I usually try to avoid analogies to other sports because they are inherently imperfect and flawed. But I can’t help feeling like the Cubs are that veteran NFL team that seemingly goes 9-7 or 10-6 every season. They go 7-1 at home, pretty much regardless of who they play year over year. Then they win two or three road games and again, they aren’t necessarily the easiest two or three road games. The kind of team that is capable of beating any team on any day, even that juggernaut that’s been rolling over anyone. Then occasionally they mail it in and get beat by a team that is several years away from its next playoff berth.
In the last week alone, I feel like I’ve pointed out at least three games that felt like tough games and the Cubs have won them all. On the flip side, I feel like there were at least two of them that looked to heavily favor the Cubs and they couldn’t get it done. Of course baseball has generally always been that kind of game. It takes so many moving pieces to get through a nine inning game and record a win that a couple of guys just not having it can really tank almost any given game.
It’s notable that two of those games that looked like really tough matchups over the last week that the Cubs won were started by Jon Lester. If you happened to tune into the Score at about 6pm yesterday and listen to the lead-in to the pregame show as I did while running some errands, you heard a caller suggesting that Jon Lester has lost it and that he should be moved to the pen next year. I feel like Jon goes through some rough stretches every single year. And every single year people write him off as done. Then Jon bounces back.
Age remains an undefeated opponent and I recognize that, like everyone else, Jon Lester will eventually fade into oblivion (at least I hope it is a fade and not an abrupt fall off of a cliff). But I’m never going to be the guy trying to call that this is it and he’s washed up. Jon is one of the tougher competitors I’ve ever seen. He works hard. It’s the smallest possible example, but I remember all of the jokes when Jon came to the Cubs about his hitting. It seemed like he would never get a hit. Now go back and watch Jon’s fifth inning single. The one on which he squared to bunt, pulled it back and then ripped a single through the infield. Now go to your local batting cage and spend all day trying to execute that entire maneuver. That’s one tough thing to do. Jon went from a punchline to a bad joke at the plate to a skilled hitter, a hitter I assure you Julio Teheran wants not part of ever seeing again (you may recall that Jon had a two-hit, two-RBI game against Teheran and the Braves in April).
Write off these Cubs at your peril. This team has holes, but it also has a whole lot of talent. For the fourth consecutive year, I’ll be shocked if the Cubs don’t win the division. (Yes, I’m still shocked to this day that they didn’t win it last year. )
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 78, June 24: Cubs 8, Braves 3 (43-35)
- Superhero: Jon Lester (.262). Six innings, five hits no walks, two unearned runs, and seven strikeouts.
- Hero: Willson Contreras (.178). Two hits, one homer, one bench-clearing incident sparked, three RBI. All of that in just four at bats.
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.035). Two men did just about all of the work on this win and everyone else was pretty much along for the ride. Riz lands here for one hit, one walk, an RBI and a run scored.
- Billy Goat: Carlos Gonzalez (-.068). While I still don’t think the Cubs particularly have a better option right now, it is easy to see why the Indians gave up on the former All-Star. Gonzalez is in some kind of offensive funk that he just can’t escape. CarGo was on base one time, via a walk. He scored a run. For what it is worth, this is the second time in a week, he got on base to start a huge inning.
- Goat: Tony Barnette (-.018). The season debut for Barnette didn’t go great. He allowed a homer to the first batter he faced and allowed two hits to three batters faced.
- Kid: Javier Baez (-.013). Only four Cubs even had negative WPA. And so it is that Javy had a two hit, one RBI, one run scored game and lands here. The double play he grounded into in the first was the culprit (-.085).
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras (.110). Willson’s homer leading off the second inning got under the Braves skin and gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
*Braves Play of the Game: The double play that CarGo hit into in the second inning was the biggest WPA event of the day for the Braves. (.087) It came with the Cubs leading 1-0 and having runners on first and second with no outs.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
A full standings piece will run later today. Stay tuned!
Up Next: Game two of the four-game set tonight. The Cubs will seek a third straight victory while the Braves try to avoid a second straight loss for the first time since June 5-6. The Cubs will send rookie Adbert Alzolay to the mound for his first major league start. Last week, he had a four inning relief appearance. In that, he allowed just one hit, a solo homer, and walked two. He struck out five.
The Braves counter with Max Fried. Max is 8-3 with a 4.03 ERA on the season in 82⅔ innings. Over his last seven outings, Max is 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA in 38⅓ innings. He won his last start against the Mets. In that one he threw six innings and allowed eight hits, one walk and two runs. He struck out six. He pitched in the series against the Cubs back in April and was brilliant. In that one, he threw six shutout innings allowing only one hit and no walks. He struck out five. He’s 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA in two lifetime starts against the Cubs.
Current Cubs have only 36 plate appearances against Fried. Albert Almora Jr. has the largest number of them at six. He has yet to reach base against Fried. In fact, Carlos Gonzalez is the only Cub currently on the major league roster with a hit against Fried (Ian Happ has two including a homer and Mark Zagunis has one). That’s how it is that a team has a .407 OPS against Fried.
Once again, the matchup doesn’t appear to favor the Cubs.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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