One of the downsides to the resurgent Reds is, without a doubt, that the National League Central came into the 2019 season without a truly undermanned team. Don’t get me wrong, the Pirates are actually a worse team now than the Padres who the Cubs faced last night. But obviously, the point is, when you face a team that is really overmatched, particularly at this time of the year, it can really make all of your troubles go away for a day or more.
It is stunning even at this late date, how fluid the National League playoff picture is. Even with only five N.L. games played last night, four of the five featured teams that fancy themselves as alive for a playoff berth. That was enough to swing probabilities, at least in the eyes of Fangraphs who I’ve been using to monitor playoff chances. The Cubs, of course, continue to lead for the second wild-card slot. They won, and their odds of reaching the playoffs didn’t really increase. The Diamondbacks and Phillies each lost, damaging their respective chances. It’s odd to me that the D-backs lose ground, since it would have been aggressive to think they’d go to New York and sweep the Mets who are also a playoff hopeful. The Brewers and Mets both won and their chances have each increased. The Mets now have an identical probability to the D-backs, despite having two less wins. The Brewers are now the leaders in the chase and have the highest probability of unseating the Cubs.
Now that all of that oddity and gloominess is out of the way, let’s talk about last night’s game. As I said in the open, playing a subpar team can be quite a cure for what ails you. This team came in fresh off of a painful three game skid, all against those Brewers, allowing them to cling to their playoff life. Kyle Hendricks pitched well (what might have been if he had pitched Sunday?!?) and the offense clicked.
Most specifically, Nico Hoerner was a big hit in his first game. Sports “arguments” or debates are funny things. If you were around BCB comments yesterday, you undoubtedly saw some comments from me disagreeing with the Cubs bringing up Nico Hoerner. That brings me to the funny thing about staking a position. I’m not going to wish ill on Nico because I thought it was the wrong move. I couldn’t be more delighted that he was excellent in his first game last night. There are definitely some commenters who come around BCB who I think enjoy the Cubs losing more than them winning. Always know that even when I’m critical of this team, I’m always going to walk away from that discussion and then root for the team and the players with all of my heart. Whenever I make a gloomy forecast or get down on a player, coach or manager, I’m always hoping they’ll be making me eat those words on a regular basis. Whenever I’m wrong spectacularly, I want it to be because they exceeded my expectations and not the reverse.
Certainly, having such a great debut is something that can never be taken away from him. It should cushion him when the inevitable errors, hitless games and base-running blunders come. Everyone has bad days, everyone struggles. It sure helps to have some success to draw on when those bad days come.
I’ve been a Cubs fan for more than 30 years. I’ve seen a lot of young players come and go. I’ve seen some flat out busts. I’ve seen some guys who exceeded even the wildest hopes for them. All too often in that history, I’ve seen the Cubs bring a guy to the majors who isn’t a finished product, watched their flaws be exposed and then watched them flounder and under achieve what we thought they could be based on their talent and potential. Certainly, this was an unusual situation, the Cubs aren’t saying he’s a finished product, he almost certainly will return to the minors to continue his development, and he certainly has some very projectable skills in all phases of the game. And he certainly appears to have the maturity to handle the moment. I’m overjoyed to say the least.
I’m certainly less depressed about Cubs baseball than I was 24 hours ago. Let’s hope the Padres mail in the whole series. Four wins would go a long way towards changing the outlook for the Cubs post season hopes.
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 143, September 9: Cubs 10, Padres 2 (77-66)
- Superhero: Nicholas Castellanos (.199). Has anyone noticed that Nick really, really likes being a Cub? Nick had three more hits last night, including a two-run homer that got the scoring started. He scored three runs. In 158 PA as a Cub, he has a line of .347/.373/.707 (wRC+ 172). The only bummer for Nick is that his potentially historic doubles pace has slowed with the Cubs because he’s some balls that used to be doubles are now homers.
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.149). Of course, the best numbers as a Cub in 2019 now belong to Mr. Hoerner. Three hits, including a triple, in five at bats. He drove in four and scored two. This reminded me of the debut game of Starlin Castro years ago. Of course, when the dust settles, the biggest honor for Hoerner will be his first appearance here in Heroes and Goats. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.110). Jason had two more hits and a walk, scored a run and drove one in. He had four plate appearances. After his terrible slump, his numbers slid to subpar which was a disappointment given how potent Jason’s bat was at times this year. Hopefully he can turn it around a bit over these final weeks.
- Billy Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.047). Riz was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
- Goat: Ben Zobrist (-.026). Ben did have a single leading off the game and scored a run in the first inning that helped the Cubs secure control of this one right away. It was his only hit in four at bats. He twice made the last out of an inning with a runner in scoring position.
- Kid: David Bote (-.006). This one is super tough. David had a hit and two walks. He did strike out twice. David has 330 PA now on the season and has a 109 wRC+ and a 1.6 fWAR. That’s really great production for a guy coming off the bench more times than not.
WPA Play of the Game: This one came just three batters into the game. Nick Castellanos batted with one out and a runner on first. He launched a two-run homer to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead that they’d never relinquish. (.182)
*Padres Play of the Game: Ben Zobrist involved in both halves of this. He was on board for the Castellanos homer. And on this one, Kyle Hendricks allowed consecutive singles to start the fourth. No worries, he induced a double play ball to Zobrist at second. Unfortunately, Ben’s throw went into the outfield instead. Runners ended up at second and third and a run scored, setting up all of the Padres scoring. (.178)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 30.75
- Anthony Rizzo 29
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -20
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: Game two of the four-game set. The Cubs have won three of the first four games in the season series between the two teams and they will win the season series with one win in the last three games. Of course, the Cubs are aiming much higher than that. The Padres are largely playing out the string and getting some guys who might be pieces for next year some experience as they hope their playoff window is starting to open, even in a division that includes the mighty Dodgers.
The Cubs sent Jose Quintana to the mound. The Padres are 11-19 against lefthanded starters (55-58 vs RH). Jose is 13-8 with a 4.00 ERA on the season in 157⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 40⅔ innings. Last time out, he got knocked around but collected a win. He threw five innings and allowed five hits, two walks, two homers and four runs. He struck out five. He faced the Padres back in July and was a winner in that one. He threw five innings, allowed eight hits, one walk and five runs. He struck out seven. He did allow three homers though. He was even better against them in a win last year (six innings, four hits, no walks, one run). Current Padres have 136 PA against Q with a .689 OPS. A huge portion of that is Eric Hosmer (78, .529) from the days when both resided in the AL Central. Hunter Renfroe has two homers in just nine PA against Jose (1.306).
The Padres will send Ronald Bolanos to the hill for his second major league appearance. Last time, he threw six innings, allowing five hits, two walks and two runs. He struck out four. He took the loss in that start against the Diamondbacks. The 22-year-old right-hander, signed out of Cuba, pitched at two levels for the Padres in the minors this year. Across 23 starts and 25 appearances total he had a 3.66 ERA in 130⅓ innings. He struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings. He also walked 3.7 per nine. Continuing a conversation from yesterday, Bolanos never threw a pitch for the Padres at the Triple-A level.
Let’s hope the Cubs bats can be patient with the kid and make him work. I certainly like the odds of Quintana having a good start against this Padres team.
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