It did sort of figure that the first half didn’t end with a Cubs win and three-game winning streak. Nothing has been easy for this team in quite some time. It was unlikely to just be a flipped switch. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing, but I’m moving on.
This first half felt a little like the 2017 Cubs. You know the talent is there, but the results have varied wildly. Some days they look like they could be champions again. Some days you wonder how the team was ever even good. Regardless, the team received an enormous gift. That is, a half game lead heading into the second half.
This team could really be five or more games out right now, except that no one in the NL Central can maintain any consistent momentum. 72 games for the Cubs (and similar numbers for other division foes) is too long of a distance to call a sprint. But at the same time, one good, long sprint from any of the five teams could be enough to win the division. The teams enter the break separated by just 4½ games.
The Pirates reach the break as the division’s hottest team and at one game under break even for the season. That’s good for 2½ games back. The Reds are the last place team, but, by a wide margin, they’ve allowed the fewest runs. The Cubs have scored the most runs. I wouldn’t expressly rule any of the five teams out. That said, I still firmly expect the Cubs to win this division.
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 90, July 7: Cubs 1 at White Sox 3 (47-43)
- Superhero: Kris Bryant (.036). Kris had a double and a walk in four plate appearances. Of course, he also struck out twice. Bryant reaches the break with the seventh highest fWAR among MLB hitters.
- Hero: Albert Almora Jr. (.026). Albert also had a double in his three at bats. With that, he reaches the break with 266 PA and a wRC+ of 75. That number ranks 27th among players that Fangraphs list as CF with at least 250 PA.
- Sidekick: Steve Cishek and Randy Rosario (.025). Steve retired four batters while allowing two hits and no runs and striking out two. Randy retired both batters he faced.
- Billy Goat: Victor Caratini (-.141). Vic did have one hit in four at bats. He lands here because of the double play he grounded into to end the game (-.084). Vic reaches the break with a wRC+ of 129 in 98 PA. That is thanks in large part to a substantially increased sluggging percentage, the highest since his 2017 Iowa season.
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.098). Willson had just one walk in four plate appearances. Willson reaches the first half with the highest wRC+ among catchers with 250 PA at 141. He checks in at fourth in fWAR (2.4), because he rates out negatively defensively (all three ahead of him rate positively).
- Kid: Kyle Schwarber (-.095). Kyle was hitless in four at bats. He struck out twice. Kyle is 23rd among left fielders with at least 250 PA in fWAR (.7) and 26th by wRC+ at 98. I imagine not many Cubs fans would have ever guessed that Jason Heyward would be the most productive Cub outfielder for the first half. If the Cubs add an offensive piece, it should be to bolster their outfield.
WPA Play of the Game: Both Cubs losses to the Sox this year were keyed by Eloy Jimenez homers. Eloy hit a two-run blast in the fourth inning to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. (.188)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo doubled leading off the fourth inning. (.074)
A full standings piece will run later.
Up Next: The Cubs will host the Pirates for a three-game series following the All-Star break. The Pirates have won six of their last 10 including taking three of four from the Cubs. They lead the season series 4-3. They’ve outscored the Cubs 37-36 in the seven games.
Yu Darvish is expected to face Chris Archer Friday at Wrigley Field.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Albert Almora Jr.
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments below)