Raise your hand if you spent most of the first six innings cursing that the Cubs were going to lose three out four to the Reds! I know I was. As a busy life would have it, the only game I saw the majority of in the series was the Thursday one, so at least I got to be less frustrated with this series than I otherwise might have been. Unfortunately, I heard the first two innings of Saturday’s game while I was driving, then saw the third inning before the channel was mercifully turned off.
On Sunday, as the Reds built a 3-0 lead with their dominant, young ace Luis Castillo on the mound, I was none too happy. With the Cubs bullpen depleted and the Reds actually featuring some back end talent in theirs, I wasn’t liking the odds of a comeback. No, even after the Cubs cut it to 3-2, I wasn’t super confident. Not even when the Cubs had consecutive two-out singles in the seventh to get Kris Bryant to the plate. No, I was thinking Bryant would pop up to short center, and we’d see a healthy dose of Reds closer in the eighth inning.
Then KB flipped the script. The Cubs haven’t had too many of these wins in 2019. Sure, there have been some walk offs, but just not a lot of come from behind games. But this time they did. But, one of the things that was different in this game was that the bullpen held the line. Jon Lester allowed three runs over five innings. Better than last time, but still not great. Then David Phelps, Rowan Wick and Pedro Strop combined on four innings of one hit, one walk relief. That was enough to hold the line while the bats chipped away, KB hit the decisive blast and Ian Happ added the cherry on top.
It wasn’t pretty, but a series split sure does beat the heck out of what looked like three losses in four games. With the way things have gone on the road this year, break even would be a victory on this trip. After they get back from this trip (which still has two stops to make in Pennsylvania), the Cubs have only 16 road games remaining. They have a two-game lead in the division. If they can return home with that lead in tact, they should be in the driver’s seat. But, that’s a big if.
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 118, August 11: Cubs 6, Reds 3 (64-54)
- Superhero: Kris Bryant (.486). Kris had two hits and two strikeouts in five at bats. One of those two hits was a three-run homer that we’ve already talked about and will still talk about more in a bit. This game for KB is the fifth largest WPA game of the season by a Cub player.
- Hero: Rowan Wick (.133). I feel like it took the Cubs a long time to realize what they had in Wick. But he is throwing some big time innings for this team. He threw two of them in this one, allowing only one hit and striking out four. Wick has a 1.72 ERA (2.32 FIP), thanks to 8⅔ scoreless innings over nine outings in a row. But for two innings he was forced to throw in a blowout, the numbers would be even better still.
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.122). Ian had two more hits in four at bats on Sunday to stay red hot. One of those hits was a solo homer. He scored twice.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.135). Kyle was hitless in four at bats with one strikeout.
- Goat: Jon Lester (-.096). Jon threw five innings and allowed three runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out seven.
- Kid: Victor Caratini (-.077). Vic had a walk and two strikeouts in four plate appearances.
WPA Play of the Game: After consecutive two out singles, Kris Bryant stepped to the plate with the Cubs trailing 3-2. He hit a three-run homer, his first in Cincinnati in over three years. The homer gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead and is the fifth largest positive WPA event of the season by a Cub player. (.499)
*Reds Play of the Game: Joey Votto’s two-out double with a runner on second in the third inning broke a scoreless tie. (.119)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 27.75
- Anthony Rizzo 22
- Javier Baez 14.5
- Jason Heyward/!Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -17.5
Up Next: The Cubs have their first day off since July 29. Between trades and injuries, this team hasn’t had a chance to catch its collective breath in a couple of weeks. So this should feel great.
When play resumes, the Cubs will be in Philadelphia. The two teams split four games in Wrigley Field earlier this year. The Phillies come in at 60-58 after losing three of four to the Giants in Philadelphia, including the last two. The Phillies now sit two games out in the wild card race, in fifth place among the contenders for two wild card spots.
Jose Quintana will start the opener. He’ll be trying to lead the Cubs to two straight road wins for the first time since just before the All-Star break. Jose is 10-7 with a 4.23 ERA in 129⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 6-0 with a 3.67 ERA in 41⅔ innings. Last time out he was dominant against the A’s, allowing only one run in seven innings. He allowed two hits, no walks and struck out seven. He was also very good in a start against these Phillies in May at Wrigley. He threw six scoreless innings, allowing two hits, three walks and no runs while striking out four. Current Phillies have 107 plate appearances against him with a .709 OPS. Corey Dickerson leads the way with 14 PA and a 1.143 OPS. Cesar Hernandez (11, 1.121), Sean Rodriguez (10, 1.100) and Rhys Hoskins (9, 1.356) have all done extremely well against Q.
Jason Vargas will be the Phillies starter. Jason is 6-6 with a 4.09 ERA in 105⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts he is 3-3 with a 4.81 ERA in 39⅓ innings. Last time out he took a loss in Arizona. He allowed four hits, three walks, and four runs while only striking out one. He did face the Cubs in June, while a member of the Mets, and got a no decision. He allowed four runs (two earned) on four hits, two walks and three strikeouts in 4⅔ innings.
The 36-year-old lefthander has been a reverse split pitcher in 2019, with a .694 OPS allowed versus righties and a .770 versus lefties. That isn’t consistent with his career numbers (.748 v RHH and .719 v LHH). He’s been better at home (.647) than away (.771). Current Cubs only have 71 PA against Vargas with a .599 OPS. Nicholas Castellanos has the most PA (23) and has a .717 OPS. Anthony Rizzo is the only other Cub with significant experience, and he has a .258 OPS in just 12 PA.
Vargas was never a great pitcher, though he did have a great 2017 season with the Royals. But at 36, he’s not the pitcher he was. This is the type of lefty that the Cubs should do well against. Let’s hope Q keeps rolling and the bats do enough to get a win.
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