Saturday’s game was a breath of fresh air for the Cubs. For one game, the team looked exactly like it could be. Luis Castillo is one tough pitcher and the Cubs managed just one run on three hits and three walks in seven innings against him. Sure, they appeared to have some opportunities, but he was able to escape every time they threatened (aside from the Heyward homer). Unless something changes in the second half of the season as Castillo heads into “most innings he’s ever thrown” territory, I expect him to get serious Cy Young consideration, possibly being a finalist for the award. So it’s not like the Cubs are the only team struggling to plate runs against the youngster.
Fortunately, Jose Quintana was on his game for what felt like the first time in forever. In six innings, he allowed six hits and no walks while striking out four. He was aided by some fantastic defense including some more really great defense by Jason Heyward, who seems intent lately to remind people of why he generally takes home a Gold Glove for his work in right field. Cubs infielders snared some line drives to also contribute to what was a fantastic defensive performance for a team that has been decidedly uneven on defense.
While I will always say not to read too much into any one game, it is games like Saturday that I feel are an important reminder that you can not expressly rule out the Cubs as a championship contender. Last year, it seemed like the Cubs had a disproportionately strong record when the other team’s pitcher was either one of the best pitchers in the league or at least has been going through a dominant stretch. This year has been more of the same. In recent weeks, they beat up on Lucas Giolito, who was getting early AL Cy Young buzz, won a game that Jacon deGrom started, and now this win against Castillo.
The Cubs definitely still have that “high gear” that they can get to. Of course, the problem for this team for a few years now has been playing consistently excellent baseball. A 162-game season is a grind and sustaining excellent is hard for all but the most elite teams. But, if you aren’t that team, the next best thing is knowing that you can and do play excellent baseball in stretches. That will always give you a puncher’s chance.
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 83, June 29: Cubs 6, Reds 0 (45-38)
- Superhero: Jose Quintana (.390). As noted above, six innings, six hits, no walks, four strikeouts. When Jon Lester got hurt in April, Q was the first one to step up. It surprises me not even a little bit that he did it again after Cole Hamels was hurt.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.110). JHey with another homer, a couple of more fantastic catches and a walk as the cherry on top. He’s up to a .270/.358/.463 line on the season (wRC+ 113). With 310 plate appearances, that is no small sample size.
- Sidekick: Steve Cishek (.108). Steve threw one scoreless inning while it was still only 1-0.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.185). Kyle had an RBI-double and a walk in five plate appearances. Unfortunately for Kyle, that double made it 6-0 (.004). Meanwhile, the inning-ending double play in the fifth with the bases loaded landed him here. (-.152)
- Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.049). After we move out Jose Quintana’s hitting (-.104), Anthony lands next. He did have a walk in five plate appearances and was on board for the Javier Baez grand slam.
- Kid: Kris Bryant (-.039). Kris had a double, a walk and a run scored in five plate appearances. Kris also lands here on the back of an inning-ending double play. His was in the third inning. (-.084)
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber’s double play in the fifth inning put an end to what had been a bases loaded and no outs scoring opportunity. (.152)
*Cubs Play of the Game: It’s fitting that in a pitching duel a double play ball outweighed a grand slam. Javier Baez hit what I thought was going to be a lazy fly out to right field with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning. That ball reached the seats and the Cubs had plenty of insurance runs on a day where the pitching was superb. (.145)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 15
- Kris Bryant 13
- Willson Contreras 12
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Yu Darvish/Jason Heyward -12
Up Next: The two teams meet one more time on Sunday afternoon, with the winner winning the series. The Cubs will be looking for their third win in four games and the Reds will be trying to avoid losing for the sixth time in seven games.
Jon Lester gets the call for the Cubs today. Jon is 7-5 with a 3.83 ERA in 82⅓ innings. He’s won his last two starts, with the last one being a win over the Braves in which he threw six innings and allowed only two unearned runs. Over his last seven, Jon has struggled a bit, with a 4-3 record and a 5.72 ERA in 39⅓ innings. Big Jon hasn’t faced the Reds yet this season. He did face them three times in 2018 and was 2-0 and allowed only five runs in 19⅓ innings of work. Current Reds have 210 plate appearances against Lester with a .675 OPS. Joey Votto has the most PA (42) with a .771 OPS. Eugenio Suarez has worn Jon out with a .294/.342/.647 line in 38 PA, including three doubles and three homers.
Anthony DeSclafani will be on the hill for the Reds. Anthony is 4-4 with a 4.70 ERA in 74⅔ inning. He lost his last start in Milwaukee. In that one he was hit hard, allowing six runs on eight hits and a walk in just 4⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-3 with a 5.35 ERA in 33⅔ innings. He faced the Cubs in Chicago in May and got a no decision after allowing five hits, three walks and four runs in just 3⅔ innings. He served up three homers in that one. He started twice against the Cubs in 2018 and was 1-1 and allowed seven runs (six earned) in 12⅓ innings of work.
The 29-year-old right-handed pitcher has been MUCH better against righties (.621 OPS) than lefties (.994). He’s also been worse at home (.870 OPS) than on the road (.782). The Cubs have 133 PA against DeSclafini with an .815 OPS. Anthony Rizzo has a .703 OPS in 29 PA. Running counter-trend, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras each have a homer against Anthony leading to some very good small sample size results. (1.143 and 1.167 in seven and six PA). Javy has a scheduled off day today.
Lastly, Al wanted me to remind you that today’s game preview will post at 10:30 a.m. CT.
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