The Cubs started their three-city, nine-game road trip by losing four of the first five games. After losing their last game of the preceding homestand, the Cubs came into Sunday’s game with five losses in six games. The warm and fuzzy feelings engendered by winning seven of eight following the All-Star break were becoming a distant memory.
Then Sunday’s game happened. Kyle Schwarber hit a grand slam in the second inning. Just two innings later, he followed that up with a three-run homer. Seven RBI in four innings is pretty rare air. One game can’t re-write a career’s worth of narrative or even a team’s worth of struggles with runners in scoring position. But in just two at bats, Schwarber made a dent in those numbers.
The Cubs jumped out to a seven run lead early and despite a rough fourth inning for Jose Quintana, the Cubs ultimately won the game by seven. The very beleaguered Cubs bullpen threw 5⅓ innings, allowing only one unearned run to close out the game. That won’t erase any narratives either. But again, it makes a nice dent.
We’ve reached the end of July and the Cubs don’t know if Robel Garcia is the answer at second base. They don’t know if Rowan Wick and Kyle Ryan will emerge as key arms out of the bullpen should the team advance into the playoffs for a fifth straight year. The Cubs don’t know what Ben Zobrist will have to offer when he returns. They don’t know if Ian Happ can be part of the answer to the overall lack of outfield production. But right now, with 57 games remaining in the season and the time for trades quickly growing short, the front office is trying to project what the Cubs have. Can they squeeze out another addition or two?
My biggest problem with the way the team has been run this year is that we don’t know the answers to those questions. Some years ago, the Bears had a habit of essentially red-shirting their rookies, then playing them sparingly in their second year. Many times, a player would be coming to the end of their first contract and the Bears didn’t really know what they had and had to make a decision based on very limited information. The Cubs have been good about not doing that. Of the players I listed, Ryan is the only one who has had ample playing time this year. He’s been by a wide margin the most effective lefthanded reliever on the team. So effective that I could have not stipulated lefthanded. He’s quite simply been one of the most effective relievers.
The Cubs were patient waiting on Garcia before making the move, slow to bring Happ back, they’ve using Wick almost begrudgingly. With Zobrist, they didn’t really have any choice in the matter. But it’s just odd that so late in the season, so many players are unknowns. That doesn’t even get into what Addison Russell might bring to the team if and when he ever returns. The Cubs have said that he hasn’t played his last game with the big club. Will he solely be a September call-up? Or will he be back in some capacity? There’s an awful lot to be sorted out in regards to this team and this organization.
57 games left, this team is tied for first place. They’ve struggled more than they have in the Joe Maddon era. But, so has the rest of the National League Central. And so it is, the Cubs have 27 left at home where they have one of the best home records in baseball. But they also have 30 left on the road where they have one of the worst records in baseball. They should get Cole Hamels back next weekend to face this Brewers team in the rematch at Wrigley Field next weekend. At that point, the Cubs are actually pretty healthy. Will it be enough? In what is once again shaping up as a sprint to the finish, can this Cubs team get it done?
It’s hard to bet against them, but this team sure doesn’t inspire the same kind of confidence they have over the last few years.
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 105, July 27: Cubs 11, Brewers 4 (56-49)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.315). Kyle had two homers, a single, was hit by a pitch, scored four runs and drove in seven in just four plate appearances. It was the kind of late July game that can add 28 points onto your OPS (moving from .773 to 801). Kyle should reach a career high in RBI at some point in August and a career high in homers likely won’t be far behind.
- Hero: Ian Happ (.079). Ian failed to put the ball in play on Sunday. Alas, he did walk three times while striking out once in four plate appearances. He scored three runs. He’s still looking for his first hit of the season, but he’s got the on base percentage up to a healthy .364.
- Sidekick: Victor Caratini (.065). Just one pinch-hit at bat. It resulted in a three-run homer. Vic already had a career high in homers and has matched a career high in RBI (21).
- Billy Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.030). Anthony was hitless in four at bats. He struck out once.
- Goat: Robel Garcia (-.028). Garcia had one hit in five at bats. He struck out once.
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.027). Willson was hitless in five at bats, but he did drive in one run. the Cubs first four hitters had a combined one hit in 19 at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: The Schwarber second inning grand slam came with one out. (.235)
*Brewers Play of the Game: Christian Yelich had a two-out RBI double in the fifth inning to cut the Cubs lead at the time to 7-3. (.056) That was enough to chase Jose Quintana from the game, one out shy of recording a win in a fifth consecutive start.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 29.5
- Anthony Rizzo 22
- Kyle Hendricks 11
- Jason Heyward/#Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Albert Almora Jr. -12.5
- Yu Darvish -17
Up Next: The Cubs will be looking for back-to back road wins for the first time since July 4th and 6th against the Pirates and White Sox before the All-Star break. The Cardinals had won seven of eight before losing two straight against the Astros over the weekend. You may remember that neither team has won a game in the other’s ballpark yet this season. The Cubs have swept the Cards twice at Wrigley and the Cards have swept all three games so far in St. Louis.
The Cubs will send Yu Darvish to the hill. Yu is 3-4 with a 4.54 ERA in 115 innings this season. Over his last seven starts, he is 1-1 with a 3.80 ERA in 42⅔ innings. Last time out, he allowed four runs on six hits and one walk. He struck out six in six innings and got a no-decision. He’s faced the Cardinals twice this year, his only two lifetime starts against them. He didn’t receive a decision in either one of them but allowed six runs in 10 innings. He pitched very well in St. Louis though, allowing three hits, three walks but just one run. Current Cardinals only have 67 plate appearance against Yu. Paul Goldschmidt has the most, but has only one hit to go with nine strike outs in 14 PA (.143). Marcell Ozuna has a 1.117 OPS in just 12 PA.
37-year-old right-hander Adam Wainwright makes the Cardinals start. Adam is 7-7 with a 4.63 ERA in 103 innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-2 with a 5.15 ERA in 36⅔ innings. Last time out, he didn’t pitch very well, but did record a win in a game where he really filled the box score. He allowed five hits, four walks, five strikeouts and five runs in just five innings. Wainwright has already made three starts against the Cubs. He is 1-2 and has allowed nine runs in 17⅓ innings. He pitched poorly twice in Wrigley Field, allowing nine runs in just 9⅓ innings. However, at home he through eight shutout innings, despite allowing seven walks. He limited the Cubs to just two hits and he struck out eight while making 126 pitches.
The Cardinals starter has allowed a .719 OPS against right-handed hitters as opposed to an .870 against left-handed hitters. He’s also been much better at home (.683) as opposed to (.891) on the road. Indeed, Wainwright is 5-2 with a 2.33 ERA in nine home starts. He averages six inning per start at home (he’s 2-5 with a 7.16 ERA and average just under five innings per start on the road.) Current Cubs have 306 PA against Adam with a .656 OPS. Anthony Rizzo has the most PA by a wide margin (66) but only has a .640 OPS. Jason Heyward has been productive against his ex-teammate (35, .888).
This is a deceptively tough match-up, with Wainwright being a much better pitcher at home.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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