On a blisteringly hot Friday afternoon, some sloppy baseball was played on the north side of Chicago. Fortunately, the biggest errors at the biggest times were made by the San Diego Padres. The net result, the Cubs walked away 6-5 winners. That makes six of seven the Cubs have won coming out of the All-Star break. Combine that with two of three to close out the half and the team has now won eight of 10.
This team isn’t clicking on all cylinders yet, but at eight of 10, they match the record of the A’s and Indians over that stretch, trailing only the San Francisco Giants who have won seven straight and nine of 10 (and who the Cubs are travelling to see on Monday). The lead in the division has grown by two games since the All-Star break, though now it is the Cardinals in second place and not the Brewers (though the two have been yo-yoing back and forth).
Once again, this team is playing its best ball after the All-Star break, just like they draw it up. You never want to assume that you can just flip that switch, especially in a year like this where for various reasons they haven’t really been able to spread out the innings and the playing time as well as they like due to injuries and ineffectiveness up and down the roster.
From the reports I’ve read and heard, the Cubs should hear from Ben Zobrist within the next week or so as to if he is going to come back. Ian Happ is close to ready to return from exile to Iowa to work on his swing mechanics. The trade deadline should bring a reinforcement or two. Cole Hamels should see the field within two to three weeks. Even Brandon Morrow is possibly an option for down the stretch. There are reinforcements on the way.
The sooner those reinforcements can arrive, the better. The Cubs have been playing very poorly on the road and they are facing a nine-game, 11-day road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and St. Louis that looks to be a very tough one. Then they immediately come home to face the Brewers again and A’s. The Cardinals series will start a stretch of 13 games with no off day. Crucial games at a crucial time, a little extra depth and a little more health would go a long way to putting the division away early.
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 97, July 19: Cubs 6, Padres 5 (53-44)
- Superhero: Anthony Rizzo (.417). Anthony had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances. One of those hits was a grand slam, his 20th homer of the season.
- Hero: Craig Kimbrel (.158). Finally, Craig lands on the positive side of the ledger for the first time. He threw a scoreless ninth inning and recorded three strikeouts while walking only one. I haven’t seen a ton of Kimbrel previously, but it appears he is starting to round into form.
- Hero: Javier Baez (.152). Javy had two hits, including a solo homer. He scored twice and also struck out twice. If the Cubs could get Javy and Anthony hot, it would be at the absolute best time.
- Billy Goat: Pedro Strop (-.150). It’s been hard to watch Pedro struggle this year. He’s having easily the worst season of his Cubs career. Oddly enough, most of his numbers look the same or better than usual. His K/9 is at 9.99 (career 9.78), his walks 3.33 (3.96), his BABIP .241 (.258), his LOB% 71.4 (75.3), his GB% 54.2 (54). So then what is the difference? For his career, he’s allowed 10.2% HR/FB, but this year that number is all of the way up at 26.3%. His worst number ever in that area was 14.8%. Pedro is definitely one of the victims of whatever is happening with the ball. He’s already matched a career high for homers allowed and he’s done it in many fewer innings.
- Goat: Jon Lester (-.113). Jon wasn’t at his best Friday. He allowed 12 hits in six innings of work. He didn’t walk anyone and that was probably a saving grace with so much traffic and with trying to keep pitch count down on a tough day to pitch. He was charged with four runs. He struck out six.
- Kid: Albert Almora Jr. (-.054). Albert did have one hit in four at bats and scored a run.
WPA Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo’s grand slam in the bottom of the third with two outs and the Cubs trailing 3-0 changed the entire complexion of the game. (.384)
*Padres Play of the Game: Josh Naylor’s lead-off homer off of Pedro Strop in the eighth inning tied the score and cost Jon Lester a win. (.254)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 25
- Kris Bryant 22.5
- *Willson Contreras 11
- Jason Heyward -10
- Pedro Strop -11
- Albert Almora Jr. -12.5
Up Next: The Cubs will be seeking a fourth straight win and a seventh win in their last eight. The Padres will be trying to avoid a third straight less and their seventh loss in their last eight. Two teams heading in completely different directions.
Once again it is a duel of two lefties with Jose Quintana on the mound for the Cubs. Jose is 7-7 with a 4.21 ERA in 107 innings. He’s 3-3 over his last seven starts with a 4.91 ERA in 40⅓ innings. Jose has gotten hot over his last three starts, winning all three, including a win the last time out against the Pirates. In that one he allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in six innings. Jose did get a start last August when the Padres were in town and got a win after allowing one run over six innings. He’s only made two career starts against the Padres, but he is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings. Current Padres have 168 plate appearances against Jose with a .637 OPS. Almost half of that belongs to Eric Hosmer (75 PA with a .510 OPS). Ian Kinsler has done quite a bit better (50, .819 OPS). Manny Machado has also struggled (17, .494)
Joey Lucchesi starts for the Padres. Joey is 7-4 with a 3.92 ERA in 101 innings this season. Over his last seven starts, he is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA. Last time out, he got a no-decision for five innings of work against the Braves. He allowed two runs on three his and two walks. He started one game against the Cubs last August in Wrigley, the only time he’s ever faced them. He lasted 5⅔ innings and allowed seven hits and three runs (two earned). He didn’t walk anyone and struck out nine.
The 26-year-old left-handed pitcher has been relatively split neutral (.658 v RHH and .635 v LHH). He’s been a little more beatable on the road though (.755) as opposed to at home (.588). Current Cubs have just 23 plate appearances against Lucchesi with an .826 OPS. Javier Baez had a double and a homer in his three plate appearances and David Bote had a double as well.
Let’s hope the Cubs can keep things rolling.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Jason Heyward (on base three more times)
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments)