The Cubs won Thursday afternoon, salvaging a split out of their visit to San Diego. completing a 3-5 road trip. That brings them home tied for the final wild card spot with 16 games left in the season. They now come home for 10 straight games at Wrigley Field. They are tied, because the Brewers won a seventh consecutive game. The Cardinals and Brewers are getting ready to face each other for three games. The rooting interest has to be that one team or the other wins all three of those games. As much as we usually want to straddle the fence as fans, looking for a 2-1 split in favor of the team that is further back, I think with things as compacted as they are, the Cubs are going to have to be aimed at one team or the other. That probably suggests it would be best for the Cardinals to derail the Brewers, thus helping the Cubs secure their spot in the postseason.
Regardless of what happens between the Cardinals and Brewers, this 10-game homestand has one imperative. Win. Win early, win often. Of course, you are always trying to win. But this is essentially playoff baseball at this point. Need is such a dangerous word in baseball. Why do I need to win today? What if I lose and you lose too? What if I lose today, but then win the next 15? So often, you don’t truly “need” to win a given game. If somehow it could be guaranteed that the Cubs would sweep the final seven games they have remaining against the Cardinals, then the Cubs would be largely guaranteed to make the playoffs by winning two less games than the Cardinals win the remainder of the year. In that scenario, the games this weekend aren’t super important. But you can’t guarantee those future wins against the Cardinals and so every game is fairly vital now.
The only thing you can control is winning the game on the schedule for a given day. Then you have to hope that some of the array of teams chasing the Cubs lose. Again, with the Brewers and Cardinals playing one another, one of the two teams the Cubs are in contention with will lose each of the three days.
All of these permutations are certainly enough to get one’s head spinning. It’s very possible that there will be a small handful of teams that go down to the final week of the season. Coming off of a 3-5 road trip and with a 31-44 road record, I’m going to again suggest that these last 10 home games are huge for the Cubs. Anything less than about eight wins on this homestand is going to leave the Cubs and their fans holding their collective breaths down to the end of the season.
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 146, September 12: Cubs 4, Padres 1 (78-68)
- Superhero: Yu Darvish (.304). Yu was once again fantastic. He threw six scoreless innings and allowed only two hits, two walks and he struck out 14. In his last 15 starts and 91 innings, Yu has a 3.16 ERA, 123 K, 11 BB and a .193 opponent batting average. If you had Yu Darvish on your scorecard as one of the best pitchers in baseball in the second half, you get a gold star.
- Hero: Ian Happ (.163). Ian had two hits and two very important RBI in four at bats.
- Sidekick: Kyle Schwarber (.106). Kyle had a hit and a walk in four plate appearances. He also struck out twice. He also stole a base.
- Billy Goat : Nico Hoerner (-.075). Nico had one hit in four at bats. He struck out once. Nico had a very nice series against the Padres to start his career.
- Goat: Victor Caratini (-.074). Vic nudges out Nico. He had the same one hit in four at bats and one strikeout line.
- Kid: Nicholas Castellanos (-.051). Nick’s scuffling just a little bit at the plate right now. He struck out three time in four at bats. He’s been amazing at Wrigley Field though, so he should be the happiest guy on the team heading home.
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ batted with runners on second and third and two outs, following the Kyle Scwharber/Kris Bryant double steal while Jason Heyward was striking out. Happ came through with a two-run single to give the Cubs a three run lead.
*Padres Play of the Game: Greg Garcia led off the sixth inning with a triple. (.092)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 32.75
- Anthony Rizzo 32
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -17
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: The Cubs open their final 10-game homestand of the season against the Pirates. The Pirates come in at 65-82. Due to their horrid start to the second half, it’s gone under the radar, but the Pirates are actually 5-5 over their last 10, 12-8 over their last 20 and and 16-14 in their last 30. They may not be quite the pushover some people are expecting. Their 34-41 road record is actually just a notch better than their 31-41 home record. The Cubs lead the season series 8-5. There are still six games remaining between the two teams.
Jon Lester takes the mound. Jon is 12-10 with a 4.51 ERA in 155⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 3-3 with a 6.63 ERA in 36⅔ innings. Last time out, he allowed eight runs in just 5⅓ innings. He allowed seven hits, two of them homers, three walks and struck out seven. He’s faced the Pirates three times this year and has allowed only three runs in 14⅔ innings. He is 2-0 and the one start he didn’t win he left after the second inning due to an injury. He also won his last two starts against the Pirates last year, allowing no runs in either one. Accordingly, over his last five starts against the Pirates, Jon is 4-0 with a 1.01 ERA. Current Pirates have 208 PA against Jon with a .691 OPS. Melky Cabrera has the most (60, .628). Josh Bell has had very good success (28, .828).
The Pirates are starting Steven Brault. Brault is 4-4 with a 4.13 ERA in 100⅓ innings on the season. Over his last seven starts, he is 1-3 with a 4.08 ERA in 39⅔ innings. Last time out, he took a loss at home against the Cardinals. He allowed six hits, six runs (five earned) and two walks in 5⅓ innings. He’s started one game against the Cubs and took a loss, despite pitching very well. He allowed one run on two hits and one walk over seven innings. He struck out eight. He was out dueled by today’s Cubs starter, Jon Lester, in that one.
The 27-year-old left-hander has allowed a .782 OPS to RHH and a .601 to LHH. He’s also been better at home (.694) than on the road (.780), at least by OPS. Oddly, he is 0-4 with a 4.14 ERA in 11 games, eight starts at home and 4-0 with a 4.11 ERA in 11 games, eight starts on the road. Oddly consistent... except for the win loss record. Current Cubs have 160 PA against Brault, led by Kris Bryant (18, 1.810, including two doubles, two homers, two walks and two hit by pitch) and Jason Heyward (18, .889, including three doubles and two walks). Anthony Rizzo has struggled though (15, .267).
Jon has been dominant against the Pirates for a while. Let’s hope he can extend that at least one more start.
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