Ugh. That’s my word for yesterday’s game. Kyle Schwarber missed a fly ball by maybe an inch in the first. Jon Lester missed a strikeout of Eugenio Suarez by that much or less and then allowed a titanic three-run homer. The fan interference play. The ball that hit Willson Contreras’ toe, only the umpires said it didn’t. All of those plays would have wildly different results with an inch here or an inch there.
And with all of those frustrations, maybe. Just maybe if the Cubs bullpen hadn’t imploded in the bottom of the eighth, maybe the Cubs complete a nifty comeback. We can’t know how Reds closer Rasiel Iglesias might have done if he hadn’t suddenly had a five run lead instead of just a single run. But on a hot day, it might just have been a bridge too far for Iglesias to finish a six out save clinging to just a single run.
Often I hold the offense accountable for a loss, sometimes even in a high-scoring game like this one. But there is no question that this was on the pitching. I’m largely willing to give Lester a pass due to the miscue behind him forcing him to labor through a never-ending first inning. But I’m supremely disappointed by the outing of Dillon Maples. I’ve been growing to be more and more of a supporter of his as this season had progressed. The reason for that was simple. Despite the control problems, Maples entered yesterday’s game having allowed only one hit to the first 30 batters he’d faced this year. The result is that even with the control issues, he’d yet to allow any runs (in just 6⅔ innings coming in).
Maples did retire two of the first three batters he faced, sandwiched around a single. Then Yasiel Puig stole second and the wheels came off. An RBI single and then a hit by pitch followed. That was it for Maples and then Kyle Ryan got hit hard too. Allowing four runs in the eighth inning with two outs and your team down only a single run is back breaking.
I’ve seen the comments about Joe Maddon’s bullpen usage. Obviously, when the bullpen implodes, it is easy to second guess. I’ve been on the Maples bandwagon, and so it made sense to bring him in. I don’t want to read too much into one bad outing for Dillon. I will say that I’ve wondered if the best way to deploy him is as a guy dropped in to face one or two batters. Ryan allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base. That was so back breaking. Again though, I’m going to try not to crucify either guy for laying an egg. The Reds certainly played better than the Cubs on Sunday and so it should come as no surprise that they came away with the win. That win gave them their third straight series win, all two out of three. For what it’s worth, the Cubs won only three of their first 10 against the Reds last year before winning the season series by winning eight straight and ultimately winning the season series 11-8.
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 84, June 30: Cubs 6, Reds 8 (45-39)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.188). Kyle had a big day with three hits. Included was a two-run homer. Schwarber now has 187 plate appearances since being handed the leadoff job on May 16. In that time, he has a .241/.305/.536 average (wRC+ 111). That’ll play, even if it still doesn’t look like the numbers of a leadoff hitter.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.118). Jason had a monster weekend in Cincinnati. Knowing him, he’d trade that for a couple of more wins. But it sure has to be gratifying to have the kind of success he is having at the plate. That season line is now up to .271/.362/.473 (wRC+ 116) in 315 PA. This is the highest on-base percentage of his career and he’s now only .006 off of the best slugging percentage of his career.
- Sidekick: Kris Bryant (.077). Kris had two hits and a walk on Sunday. Kris is slowly drifting towards being an under appreciated player, possibly because he’s not putting up gaudy home run numbers. His line is up to .287/.398/.537 wRC+ 144 in 352 PA. This while dropping his K% to 19.0 which would be the lowest number of his career.
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.178). Willy had a tough day, he was hitless in five at bats with two strikeouts. He also saw three Reds stolen bases and all three subsequently scored on singles. Willson was retired three times with runners in scoring position, twice making the third out of the inning. The back breaker was the ball that he thought it his foot in the seventh with a runner on third.
- Goat: Jon Lester (-.173). Jon actually only allowed five hits, two walks and three earned runs (four overall). He struck out eight. That’s a couple of times in the last week that a Cub pitcher had some pretty bad sequencing leading to an unsightly line.
- Kid: Albert Almora Jr. (-.107). Albert actually had an RBI single in the seventh inning and ended up scoring. But his foul out in the eighth inning with runners on second and third and two outs was a huge negative. (-.149)
WPA Play of the Game: Eugenio Suarez (.172). The first two Reds hitters reached on a walk and a fielding error. The third laid off a pitch that was a small fraction outside of the strike zone (a pitch that is certainly sometimes called a strike) and then hit a long three-run homer.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber’s seventh inning two-run homer cut the deficit to 4-3. (.154)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 15
- Kris Bryant 14
- Willson Contreras 9
- *Carl Edwards Jr. -9
- Jason Heyward -10
- Yu Darvish -12
Up Next: The Cubs travel to Pittsburgh for a four-game set with the Pirates. The Pirates lost Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee. Prior to that, they’d won seven of eight. They are 39-45 and five games out of first in what is now a very tight National League Central. They’ve been a bit of Jekyll and Hyde though. Even with the seven of 10 wins, they’ve only won nine of 20. They haven’t been particularly good either at home (17-19) or on the road (22-24). About the only place where they’ve been particularly good is in interleague play where they are 10-4 including taking two of three in Houston.
The Cubs starter will be rookie Adbert Alzolay. The 24-year-old right-hander is making just is second major league start. In the first one, he threw 4⅔ innings and allowed only one run on one hit. He did walk four, but also struck out four. So far, in 8⅔ innings as a major leaguer the only two hits he’s allowed were homers. He’s got some of the more unusual numbers you’ll ever see. He has a 2.08 ERA, a FIP of 6.20, a WHIP of .923, an opponent BABip of .000, a LOB rate of 100, a GB% of 36.8 and a HR/FB of 20%. That basket of stats is a small sample size oddity and isn’t vaguely sustainable. The thing is, some of those numbers are very good and some very bad. It’s going to be fun to watch as he settles in and gets more comfortable at the big league level.
He’ll face Trevor Williams. Trevor is 2-2 with a 4.25 ERA in 65⅔ innings. He’s made two starts since returning from injury. He lost his last start in Houston. He threw 6⅔ innings in that one and allowed eight hits, no walks and four runs. He did strike out four. He got back up to the 100 pitch mark in that one after being on a pitch count the start before against the Tigers. Trevor is 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA in 41⅓ innings over his last seven starts which actually spans all of the way back to April 23 because of the injury.
Trevor faced the Cubs three times last year and was only 1-2 despite allowing just five runs in 18 innings of work. He was on the mound for one of the three games last August in Pittsburgh when the Cubs scored exactly one run in four straight games and won two. Trevor has been about the same at home (.792 OPS allowed) as on the road (.714 OPS), though he’s only made four starts at home so far (seven on the road). He’s also fairly split neutral (.729 v RHH and .768 v LHH). Current Cubs have 130 PA against Williams with a .784 OPS. Anthony Rizzo has the most PA with 17 (.894 OPS). Kyle Schwarber has hit Williams hard (16, 1.175) and Jason Heyward has struggled (13, .322).
It feels like the Cubs had trouble scoring in Pittsburgh last year, based largely on that last four-game set played there. However, it was actually very feast or famine. In five games there the Cubs scored exactly five runs (2-3 record). In the other four, they scored 28 runs (3-1 record). The Cubs won 10 of 19 last year from the Pirates. This year, the Cubs have played only three games so far against the Pirates. The Cubs outscored them 14-5 in taking two out of three in Chicago. The Cubs will play 16 of their final 78 games against the Pirates. The Pirates will have more to do with the Cubs making or not making the playoffs than any other team.
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