seasons. The abrupt end of the 1984 season has never taken that away from me. The 2003 run down the stretch was amazing and I still love many of the guys from that team. I don’t let the end tarnish that for me. The 2015 Cubs season was one of my all-time favorites, despite that train wreck in the NLCS. Yes, by just about every measure the 2018 season got increasingly painful as it went. So even a very good season can still be painful. As someone who spent years hoping that maybe this year we’d get enough good bounces to make the playoffs, it is AWESOME to know that every year this team has a chance of winning it all.
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 73, June 19: Cubs 7, White Sox 3 (40-33)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.323). In one of the finest nights in a strong start to his career, Willson Contreras was the clear Superhero. His grand slam in the first rocked Wrigley Field. For good measure, he came back and hit a second homer off of a pitcher who has looked unbeatable most of this year. Little surprise that Willson was walked in his third plate appearance. Willson drove in five, scored twice and reached base three times in four plate appearances. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.
- Hero: Javier Baez (.075). Javy had a single and a walk. He scored once in four plate appearances.
- Sidekick: Kyle Ryan (.065). Some of you have staunchly supported Kyle Ryan while many, including me, have been a bit skeptical. Ryan came through with four outs out of five batters he faced. I have to admit, I was more than a little bit nervous after he allowed a single to the first batter he faced.
- Billy Goat: Kris Bryant (-.059). There isn’t a lot of negative WPA when your team hits a first inning grand slam. KB of course made the only out prior to the slam. He did have a hit to go with three strikeouts.
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.020). J-Hey had one hit in four at bats. Jason is exactly at 100 wRC+. It’s an interesting season he’s having. He has his highest BB% as a Cub (12.7), but also his highest K% (16.7). He also has his highest ISO as a Cub (.160). But he has a negative defensive WAR value. Very odd is all I can come up with.
- Kid: Anthony Rizzo (-.011). Riz had one walk and two strikeouts in four plate appearances. He scored one run.
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras (.254). Batting with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning with the Cubs trailing 1-0, Willson took Lucas Giolito deep. With the three homers he allowed last night, Giolito has now allowed eight homers on the season (in 85⅓ innings).
*White Sox Play of the Game: Leury Garcia started the White Sox off on a positive note with a solo homer. (.101)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 13
- Anthony Rizzo 10
- Willson Contreras 9
- Pedro Strop -7.5
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Jason Heyward -16
Up Next: The Mets come to town for a four game set starting tonight. The Mets have dropped five of seven including two of three at Atlanta to start the week. They’ve dropped to fourth place in the NL East, now 8½ games out of first. They are on the verge of falling out of any contention, particularly with a couple of recent injuries to their pitching staff. The Cubs will be seeking a second straight win after losing six of eight.
Tyler Chatwood will make the start in place of the injured Kyle Hendricks. Tyler is 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA on the season, largely out of the Cubs bullpen. He has made one start though and in that one, he was fantastic. He threw six innings and allowed two hits, two walks and struck out three. As has been discussed at great lengths here and everywhere else, control is the key for Chatwood. If he can keep it in and around the zone, he is a very difficult pitcher to hit. Tyler started once against the Mets last season and in that one he threw 5⅓ innings, allowing four hits, four walks and two runs. He struck out three. Current Mets have 49 plate appearances against Chatwood. Michael Conforto leads the way with 13 of them (.684 OPS). Robinson Cano has only six of them, but he has an even 1.000 OPS.
Walker Lockett will be making his 2019 debut in place of the injured Noah Syndergaard. The Mets have a ton of injuries. In addition to Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes is out for the season, as is Jed Lowrie. Brandon Nimmo is out until at least August. Recent Cub Justin Wilson is also on the IL. Jason Vargas who left early in his last start is expected to make his start. Back to Lockett, he made three starts last year, one in June and two in August. He lost all three of them. In 13 innings, he registered a 9.60 ERA. Some of you might recall that one of those starts was against the Cubs. That was actually his longest start of the three at an even five innings. In that one he allowed nine hits, two walks, two homers and five runs. He did strike out six which stands as a career high.
Javier Baez was hitless in three at bats in that one. But Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo each took the now 25-year-old right hander deep in their three at bats (and both also added a double). Jason Heyward also had a two hit game. Of current Cubs, the left handed hitters (including Ian Happ) had seven hits and a walk in 13 plate appearances including two doubles and two homers. Right-handed hitters had one walk and one single in eight plate appearances (not including Kyle Hendricks).
Two in a row would feel really good after a tough road trip and a thud of a game to start the homestand. Hopefully the Cubs can have a big weekend against the Mets.
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