I’ve many times written pointing out that a game can be looked at as a half-empty or a half-full glass. I’m not even sure the come from behind win on Sunday is able to make the glass half-empty. Make no mistake of it, the Cubs belly-flopped the weekend portion of their series against the Mets. Sure, Thursday’s win ended up being pretty convincing. But after that, there was a whole lot of ugly.
Fortunately Javier Baez, along with two Cubs runners who reached base ahead of him, were able to snag a win right from the jaws of defeat on Sunday. A four-game series split looks a heck of a lot better in the record books than losing three of four to a team in turmoil. The Reds remain the only team to come into Wrigley Field and win a series this year.
A come-from-behind victory does not erase the bad that preceded it. It of course turns a negative into a positive in the record books. But the things that lead to needing to come from behind still happened. This team continues to struggle. That 21-6 stretch the Cubs had from mid-April to mid-May seems very long ago. The Cubs started the season 3-8. They won 21 of 27 to move their record to 24-14. Since that time, the Cubs are 18-21. That’s a long stretch of time under .500.
To my eye, the Cubs are underperforming in every aspect of the game. The offense is good, but inconsistent and capable of more. The defense is off quite a few ticks from what we’ve seen from largely this same group in the past. The pitching has been very inconsistent. As with virtually every team, when the starters are consistently good, everything falls in line. But the pitching largely hasn’t been able to cover when a starter doesn’t have it. The whole team continues to look worn out at times.
Right now, being a totally realistic person and having a discerning eye, the Cubs would be a long shot to do any real damage in the playoffs. Fortunately, the playoffs aren’t played right now. At the end of the day, how you play through the month of June is meaningless. Sure, you can play yourself out of a playoff spot, but the Cubs certainly haven’t done that with a half-game divisional lead as we near the halfway point of the season. So the team has itself in position to contend.
Strong second-half performances have been a hallmark of the Joe Maddon Cubs. Even last year when the Cubs actually had a better record before the break than after, they finished out the season with a 40-30 second half. In 2017, they were 49-25, 2016 50-23, and 2015 50-25. Even in 2014, before Maddon was here, the Cubs were 40-54 before the break and 33-34 after it. In investing, you here often past results don’t guarantee future performance. That said, this is a pretty strong trend. The Cubs are likely to play better in the second half than they did in the first. Of course, the Brewers are likely to play better in the second half as well.
The Cubs will soon add Craig Kimbrel who has the potential to be a significant difference-maker and who will allow Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek to be used earlier in games (and in a way to balance the workload of all three). Kyle Hendricks will return to this team to help stabilize the rotation. Adbert Alzolay looks like he made add a different type of talent to the pitching staff. Tony Barnette was recently added and has a 3.50 ERA across three seasons (144 innings and 125 games). Carl Edwards Jr. will return and has pitched well since returning from the minor leagues. Additionally, it would be surprising if the Cubs didn’t add some pieces next month as the trade deadline approaches. This team should get better as the season progresses. Which is good, because this weekend reminds us that they definitely need to.
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 77, June 23: Cubs 5, Mets 3 (42-35)
- Superhero: Javier Baez (.450). Javy had a two hit day in four at bats. The second of those hits was a booming three-run homer that rocked Wrigley Field. Over his last five games Javy is at .313/.389/.813. Obviously, that’s a minuscule sample but hopefully he’s heading into one of his hot stretches. When he gets there, he can lift the entire team up for a period of time.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.154). Anthony had an RBI-single and a walk in four plate appearances. He was along for the ride on Javy’s game-turning homer.
- Sidekick: Pedro Strop (.070). Pedro looked very, very good yesterday and that was a welcome sign. Pedro is still holding a 5.17 ERA (4.71 ERA) near the half way mark of the season. His results are odd. He’s at a K/9 of 10.34 which is highest since 2016. His walks are also up (4.02 per nine). But the two culprits are his HR/9 1.72 which shatters anything in his career and is up basically one homer per nine innings over his career number. This despite continuing to have a ground ball rate at 55.6 (up from 46.1% last year). He’s also down to a 62.5% strand rate which is way below both a normal rate and his career mark of 75.2%. I’m inclined to believe that he’s both pitched less well than usual due to a handful of injuries and the natural aging process and that he’s been a bit unlucky. That’s a bad combo platter.
- Billy Goat: Albert Almora Jr. (-.186). Albert was hitless in three at bats including an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
- Goat: Kris Bryant (-.091). Kris had a double and a run scored in four at bats.
- Kid: Daniel Descalso (-.071). Struck out in his only plate appearance.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez (.540). In the second biggest positive WPA at bat of the Cubs season, Javy batted with runners on first and second and a one run deficit in the eighth inning. Javy is always being knocked down for poor situational hitting. Surely, the plan calls for shooting the ball the other way, driving in a run and tying the game. Yeah, Javy launched a three-run homer instead. It would be disingenuous to say that Javy is the first choice to have up with the game on the line. However, I probably want him up at some point in the inning every time. Javy makes things happen at an elite level.
*Mets Play of the Game: Tomas Nido hit a solo homer in the fifth inning to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. (.145)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 15
- Kris Bryant 14
- Cole Hamels/Javier Baez 8
- Yu Darvish/*Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Jason Heyward -17
Up Next: From one National League East team to the next. The first place Braves come to town. The Braves are 46-32 on the season, the second best mark in the NL. They’ve won seven of 10, and 15 of 20 to take control of the East. Chicago is the second leg of their road trip. They just took two out of three in Washington. They’ve managed to add five games to their division lead over the last 10 days.
The Cubs will be looking for a second straight win and they’ll turn to Jon Lester tonight. Jon is 6-5 with a 4.13 ERA in 76⅓ innings on the season. Over his last seven, Jon has really struggled with a 3-4 record and a 7.17 ERA covering 37⅔ innings. Last time out, Jon was ok in a start against the White Sox. He got a win for 5⅔ innings of work that night. He allowed seven hits, one walk and three runs while striking out six. Lester pitched in Atlanta on the trip there in early April and it was one of the few non-disastrous outings for the Cubs on that opening trip. He threw six innings and allowed six hits, three walks and two runs. He actually left that one with the lead, but Steve Cishek got lit up in the eighth inning on the way to a Cubs loss.
Current Braves have 267 plate appearances against Jon with a collective .695 OPS. A massive portion of that belongs to Nick Markakis who spent time in the American League with Jon and has 96 career PA against him (.586 OPS). Freddie Freeman is one of the guys to watch out for. Freedie has 25 PA with a .996 OPS. Ozzie Albies has obliterated Lester in one of the worst lines I’ve ever seen. Albies is a perfect 5-5 against Jon with a homer. He’s also drawn one walk.
The Braves will seek their third straight win and they’ll have Julio Teheran on the mound for hit. He was the opposing pitcher in that game in April. Julio is having his usually dependable season. He is just 5-5, but he has a 3.40 ERA in 87⅓ innings. Last time out, he got beat up by the Mets. He took a loss after allowing eight hits, three walks and six runs in four innings. Julio actually pitched relatively well himself in that April game, allowing six hits and three walks but only one run.
Current Cubs have 136 plate appearances against Tehran with a .619 OPS. Anthony Rizzo has the most PA (26) and a .785 OPS. Carlos Gonzalez has not been able to do anything with him (19 PA, .217 OPS). Kyle Schwarber is one Cub who has done well against Julio (10 PA, 1.056 OPS). So has Daniel Descalso (.817 in 15 PA), so don’t be shocked if he is back in the lineup tonight. Tehran is largely split neutral (.660 OPS v RHB and .654 v LHB) but does allow a bit more slugging against righties. Julio has actually been much better on the road (.603 OPS) than home (.726).
This looks like a very tough matchup on paper.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments)