This is my shocked face. The Cubs stopped their streak of allowing five runs and they won a game. Yes, they’d actually won two of the five consecutive games in which they allowed exactly five runs. But that’s not a good recipe for success. What I’m not shocked by was that Tyler Chatwood pitched credibly. But we’ll talk about that more in a bit.
First, a word about the offense. I’m going to give them a B+ for this game. Four runs really isn’t enough, so this can’t be an A. But, they did plate one in the first on a Javier Baez homer and then two more in the third when Bryant homered after a Baez double. For the second time in the series, Baez and Bryant teamed up to provide early offense. Overall, the Cubs plated two runs, two runs and three runs over the first three innings of the three games in San Francisco. That early offense is doubly important when an Alec Mills or a Tyler Chatwood is starting. It relievers some of the pressure on them to try to be perfect.
That said, all is not well with the offense yet. They’ve scored 37 runs in their last nine game. Just a tick over four runs per game. In those nine games, the Cubs are 5-4. On the season, the Cubs are 6-7 if they score four runs in a game and 15-33 if they score four or fewer. The offense hasn’t been producing enough over this last stretch of games. A very large caveat in that Willson Contreras is one of the most productive members of this offense and he played exactly one of those games. As the trade deadline approaches, this offense remains in need of an upgrade. Though I absolutely would expect that bringing back Ian Happ sooner than later and Ben Zobrist later could be enough of an upgrade. Certainly, if I expand the lens to 12 games instead of just nine, they have scored 59 runs or just about five runs per game. In that stretch they are 8-4. When the Cubs score five or more runs, they are 39-14. That record is actually only 18th best in MLB. But they absolutely have to more consistently score five runs.
The Cubs record in games in which they have scored five or more runs leads me to the pitching staff. Last year thousands of words were written about the inconsistent offense. This year, it’s the pitching staff that has been inconsistent. Certainly, one of the things causing that inconsistency is personnel. Jon Lester missed a small handful of starts early in the year. Then Kyle Hendricks missed time and now it is Cole Hamels. That does not help. No question at all.
What also doesn’t help is being unwilling to flip the script, try different things and use all of the personnel. Carrying 13 pitchers every day severely limits the options off of the bench. By the fifth inning yesterday due to some odd circumstances, the Cubs bench consists of Daniel Descalso mired in the worst slump of his career that has been going on for months, and Martin Maldonado a defense-first catcher. This led to Brad Brach the pinch hitter. Brach was making his seventh lifetime plate appearance. To be fair, Brad had a hit earlier this month and that hit actually drove in a run.
Tyler Chatwood, by all accounts, has been entirely or almost entirely healthy in 2019. He has made three appearances in the month of July. Of course, there is an All-Star break in July. But the team has played 17 games in that time. Tyler Chatwood pretty credibly handled four innings of work during conditions where Pat Hughes reminded radio broadcasters several times just how well the ball carries during the day. I might have cut Joe Maddon some slack if Chatwood had gotten blown up, like he was by the Braves on June 27 (in a game where Chatwood allowed six runs but was ironically the winning pitcher). He had also been largely ineffective in June (7.98 ERA in 14⅔ IP) after a pretty strong May (3.00 ERA in 15 IP) which followed an extremely effective April (2.51 ERA in 14⅓ IP). Why did Chatwood go from right around 15 innings per month down to six? Because he had one bad month?
For better or for worse, you have to use your roster. Joe Maddon was largely lauded early during the first few years of his time here for his usage of the roster all of the way from 1 to 25. In fact, Pat Hughes still says it. I had to laugh out loud about it the other day when he said it during a game when Addison Russell, Daniel Descalso, and Chatwood were all nailed to the bench. I’m totally fine with the front office deciding that Russell doesn’t belong here. But when he’s here, he should be playing more days than not. He’s produced more than adequately when he’s played, even if there are no big shiny offensive numbers or player likability to get the fan base behind him. If Descalso is here, he should probably get a start at least every other week. If he isn’t physically capable of playing, he should be IL’ed or let go.
If Tyler Chatwood is here, he should be getting some middle inning work, some work in blow outs and a whole lot of extra inning work. He has the stuff that maybe, just maybe he could adapt to the bullpen with some work with your coaching staff and refine his stuff to be a usable short reliever. Amusingly, as defined by Fangraphs, Tyler has 8⅓ innings of high leverage work. Opponents have an .095/.174/.095 line against him in what is obviously a small sample. Joe has talked often about the nerds and the data they are providing him. Either Joe stopped listening to that data or the nerds are looking at the wrong data. Chatwood’s not getting even a look at an expanded relief role and the repeated bring Mike Montgomery in specifically to face lefties when the numbers screamed that it was a mistake are damning in my book.
Rowan Wick has the best FIP on the team in a very small sample. He’s been up and down with the team a number of times, but Joe doesn’t seem interested in expanding his role. The last two days with a depleted pen, he’s used Wick and Wick has responded. Wick has also pitched extremely well at Iowa. Somewhere along the line Joe became increasingly a guy who plays favorites and some guys are just not getting enough of a look.
Kudos to Chatwood, Kyle Ryan, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler, Craig Kimbrel and Wick for all pitching well yesterday. It wasn’t pretty for a couple of them, but the only one who allowed a run was Chatwood over four innings of work which is well more than an adequate start. The pitching carried the team to a victory yesterday and made those early runs hold up. The team got a much needed win and held on to first place ahead of two very important series’ left on this road trip.
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 102, July 24: Cubs 4, Giants 1 (55-47)
- Superhero: Kris Bryant (.139). Kris had a two-run homer and two strikeouts in three at bats before leaving the game with an injury. He says it is a minor injury and that he’ll be in the lineup Friday. Let us pray on that. The Cubs can ill afford to be without their offensive star heading to Milwaukee and St. Louis.
- Hero: Javier Baez (.123). Javy slowly seems to be getting back in full gear. He had two hits in five at bats, a double and a solo homer. He scored both times. His July line is now up to .317/.317/.585 (wRC+ 129).
- Sidekick: Tyler Chatwood (.108). Tyler was exceptional given the circumstances. He learned he would be starting after he got to the ballpark yesterday. He had warmed up twice the night before during extra innings. He then threw four innings of four hit, one walk, one run ball. Tyler has reduced his BB/9 from an unsightly 8.25 last year to 4.86 this year. 4.86 isn’t a very good number, but of course it is right in line with his career number (4.74). Tyler Chatwood has reverted to the pitcher the Cubs thought they signed, though he does have a bit of a problem with the long ball (25% HR/FB vs. a career 13.7%). They should use him more.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.081). The Cubs lead-off hitter was hitless in five at bats. The Cubs lead-off hitter is down to .223/.312/.467 on the season. His wRC+ is 97. The Cubs would be better if they had a fourth outfielder who could split playing time with Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. The Cubs have one of the least productive outfields in baseball despite a strong season at the plate from Jason Heyward.
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.053). Jason did have one hit in four at bats. He also struck out twice. His strikeout in the first inning with two outs and runners on first and third lands him here. (-.043)
- Kid: Brad Brach (-.005). Brach was used as a pinch hitter with no intent at having him pitch. So following my own Tyler Chatwood precedent, I list him as a hitter in the record. Brach struck out.
WPA Play of the Game: Kris Bryant followed a third inning Javier Baez one-out double with a two-run homer. (.159). That turned out to be all of the runs the Cubs needed.
*Giants Play of the Game: Stephen Vogt singled with runners on first and second and two outs in the third inning. That single scored a run and cut the Cubs lead to 3-1. (.093)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 28.5
- Anthony Rizzo 26
- Willson Contreras 11
- #Carl Edwards Jr./Jason Heyward -12
- Pedro Strop -14
- Albert Almora Jr. -14.5
Up Next: The Cubs travel to play the Brewers on Friday. Both teams are off Thursday. The Cubs will look to get back on track after snapping a three game losing streak. The Brewers just lost two of three to the Reds, but are also coming off of a win. They’ve actually won six of their last 10, but they have been moving in the direction for quite some time.
The late Jon Lester scratch yesterday continues to shuffle the Cubs rotation, so there is some chance this information will change. But the Cubs website is now listing Kyle Hendricks for the opener (it had previously been Jose Quintana). Kyle would be pitching on four days rest. He is 7-8 with a 3.41 ERA on the season in 108⅓ innings. He’s just 2-4 with a 3.99 ERA over his last seven starts. He’d been on quite a roll heading into a start in Los Angeles in mid-June, left the start hurt and hasn’t been quite the same since. But last time out, he allowed only four hits, two walks and two runs in seven innings against the Padres. Unfortunately, that was enough to be the losing pitcher.
In an odd quirk, Kyle has allowed exactly four hits and two runs in every start since coming off of the IL. I’m going to bet that changes against the Brewers. Current Brewers had 218 lifetime plate appearances against Hendricks with a .637 OPS. Ryan Braun has the most PA (32, .604) but Travis Shaw the most success (28, 1.041). Lorenzo Cain has struggled against Hendricks (18, .444).
The Brewers have Gio Gonzalez set to go. The Brewers rotation has been beset by injuries all year long. Gonzalez himself is just coming back, having made one start since coming off of the IL. On the season he’s thrown only 35 innings and is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Gio does have one start against the Cubs this year and it was probably his best start of the year. Back on May 10th at Wrigley Field, he allowed only two hits and three walks over 5⅔ innings of work. He faced the Cubs once in the regular season last year in Milwaukee and he lost that one despite pitching well (one run on two hits and five walks in six innings with eight strikeouts.)
With only 35 innings of work, there are some sample size alerts, but Gio has been very good against left-handed hitters (.438 OPS) but hittable by right-handed hitters (.808). He’s been much better at home (2 starts, .536) then away (5, .790). Current Cubs have 178 PA against Gonzalez with a .561 OPS. Jason Heyward (43, .452) and Anthony Rizzo (31, .368) have both struggled. But Kris Bryant (19, .931) and Willson Contreras (9, 2.225 including two homers) have both thrived.
Hopefully, the Cubs can make it two in a row behind Hendricks getting back in a groove to start this very important July series.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Kyle Ryan (six batters faced, one walk)
Albert Almora Jr. (two hits, homer)
Robel Garcia (two more hits)
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments below)