With their backs nearing the wall, the Cubs needed some Heroes. After every game we name three Heroes and three Goats. Sometimes, those three heroes sometimes make big collective contributions in a win, sometimes nominal contributions in a loss. On Tuesday night, the Cubs got three very large contributions that lead to a much needed win. Two of those contributions were from what I’ll call secondary contributors. The other was from one of their core stars.
Yu Darvish has been pitching better for a while now. On Tuesday night, he was fantastic. In eight innings, he was charged with just one run. He allowed five hits and a walk. He struck out seven. The walk was the first he’d allowed in more than a month (July 23). The homer, that was less unusual. Not only was it the 31st he’s allowed this season, but it was to Pete Alonso, his 42nd homer of the year. If you had to place a bet on one player in the majors to hit a homer Tuesday night, Alonso would probably have been the safest bet.
The least popular Cub, Addison Russell, came up with the biggest hit in this one. An argument could be made that it was the biggest hit of the season to date. Such is the way seasons line up. The games get progressively bigger as the marathon season dwindles down to a relative sprint finish. And so, Russell’s two-run homer in the fifth inning after Alonso’s homer in the bottom of the fourth, was a big one. That was one of three hits he had on the night. Following the huge night at the plate, Russell has a line of .250/.328/.427 on the season. All three numbers would be the largest of his career. With good defense, Russell remains the Cubs’ best option at second base.
With Anthony Rizzo remaining day-to-day with back problems and Willson Contreras continuing to try to work his way back from a hamstring issue, the Cubs only have two healthy stars. One of them came up big in this one. Javier Baez had three hits, three RBI and a walk. One of the hits was a two-run homer. In addition, he had two doubles. Ironically, I said his numbers were just a tick below his 2018 numbers and there was some question/disagreement as to what a “tick” was. Well, after this game, he has a line of .285/.319/.543 (wRC+ 116). Compare that to 2018 when he hit .290/.326/.554 (wRC+ 131). Either way, this game was just what the Cubs needed.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals were winning yet again. Increasingly it is starting to look like for the second year in a row the Cubs might have to look up at a team that got blisteringly hot down the stretch and stole off with the division. In 2018, the Cubs won 95 games. It was hard to hang your head too much. As with any season, there were a number of games that got away that you’d certainly like to get back. But, by and large that was Brewers excellence and not a Cub failure. This season is going to feel different. This team is highly unlikely to win 90+ games and almost certainly won’t approach 95. Certainly, this team underachieved to some degree.
Still, the Cardinals winning meant the Brewers lost again. The Cubs winning meant the Mets lost. The Phillies also lost (5-4 to the Pirates) and the Nationals lost (shut out 2-0 by the Orioles, of all teams!). So, the Cubs gained ground on all of the key wildcard hopefuls. So there is that at least. The Cubs certainly still have their sites set higher than that, but getting breathing room and gaining a game on the Nationals all work for plan B purposes.
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 131, August 27: Cubs 5, Mets 2 (70-61)
- Superhero: Yu Darvish (.223). Eight innings, one run, five hits, one walk, seven strikeouts. One win.
- Hero: Addison Russell (.219). Three hits in four at bats. One homer. Two RBI. He did strikeout once.
- Sidekick: Javier Baez (.141). Javy had three hits and a walk in four plate appearances. He drove in three runs, had two doubles and a two-run homer.
- Billy Goat: Jason Heyward (-.078). J-Hey was hitless in five at bats. Leading off has really not worked for Heyward. He’s down to just .262/.346/.442 (wRC+ 103) on the season. That would still be his best season as a Cub, but he’s really tailed off.
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.077). Ian was also hitless, though only in four at bats. Kudos though for a second consecutive game at first base. He’s now played 20 innings there this year. After 14 innings in two starts last year, that’s now 34 innings over four games in his professional career. I have found no record of him ever playing the position anywhere at any time in the minors.
- Kid: Nicholas Castellanos (-.035). Nick did have a hit and scored a run on this one. He had four at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: After Yu Darvish allowed a lead-off homer in the bottom of the fourth, the Cubs got it back and then some in the fifth. Victor Caratini opened the frame with a double and Addison Russell followed with his eighth homer. (.223)
*Mets Play of the Game: Peter Alonso’s homer in the bottom of the fourth inning. (.143)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 34
- Kris Bryant 29.75
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -23
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: It doesn’t get any easier as the Cubs look for a second straight in New York. A pair of talented hurlers each looking for their 10th win of the 2019 season square off. For the Cubs that is Kyle Hendricks. Kyle is 9-9 with a 3.20 ERA in 143⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 2-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 42 innings. Last time out he threw seven scoreless against the Giants. He allowed only three hits and struck out seven. He hasn’t started a game against the Mets since 2016. He is 3-0 in three career regular season starts against them though with a 0.47 ERA. Current Mets have only 53 career PA against Kyle with a .631 OPS. Todd Frazier (14, .774) and Wilson Ramos (13, .647) have seen him the most. Joe Panik (9, 1.111) and Michael Conforto (4, 1.167) have the best results.
This would be a great time for Kyle to be on his A game as he’s facing one of the best in Noah Syndergaard. Noah is 9-6 with a 3.71 ERA in 160 innings. Over his last seven starts he is 2-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 47⅓ innings. Last time out, he threw six scoreless against the Indians allowing two hits and no walks while striking out five. He only threw 73 pitches in that one. He received a no decision in his only start against the Cubs last year. He threw six innings allowing nine hits, three walks and four runs. He did strike out six.
The Mets’ right-hander, who will turn 27 tomorrow, has been very tough on both right-handed hitters (.682) and left (.665). He’s also been very good both at home (.660) and on the road (.689). Current Cubs have 92 PA against Noah with a .805 OPS. The injured Anthony Rizzo won’t be sad if he misses this one (14, .536). But Jason Heyward (12, 1.053), Kris Bryant (11, 1.182) and Javier Baez (9, 1.000) have all done quite well against the man they call Thor.
Hopefully, the Cubs can steal another one in New York as they head towards the end of August.
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