I always strive and preach for balance in this space. This seems quite natural as Heroes and Goats literally attempts to look at the highs and the lows. After a win, or even better after a long stretch of winning, I try to preach that we as fans not get too high. After a loss or string of losses, I try to keep things upbeat. Things are never as good as they are when you are running hot or bad as they are when you are running cold.
For a good long while, the Cubs have been running fair to cold. On May 14, the Cubs were 25-14 after winning the first game of a series in Cincinnati (where they’ll play tonight, how serendipitous?). Since that day, the Cubs have
had only two days off a record of 19-23. So things haven’t been going great. Not awful, but not great. In that stretch, the Cubs have played 19 of 42 games on the road. They’ve played four against the Braves, three against the Dodgers in L.A., six against the Rockies, six against the Cardinals, three games against the Astros in Houston, four games against the Phillies and three vs. the Nationals in Washington. That’s a whole lot of games against teams that have playoff aspirations (although at least a few of them are going to be sorely disappointed).
In that stretch, the Cubs have lost just one series at home. That was in this stretch, against the Reds May 24-26, the only series the Cubs have lost at home. With yesterday’s epic come from behind, they kept that streak intact. Sure, they’ve had a lot of series splits, including the last three. But the Reds remain the only team to come into Wrigley Field and win a series.
But what to make of Thursday’s game? Part of me wants to say that having to come from behind in a game started by a rookie making just his third start (and not carrying any kind of best prospect in baseball or the system street cred) is not something to be super proud of. But, then another part of me says this. The nine runs were put together by guys who will be a part of Cubs postseason baseball if they get there. Sure, Victor Caratini, who had the big blow of the game, won’t see the field much come postseason. But by and large, these were guys who were going to contribute. Conversely, if Tyler Chatwood has to start a playoff game... there almost certainly will be no playoff games. He’s certainly not one of the Cubs’ top five starters and might not be one of the top six. He allowed six of the seven runs.
Definitely in the positive column we got to see the Cubs new look bullpen deployed. With a top quartet of Craig Kimbrel, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler, the back end of the Cubs bullpen is probably the best that it has been since at least 2017 when Wade Davis was here. Having three setup men with closing experience is invaluable and gives you a ton of mix and match options. Knowing that those four can be paired with some combo of Kyle Ryan, Carl Edwards Jr., Dillon Maples, Adbert Alzolay and a displaced starter means that unless Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are throwing really well come late September and into October, neither of them are necessary. Additionally, I’ll say for the thousandth time, though the need is less pressing with the Kimbrel addition, it would be stunning if a team with financial resources and playoff aspirations didn’t add at least one piece to the pen this July.
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 81, June 27: Cubs 9, Braves 7 (44-37)
- Superhero: Victor Caratini (.318). Victor had been slumping a bit lately, but he came up with the big blow yesterday, a two-run homer. It was one of two hits in four at bats on the day.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.250). No cherry picking, Jason is now at a line of .270/.358/.445 (wRC+ 109) in 302 PA this year. Each of those numbers would match or best his previous highs as a Cub. Yesterday, he also had two hits in four at bats including a two-run single and an RBI-triple. He also scored twice.
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.160). Anthony had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He scored twice on a day where he primarily served as table setter.
- Billy Goat: Tyler Chatwood (-.343). Tyler’s regressing towards last year’s performance. He allowed six hits, four walks and six runs in just five innings of work. He did strikeout five, but he was largely ineffective.
- Goat: Carlos Gonzalez (-.089). CarGo batted twice and struck out twice. So yeah, it’s just not working.
- Kid: Steve Cishek (-.043). Steve allowed a solo homer and struck out two in one inning of work.
WPA Play of the Game: Victor Cartini capped a Cubs four run rally with a two-out, two-run homer that gave the Cubs an 8-6 lead. (.244).
*Braves Play of the Game: Dansby Swanson had an RBI double in the third inning to put the Braves up 2-1 (.137).
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 17
- Willson Contreras 14
- Kris Bryant 11
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Yu Darvish -12
- Jason Heyward -14
Up Next: The Cubs head to Cincinnati where they lost two out of three May 14-16. The Reds have won four of the first six. The Reds have ran into a little bit of a wall, losing four straight following their longest winning streak of the year at six games. Like most teams, the Reds have played much better at home (19-17 at home, 17-25 on the road).
The Cubs will have Cole Hamels on the mound. Cole is 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 98⅔ innings on the season. Over his last seven he is 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings. Last time out he received a no decision against the Mets. He threw seven innings and allowed seven hits, two walks and three runs. He struck out five. He hasn’t faced the Reds yet this year. He did face them twice last year as a Cub and was 1-0 with three runs allowed in 15⅔ innings of work. Both of those starts were in Wrigley Field. Cole hasn’t started in Cincinnati since 2015 (a start he lost, allowing five runs in six innings).
Current Reds have 111 plate appearances against Hamels, led by Joey Votto with 30 of them (.637 OPS). Tucker Barnhart (15 PA and .277 OPS) and Eugenio Suarez (10 and .522 OPS) have the second and third most PA and have also largely struggled. Jose Peraza is the only Red with particularly strong numbers with a 1.222 OPS in just nine PA.
Sonny Gray makes the start for the Reds. Sonny is 3-5 with a 4.03 ERA in 76 innings of work. He’s pitched better of late with a 3-1 record and a 3.89 ERA over his last seven starts, dating back to a start against the Cubs in mid-May. Last time out Gray got a no-decision in Milwaukee. He threw 4⅓ innings and allowed six hits, four walks and four runs while striking out six. In that start in May against the Cubs he also got a no decision. In that one he allowed five hits, no walks and three runs. He struck out seven. In each of those starts against Central division foes, he allowed two homers.
The 29-year-old right hander has very pronounced left/right splits (.761 v RHH and .574 v LHH). His home/road splits are a lot more balanced (.704 home and .645 road). Current Cubs have just 34 plate appearances against Gray with Jason Heyward leading the way (8 PA and .000 OPS). Kris Bryant can match the OPS in six PA. Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr. have each homered against Gray in limited action (four and two PA respectively).
The Cubs have struggled against left handed starters in June and haven’t played well on the road. Hopefully, Hamels has another strong start in him and the Cubs can do just enough to win this one.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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