Different day, same story. There’s been a whole lot of that lately. The Cubs offensive woes continued. Dallas Keuchel was the 2015 AL Cy Young winner. He’s pitched in two All-Star games. He owns four Pitcher of the Month awards. He certainly has the resume of the kind of guy who can shut you down.
Here’s the thing. He didn’t. In 5⅔ innings, Dallas allowed eight hits, three walks, two homers, a triple and three runs. Because of signing late, he was only making his second start and this isn’t the dominant pitcher he can be. Right now, he’s just a guy. Sure, a guy with a really, really large depth of knowledge and experience that he can call on. Cubs hitters grounded into double plays in each of the first three innings. I’m told that was a hallmark of Kuechel in his younger days. I can tell you that when he was winning all of that hardware, he certainly wasn’t having a whole lot of games where he allowed 11 baserunners in less than six innings.
Just for humor value, I did go and look and the Cubs have now grounded into 64 double plays in 80 games. That is the eighth highest total in MLB (games played are now relatively even with teams ranging between 78 and 82 games played). The major league lead is 82 by the Angels. The top three teams all score more runs than the Cubs. The next four all score less. So this isn’t necessarily a statistic that is a sign of a bad offense. With the Cubs we know that one of the problems is guys who hit hard grounders right at fielders. The guys who ground into the most double plays for the Cubs are pretty good hitters (Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez nine each) and one of the two of them runs very well.
As the calendar creeps up on July, trading season is going to open soon. As I look at the standings, I see eight teams that I assume are absolutely positively sellers and three more teams that are close in the National League, because so many of the teams are within five games of .500, but should probably be sellers. That’s not a huge well of sellers. For all of the gnashing of teeth all year long about the pitching staff, I firmly believe at this point that if the Cubs are going to make a big splash in the trade market, that a hitter would actually be the best fit. Obviously, you always approach the trade deadline with an eye on improving the team in any way possible. But this team just doesn’t consistently generate enough offense. As has been the case since Dexter Fowler walked out the door, this team would really benefit from a player who can play a capable center field, swing the bat from the left side, run a little and have good contact skills.
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 80, June 26: Cubs 3, Braves 5 (43-37)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.157). Willson did everything he could to try to carry the Cubs in this one. He had a homer, a triple, a walk, and scored two runs in just four plate appearances.
- Hero: Tony Barnette (.055). Tony inherited a runner in the seventh inning. No matter, it took him only two batters to record three outs thanks to an inning ending double play.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.042). Jason drove in a run with a ground out and also singled in his four at bats.
- Billy Goat: Yu Darvish (-.270). I thought the key at bat of this game was a Josh Donaldson at bat in the third inning after Freddie Freeman had a one-out double. Yu threw two strikes to start the at bat. Then his 0-2 pitch may have just missed the bottom of the zone (I feel like that spot isn’t called a lot where the bottom is dropping out of the pitch). Yu then issued three straight balls for the walk. Nick Markakis followed with a three-run homer. On the night, Yu allowed five hits, two walks and five runs. He did strikeout eight. I see renewed calls for removing Yu from the rotation. I’d argue he pitched better than Kuechel did, but Yu gets the loss and he doesn’t have any established good will with Cubs fans.
- Goat: Victor Caratini (-.122). Pinch hitting is hard. I get it. Victor had a 2-0 count in his pinch hit at bat. I said out loud “he’s going to get a good pitch to hit.” He did and didn’t swing at it. Then he got another good pitch and turned away from it despite it being in the heart of the zone. Then he swung and missed. With the tying runs on second and third, that was pretty much ballgame.
- Kid: David Bote (-.105). Hitless in three at bats including grounding into a second inning double play. Caratini was pinch hitting for him in the eighth inning.
WPA Play of the Game: Nick Markakis (.159). His third inning three-run homer made it 5-0 and seemed to put the game out of reach.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Jason Heyward followed Willson Contreras’ one-out walk in the eighth with a single and the Cubs were in business. (.078)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 16
- Willson Contreras 14
- Kris Bryant 11
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Yu Darvish -12
- Jason Heyward -16
Up Next: The Cubs have perfectly altered two losses, two wins, two losses, two wins, two losses over their last 10. As terrible as that streak is, right now they’ll hope to continue it by starting back-to-back wins today. The Braves will look for their fifth win in six games. The Cubs will have Tyler Chatwood on the mound. Tyler is 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings on the season. Tyler has made two starts this season and has no record in those games. He’s allowed three runs (two earned) in 10 innings of work. Tyler is usually good for about 70 pitches, though on six days rest after throwing 73 last time, it wouldn’t shock me if he were able to get up into the 80 pitch area.
Tyler did start a game against the Braves last year and didn’t get a decision in that one despite pitching well. He threw 5⅓ innings and allowed four hits, two walks and one run. He struck out two. Current Braves have only 78 plate appearances against Tyler. Freddie Freeman leads the way with 18 PA and a 1.181 OPS. Nick Markakis also has 10 PA against him with a 1.314 OPS.
On the other side, Bryse Wilson will make the start for the Braves. Bryse has a total of 11⅓ innings of work in his major league career. He’s actually made two big league starts, one this year and one last. This year he started a game on March 30 in Philadelphia. He lasted only 3⅓ innings and allowed five hits, four walks and four runs. He struck out three. He threw one scoreless inning of relief besides that before returning to the minors. No Cub has ever seen Wilson. His major league experience is an extremely small sample and so his splits aren’t particularly meaningful.
Let’s hope the Cubs can pull this one out. After this game, the Cubs next have a game scheduled against an above .500 opponent on July 26 (this could fluctuate as their July 19-21 series is against the Padres who are presently at exactly .500). The second half of the season sees the Cubs out of division schedule lighten significantly with only one series at Philadelphia and one hosting the A’s who are hanging around contention. This schedule would be conducive to yet another second half run.
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