We start with the good. Yu Darvish was very good. Seven innings, no runs, four hits, no walks and 10 strike outs. Slowly but surely, Yu’s walk rate is now lower than his career average (3.30 BB/9 in ‘19, 3.40 career) — and this after he was on pace for the worst walk rate of his career. That makes 36 strikeouts and no walks over his last four starts. Double the number of starts to eight and you have 63 strikeouts and two walks in 48⅔ innings. He’s allowed only 15 runs over that time. If you are not rooting for Yu and eating this stuff up, I’m not sure you and I can be baseball buddies. The only start over those last eight in which he failed to throw at least six innings, he reported that he pitched with flu-like symptoms.
Anthony Rizzo was good. A late lineup shift had him leading off. Exactly where I would have put him with a lefty with reverse splits. Rizzo has struggled against lefties this year, but I absolutely love Rizzo against a struggling lefty who has particularly struggled against lefties. Anthony went deep. That was his 22nd homer of the year, but the first since July 27 and only the third since June 15. Entering the series finale, Anthony had a line of .291/.394/.419 (wRC+ 117) from June 16-August 14 (203 PA). The overall numbers aren’t terrible, but his power mysteriously vanished in there.
Did I mention oh dear lord? Some less than stellar defensive play from David Bote (again) who was put into a tough spot having to make an emergency start at short because the team carries no backup shortstop. I get that Javy is an old school iron man type. I really do. But it angers me because the whole Addison Russell situation just screams of indecisiveness. This organization decided to stand behind Addison Russell (begrudgingly or not) after the off the field problems he had last year. Addison is the team’s backup shortstop. But he’s in the penalty box in Iowa, apparently because he missed some signs and wasn’t on the same page as anyone. But in the same statement that threw him under that bus, it was mentioned that this had been going on for more than three years. When you decide to stick with Russell, that decision encompasses all of Russell. The off the field stuff, the between the ears stuff, the bat, the glove. Addison Russell has excelled in his time in Iowa this year. There’s not a whole lot for him to work on there. But he’s in purgatory because of all of the things he’s not. Yet the team did nothing to address the lack of a backup.
On top of that, there is the bullpen and the management of it. Yes, it is awful that a manager has to figure out what the heck to do when the three most dependable relievers (Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek) all went on the injured list at the same time. But one of the things you have to do when you are short handed is manage like it. Kyle Ryan was the first man in. He allowed a double and a walk to the first two batters he faced, then he retired the next one, but he was lifted from the game.
Rowan Wick was summoned once again as the “jam guy.” A role most frequently populated by Steve Cishek. That is, the guy you call into the middle of the game when things are getting sideways. Kind of a mid-game closer. Make no mistake, that’s a compliment to Wick. Wick struck out the first hitter he faced, then allowed an RBI single, but got out of that inning when a second run tried to score. Wick went back out or the ninth inning and retired the first batter in the ninth, then Bote made his error. Wick allowed two singles after that and that was it for him.
This is the thing. Pedro Strop has been lost for most of 2019. Yes, he has 10 saves and yes he’s had some good outings. But he just hasn’t been Mr. Dependable. With the other three key relievers hurt, Wick and Ryan are pretty much the best two relievers in the pen. Should the two of them be able to protect a five-run lead? Absolutely. Should both of them be given enough rope to try to work out of a situation when there really aren’t great options behind them? Absolutely.
This team swept a three-game set at Miami, won two out of three in Arizona, swept two games in Seattle and won two out of three in Washington (May 17-19). Those are the four series the Cubs have won this year on the road. The Marlins are on pace to lose 100 games, the Mariners aren’t massively better. The D-Backs are a .500 team and the Nationals might end up as a playoff team, hosting the wildcard game based on the current standings. This team has lost every road series it has played over the last three months.
As much do to luck and the incompetence of others as anything, the Cubs are in a pennant race. As terrible has this team has been for almost the entire season on the road, they are tied for first place with 41 games left to play. As this team heads to Pittsburgh, none of this really technically matters. It’s a race to the finish now. Three teams separated by just one game in the standings. It doesn’t matter what flaws have held each of them back. It doesn’t matter how they got where they are standing. The one that plays the best over their last 40ish games is going to win the division.
That certainly could be the Cubs. Despite all of the failures, again they are tied for first place. Nothing is over. We’ll treat the rest of the season with that lens. If a team died on a road trip to Cincinnati and Philadelphia, no one calls time of death and no coroner ever sees the corpse, then did the death really occur? Maybe this team can go all Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger, or Michael Meyers and rise from the dead to fight another day. Make no mistake though, this team’s playoff hopes flat-lined during this trip. Once again though, for better or for worse, this team is in a three way duel to the finish and would be a playoff team if the playoffs started right now. Bizarre.
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 121, August 15: Cubs 5, Phillies 7 (64-57)
- Superhero: Yu Darvish (.257). As noted above, seven innings, four hits, no walks, no runs, 10 strikeouts. If you blasted Cubs management on the Darvish signing, you just may have been very wrong.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.154). Back in the leadoff spot he had two hits including a homer. He drove in two runs.
- Sidekick: David Bote (.088). David had a double and was hit by a pitch in four plate appearances. He scored one and drove in one. He struck out once.
- Billy Goat: Derek Holland (-.677). This checks in as the sixth-worst WPA game of the year by a Cubs player. The eight worst WPA performances of the year and nine of the top 10 belong to relievers. Derek allowed a walkoff grand slam to the only player he faced.
- Goat: Pedro Strop (-.216). Pedro faced two batters with one out and runners on first and third in the ninth inning. He allowed an RBI single and hit a batter to load the bases. He was charged with two runs. If the playoffs started today, A) I wouldn’t have Pedro on my playoff roster and B) I can’t readily identify all of the relievers ahead of him, but just know I couldn’t trust him in any meaningful situation.
- Kid: Victor Caratini (-.066). Vic had one hit in four at bats and struck out twice. It was 5-0 and there were two outs in the eighth inning before he got the hit, so it was only worth (.001).
WPA Play of the Game: Derek Holland does now have the distinction of the worst WPA event of the season for the Cubs. The grand slam allowed with one out in the ninth inning ended the game. (.677) I began tracking Play of the Game last year. The only previous event, from a negative perspective, was one allowed by Luke Farrell last May 6. Luke was trying to convert a save in the 14th inning with a 3-2 lead. He allowed a two-out, two-run walk-off homer to Dexter Fowler.
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer in the third inning with one out to break a scoreless tie. (.122)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
(bold = changed)
- Kris Bryant 30.75
- Anthony Rizzo 25
- Javier Baez 12.5
- Jason Heyward/!Carl Edward Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -19.5
Up Next: The Cubs travel to play the Pittsburgh Pirates who have fallen into last place. The Pirates were off Thursday, but actually just won two out of three against the Angels in Los Angeles to finish a six-game road trip. Even with those two wins, they’ve lost eight of 10. They’ve also lost 16 of 20 and 24 of 30. This is a team headed in entirely the wrong direction. The Cubs won the last game the two teams played in Pittsburgh on July 4 (11-3). Before that, the Pirates had won the first three games played in Pittsburgh this year. This is one of two remaining trips to Pittsburgh. With the Pirates falling apart, these two series become huge. Overall, the Cubs are 6-4 against the Pirates this year.
Kyle Hendricks makes the start for the Cubs. Kyle is 8-9 with a 3.48 ERA over 129⅓ innings. Over his last seven outings, he is 1-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 38 innings. Last time out, he got battered by the Reds. He allowed seven runs on 12 hits in just 2⅔ innings. In his last four starts against the Pirates he is 0-4, despite allowing only seven runs in 19 innings of work. Current Pirates have 126 PA against Kyle with a .707 OPS. The Pirates will sorely miss the bat of Gregory Polanco (30 PA, 1.010 OPS) in this one. Starling Marte (25, .584) and Josh Bell (22, .553) are the remaining players with the most expierence against Kyle.
Joe Musgrove is the Pirates starter. Joe is 8-11 with a 4.71 ERA in 130 innings. He’s one of the people heading in entirely the wrong direction, having gone 2-4 with a 6.19 ERA over his last seven starts (36⅓ innings). Last time out he allowed three runs on six hits and three walks in just 5⅓ innings. He did strikeout six. In two starts this year against the Cubs, he is 0-1 despite having allowed no earned runs (two unearned) in 9⅓ innings.
The 26-year-old right-hander has allowed a .704 OPS against right-handed hitters and .848 against left-handed. He has been worse at home (.852) than on the road (.685). Current Cubs have 117 PA against him with a .491 (!) OPS. Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez have the most experience, but that might be a bad thing. Rizzo has no hits and two walks (.214 OPS in 14 PA) and Baez has one hit, no walks in 13 PA (.154). Jason Heyward also has 13 PA with an .825.
This one really should be a Cubs win, but we are far past the point of taking anything for granted.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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