This was always the problem with the pattern of winning the huge majority of games at home and then losing the majority of games on the road. Not that anyone chose that as a strategy, but it is how things played out. Now, a hot team came in and took two straight from the Cubs. I don’t want to be advancing hyperbole, but there was at least a flicker in the Cubs playoff hopes this weekend. After Saturday’s game, the Cubs still have 48% chance of winning the division (as per Fangraphs), which is still tops in the central. But that is down from 72% just 11 games ago. They are down to 69% to make the playoffs, down from 86%.
The Cubs are a good team, but they are far from a great team. The problem with running neck and neck with the Cardinals is that one hot stretch or one cold stretch could decide the whole season. Well, August 9 to present, the Cardinals are 9-3. They’ve won five of six to start a stretch of 18 games with 15 at home. They haven’t had an off day since August 12 and won’t have another until August 29, after the three road games which are Monday through Wednesday in Milwaukee. The Brewers have showed their own signs of life as their cobbled together pitching staff is starting to find its way. They’ve won three straight to right their ship a bit.
Not a ton to talk about from yesterday’s game once again. Jose Quintana allowed hits to the first two batters he faced and the Cubs were losing by the third batter of the game. Without over stating anything, they were in a good sized hole right off the bat. Then in the third inning, the Cubs suffered death by a thousand paper cuts as the Nationals posted four singles and two walks and turned that into four more runs.
The Cubs did show some signs of life, but left two on in the third, three on in the fourth, two on in the fifth, two on in the sixth and one more in the ninth. They just couldn’t punch through. Of course, you give a little bit of credit to the Nationals for executing pitches. But, there is also a fair bit of criticism for Cubs hitters for not being able to get the ball in play in key situations.
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 129, August 24: Cubs 2, Nationals 7 (69-60)
- Superhero: Jonathan Lucroy (.126). Lucroy appears in Heroes and Goats for the first time and he does it in grand style. His pinch-hit double in the fifth for a short time cut the deficit to 5-2 and gave a glimmer of hope as it also put two people in scoring position with only one out.
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.047). Heyward reached base three times in five plate appearances on a double and a pair of walks. A sign of the type of day it was? The lead-off hitter reached base three times and didn’t score a run.
- Sidekick: Javier Baez (.022). Javy had two hits and two strikeouts. He struck out immediately following the Lucroy double and that was one of the spots where the Cubs really had a chance to get back into things.
- Billy Goat: Jose Quintana (-.278). Jose was the victim of a little shoddy defense and a lot of seeing eye singles. He was charged with seven hits, three walks and four earned runs (five overall) in just four innings. This was his first loss in more than two months. It came at a horrible time, but I’m not going to beat him up too much for it.
- Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.183). Kyle was hitless in four at bats. He struck out once. This was a nightmare kind of day for him. He grounded into a double play to end the second, struck out with runners on second and third with no outs in the fourth, and popped out for the third out with runners on second and third in the fifth. Everyone has days like this, but this is the kind of game that stands out for Kyle unfortunately.
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.065). Happ pinch hit for Q with the bases loaded in the fourth and was called out on what appeared to be a pretty awful call.
WPA Play of the Game: Jonathan Lucroy’s RBI-double not only landed him the Superhero spot, but it was also the play of the game. (.131)
*Nationals Play of the Game: Such was the slow bleed of this game that no Nationals play topped the .100 mark while they scored seven runs. Yan Gomes singled with the bases loaded in the third inning. That scored two runs to make it 5-0. (.097)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 34
- Kris Bryant 29.75
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- *Albert Almora Jr. -11.5
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: The three game set concludes this afternoon. The Nationals have now won 15 of 21. Fangraphs now gives them a better chance of winning the World Series than the Cubs (5.7% to 5.2), despite only having a 12.7% chance of winning their division.
The Cubs will start Cole Hamels. Cole is 7-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 115⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts, which straddle his time on the injured list through the month of July, he is 1-2 with a 5.81 ERA in 31 innings. Last time out, he threw six innings and got a win. He allowed five hits, two walks and three runs while striking out five. He faced the Nationals earlier this year and got a win. He allowed seven hits, three walks and two runs while striking out five in five innings. Current Nationals have 280 PA versus Hamels with a .699 OPS. Brian Dozier is a National who has had good success against Cole with a .976 OPS over 21 PA.
Stephen Strasburg is having an outstanding season for the Nationals. He is 15-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 165 innings. He should receive some support for Cy Young for this season. With the missed time for Max Scherzer, he’s been anchoring their staff. Over his last seven starts, he is 4-1 with a 4.22 ERA in 42⅔ innings. Last time out he threw seven scoreless innings in Pittsburgh, allowing four hits, one walk and striking out six. He faced the Cubs earlier this year and threw eight innings allowing only four hits, no walks and two runs (one earned). He struck out seven.
The 30-year-old right-hander has allowed a .667 OPS to right-handed hitters and a .609 OPS. He’s allowed a .669 OPS at home and a .618 OPS on the road. The short story? He’s good in just about every situation. Oddly, he hasn’t pitched in Wrigley Field in the regular season since 2013. Current Cubs have 205 PA against him with a .604 OPS. Jason Heyward has done quite well with a .931 OPS in 50 PA. At the other end of the spectrum, Javier Baez has a .118 OPS in 17 PA.
We can pretty much all remember a Sunday Cubs-Nationals game from last year where Cole Hamels locked horns with Scherzer and the Cubs were able to steal a win despite a magnificent outing from the Nationals hurler. Hopefully, the Cubs can pull that kind of magic off again, because they need a win.
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