You’ll sometimes read the phrase “because baseball.” It is dismissed as lazy sometimes. Throwing your arms up in the air and basically dismissing something to the chaotic randomness that is the game of baseball. The problem is, if you are too quick to dismiss something to randomness, you miss the underlying root causes.
Let me say this, it is simultaneously possible to recognize realities at a given point in time and to recognize that as long as a story is still being written, the current realities aren’t necessarily permanent. With that in mind, on the morning of July 23, I declare the Cubs, as presently constituted, a pretender to the throne. Again though, circling back tot he first thought in this paragraph, I’m not suggesting that anything is over or that the Cubs should become sellers and throw in the towel (though I may be suggesting that they shouldn’t deal high level prospects for marginal improvement). Quite simply, the Cubs suddenly find themselves without enough weapons.
When constructing a sports team, I often think of an image like something from the pioneer days with trying to dam a river by stacking logs. You just keep stacking them hire and hoping that it will stop the flow of water. That’s the same way that a team can keep adding pieces and hoping to build a contender. It was clear to see heading into 2019 that the Cubs were a contender but needed to get better. There (mostly self-imposed) financial restraint meant that rather than adding one high end piece to the puzzle, they would instead try to make some budget finds. Basically attacking by having a vast assortment of options.
At least, that was the plan on the pitching side of things. They brought back Kyle Ryan and Allen Webster. They signed Junichi Tazawa, Tony Barnette, Brad Brach, and Xavier Cedeno. Ryan has been mostly a pleasant surprise out of the pen. Tazawa never reached the majors, Webster has 11 mostly ineffective innings. Barnette got into two games, didn’t like that he was being sent back down and has been on the restricted list, Brach has an ERA north of 6 in 39 appearances. Cedeno doesn’t appear to have been healthy at any point this year and has pitched in just five games. The off season additions to the pen have largely been of negative value.
What’s worse, is that problem with the dam. While the Cubs were working on the top part of the dam, building up the depth in the system. They were trying to get to where there was just a whole volume of arms that they could throw at the situation and tackle pitching through quantity. Now, the dam is springing leaks further below. Carl Edwards Jr. is not right. There was quite a bit of debate as to if it is physical, mental or both. The answer is, it doesn’t matter. Edwards isn’t presently capable of regularly getting Major League hitters out. The secondary problem is that he is way more talented than Triple-A hitters and so he doesn’t have a lot to learn at that level. And now, Pedro Strop had another rough outing. Pedro now has a 5.47 ERA in 30 games and 26⅓ innings. The Cubs are left with three reliable relievers to get the ball to Craig Kimbrel (who himself is still getting back to form).
On the other side of the ball, the Cubs didn’t add any pieces to the offense. A team that drafted over and over again in the first round to add offensive weapons and that has been consistently a top tier offensive team seemed like it would be okay as its young stars matured. But Ian Happ didn’t make the team out of spring training and has yet to play his first game with the big club. That left the team one bat short. Kyle Schwarber who was (unfairly) compared to Babe Ruth early in his minor league days, has produced more or less a league average bat. There is plenty of power there and he has a reasonable chance of producing a career best slugging percentage. But, he doesn’t get on base very often otherwise (and yet, he’s the team’s most used lead-off hitter). David Bote’s also produced about league average which would have been great with last year’s defense. Only he has regressed on defense. Addison Russell has fairly typical offensive numbers for his career, but brings all kinds of baggage on and off the field. Ben Zobrist walked away due to off the field problems. Albert Almora Jr. has largely continued the slide that cratered what many thought was an All-Star first half to the 2018 season. Suddenly, this team is maybe three or four consistent bats away from having proper offensive fire power.
In the above analysis, I forgot David Descalso and Tyler Chatwood. I didn’t mention either of them as either a positive or a negative. That’s because no one from Joe Maddon all of the way up to Theo Epstein remembers they are here either. Both have had a few bright moments to the season and some struggles. Neither one of them ever meaningfully participates in a Cubs game despite showing up and wearing the uniform and stretching with the team every day. They basically exist to make sure the Cubs are playing with only 23 players every day while the other team has 25 of them. It’s an odd choice to play with one arm tied behind your back. But here we are.
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 100, July 22: Cubs 4 at Giants 5 (54-46)
- Superhero: Kyle Ryan (.246). Finally, Kyle has reached the pinnacle of Cubs success! This is his first ever Superhero appearance. It took him just 44 actual game appearances to do it. Ryan was brought into a runners on first and third situation with the Cubs leading 3-1. The Cubs turned an odd double play that resulted in a run, then recorded two outs in the sixth.
- Hero: Steve Cishek (.103). Steve allowed a couple of well hit singles. But managed a scoreless seventh inning with the Cubs leading 3-2.
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.094). Anthony was hit by a pitch and had what seemed like an absolutely huge two-out RBI-double in the eighth to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead.
- Billy Goat: Pedro Strop (-.703). I’m sure I’m not alone in still loving Strop for everything he’s done for this team. And I know I’m not alone in cringing right now when he comes into a game. Pedro immolated a 4-2 lead yesterday in the eighth inning. He was touched for four hits, three of which were doubles and three runs. Pedro turns in the third worst WPA score of the season for the Cubs and now owns the eighth, ninth and tenth largest negative WPA Cubs events of the season.
- Goat: Alec Mills (-.126). Alec allowed seven hits, a walk and two runs over 4⅓ innings. He struck out five. Cole Hamels is with the Iowa team on a rehab stint and should return soon. Mills pitched capably, if unremarkably, in two starts if this is his last appearance. This was his first H&G appearance of the season.
- Kid: Jason Heyward (-.088). Jason did draw a walk in four plate appearances.
WPA Play of the Game: Austin Slater doubled off of Pedro Strop to tie the game in the eighth inning with two outs. (.362)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Pablo Sandoval batted with runners on first and third in the fifth inning. The net result was two outs and a run scored. (.180)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 26
- Kris Bryant 23.5
- *Willson Contreras 11
- Jason Heyward -13
- Pedro Strop -14
- Albert Almora Jr. -14.5
Up Next: The Cubs will try to avoid a third straight loss Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Giants will be looking for a third straight win. They’ve already won nine of 10 and 15 of 18. They now sit just two back of the second wildcard spot.
Yu Darvish takes the mound for the Cubs. He is just 3-4 with a 4.46 ERA in 109 innings pitched this year. He is 1-1 with a 3.80 over his last seven starts, covering 42⅔ innings. He’s had back-to-back scoreless outings (six innings each), including his last won when he won for the first time (ever at Wrigley Field) since April. He allowed two hits, no walks and struck out seven on his way to the win. He has only made one career start against the Giants and it was in 2017 and was in San Francisco. He threw seven innings, allowed three hits, no walks and struck out five. Current Giants have just 58 plate appearances against Yu. 19 of those are parked on the injured list with Evan Longoria. Another 26 are likely to be on the bench (Stephen Vogt, .538 OPS) with Buster Posey back in the lineup. For what it’s worth, Kevin Pillar does have one homer in six PA against Darvish.
On the other side, the Giants will throw Madison Bumgarner. Oh yay, another lefty! Bumgarner is 5-7 with a 3.65 ERA in 125⅔ innings of work so far this year. He’s 2-1 with a 3.26 ERA over his last seven starts. He hasn’t had a decision this month. His last one was a win against the Diamondbacks to end June. Last time out, he threw nine innings and allowed only five hits, one walk and one run. Dating back to August of 2014, Madison is a perfect 5-0 in five starts against the Cubs with a 1.87 ERA. MadBum is brutal on lefties (.533 OPS) but mortal against right-handed hitters (.782). He’s also very tough at home (.657) where he is 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA over 12 starts.
This match-up is as tough as it gets. Yu has been better, hopefully he can match Bumgarner.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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