My hope out of July 31, 2019 is that the Cubs found things to feel good about. They won a road game, added an offense-first outfielder, a young player with some positional flexibility who’s had a rough go of it this year after a pretty solid 2018 and two more relief pitchers, one righty and one lefty. I assume most of us are sad to see Carl Edwards Jr. go. More than anything, he seemed like a really good dude. He was an integral part of the championship team and the image of him running around with the W flag was solid gold. But his struggles had derailed him increasingly over the last couple of years and indeed a change of scenery might be the best thing. The Cubs traded a couple of recent high draft picks which isn’t awesome, but neither one of them had been appearing in the top 10 of anyone’s Cubs prospect list, nor were any of them likely to jump up there over the offseason barring really, really strong finishes to this season.
Anytime the team can get better without losing any of the core of either the current major league team or its top minor league prospects, that has to be seen as a positive. I’ll never try to represent winning a game as a bad thing, absent some weird last week of the season game with clear draft implications. So it’s definitely a good thing that the Cubs won last night. Definitely a good thing that they have won two of their last three on the road. That hasn’t happened since they won consecutive road games on July 4 and 6 against the Pirates and White Sox. They now have a chance to win a road series, something they haven’t done since mid-May.
That’s the good news. Well, that and Kyle Hendricks was fantastic again. Without getting into what have you done for me lately arguments, I’ll note here that if you are down on Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs front office that when you are listing what they have and haven’t done, you recall Kyle Hendricks. They traded for him as a prospect. They oversaw the completion of his development (he was pitching in Advanced-A ball when he came to the Cubs). They saw him blossom into a major league starter and then a Cy Young candidate. Then they signed him on a pretty attractive deal through the 2023 season (with a vesting option that could extend it an additional year). Despite missing a few starts, Kyle sits at 2.8 fWAR, 23rd among pitchers (the same number posted so far by Clayton Kershaw, who has also missed some starts).
All of that is the good. The bad? The Cubs have managed three runs in the first two games of this series. Amazingly enough, that’s one more than the Cardinals have scored and thanks to the Sunday blowout, the Cubs have a positive run differential despite a 3-5 record on this road trip. Two runs last night, both were unearned. The Cubs managed eight hits and two walks. Miles Mikolas is not the same pitcher he was in 2018, but he’s not too shabby. 10 baserunners isn’t bad. But two runs, both aided by Cardinals miscues, just isn’t getting it done.
Be it another bat off the bench or getting some outfield time, particularly against lefties, make no mistake Nicholas Castellanos was the kind of bat the Cubs needed to add to the mix. He mashes lefties and has for a few years now. He should be a weapon for this team despite his defensive short comings. The Cubs are finally addressing the long term lack of outfield productivity. Of course the fix is a short term one. But without breaking the bank financially and/or prospect-wise, he was just about the best they could do.
This team needs to get better. It’s great that as the calendar turns to August they are still tied for first place. I still strongly believe this team will have an uphill battle in any post season series. But, I still think if you have a chance to get there, you get there. I’m old enough to remember many times when the best teams departed the playoffs early and some teams that managed mostly to just get hot at the right time advanced onward. The only time you truly have no chance at all to win is when you aren’t there.
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 107, July 31: Cubs 2, Cardinals 0 (57-50)
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.461). Seven innings, seven hits, no walks, seven strikeouts. But for the injury during his start in Los Angeles, the missed starts and the sluggish results right after he came back, Kyle might be emerging as a fringe Cy Young contender. Recall he was 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA in 58⅔ innings over the eight starts leading up to getting hurt.
- Hero: Ian Happ (.111). Ian had an RBI-single to open the scoring in the sixth inning. He also reached on a walk in four plate appearances. In a tiny sample, Ian has a .421 on-base percentage and three runs scored in his first 19 PA.
- Sidekick: Craig Kimbrel (.083). He did allow a couple of hits in the ninth inning to deliver another late scare. But this time, he closed it out. He struck out two and reports had his fastball topping out at 97. That would be a very good sign.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.128). Kyle figures to lose the most playing time to Castellanos. He was hitless yesterday in four at bats.
- Goat: David Bote (-.075). One has to wonder if Bote might spend some time in Iowa before the season is out. I’m not too sure how fast Ben Zobrist will be game ready, but if that date is in August, Bote might be odd man out. David was hitless in four at bats yesterday and struck out three times. His season line is down to .246/.332/.423 (wRC+ 96) and his defense has been less than exceptional this year.
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.071). A bit of a tough crowd award here. Willson had two hits in four at bats. However, one of those became a negative value event since he was out trying to reach second on a single (-.025).
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ had an RBI-single in the sixth inning. The hit came with two outs and runners on first and second and gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. (.182)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Rangel Ravelo doubled in the ninth inning with a runner on first and one out against Kimbrel. (.178)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 27.5
- Anthony Rizzo 22
- Kyle Hendricks 14
- Jason Heyward/!Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Albert Almora Jr. -12.5
- *Pedro Strop -17
Up Next: As noted above, the Cubs will be seeking back to back road wins for the first time since July 4 and 6 and the first series win since mid-May in Washington. The Cardinals have lost three of four and they are hoping not to lose all of their forward progress of a recent six-game winning streak.
Jon Lester starts for the Cubs. Jon is 9-6 with a 3.63 ERA in 114 innings. He is 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA over his last seven starts and 43⅓ innings. He got a no decision last time out in Milwaukee despite allowing no runs in seven innings. He allowed four hits and three walks while striking out five. Jon has a win over the Cardinals this year, back on June 8. In that one he threw six innings and allowed five hits, two walks and four runs. He struck out six. Dating back to last April, he is 3-1 against the Cardinals in his last five starts against them. He’s thrown 26⅓ innings in those games with a 5.47 ERA largely due to one game last July when he allowed eight runs in three innings against them. Current Cardinals have 340 plate appearances with a .727 OPS against him, though as has been the story of this series, a large number of those are on the IL for the Cards. Matt Wieters is healthy and has 63 PA against Jon with a .735 OPS. Paul Goldschmidt has crushed Jon with a 1.303 OPS over 17 PA.
The Cards have their 23-year-old right-hander Jack Flaherty on the mound. Jack is in his second full season in the majors and he’s managed a 4-6 record with a 4.17 ERA in 114 1⁄3 innings. He is 0-3 over his last seven starts despite posting a 3.98 ERA in 40⅔ innings. Last time out he got a no decision against the Astros in a game in which he allowed two runs on three hits and one walk over six innings. He struck out nine. Jack’s last decision of any kind was on July 7 in a loss against the Giants. His last win came back on May 14 against the Braves. Jack has already pitched against the Cubs three times this year. He is 0-1 and has allowed nine runs in 14⅓ innings. In his last five starts against the Cubs (including that start against Lester last July) Jack is 1-2 with a 5.73 ERA.
Jack has been tough on right-handed hitters (.640). But lefties have an .808 against him. Jack has also been much better at home (.630) as opposed to on the road (.821). Current Cubs have just 116 PA against him with a .745 OPS. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo each have 16 PA. Bryant has a .625 OPS but Rizzo has a 2.000 with two homers, a double, three walks and a hit by pitch.
This feels like a very winnable game, despite all of the troubles the Cubs have had in St. Louis the last few years.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Anthony Rizzo (double, walk)
Javier Baez (created the second run)
Jason Heyward (two more hits)
Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments below)