Even with a starter who’s been knocked around when he’s started this year, it figured that the Reds would put up a better fight than the Pirates did this past weekend. This one was definitely a mixed bag. Behind a Kyle Schwarber three-run homer in the first, the Cubs did plate three runs in two innings off of beleaguered Kevin Gausman. But then the Reds went to the bullpen in the third inning and got three shutout innings.
Meanwhile, their offense was chipping away on Cole Hamels, who still doesn’t look right on the mound since his injury. The Reds were able to creep all of the way back to 3-2. But then Alec Mills closed the door, throwing two shutout innings of his own before the Cubs bats went back to work in the sixth and expanded the lead back to three. The recently red-hot Cubs hitters added three more runs late to continue the recent offensive explosion.
The win moves the Cubs to a season-high 14 games over .500. That mark equates to an 88-win season if the Cubs play .500 the rest of the way. Of course, you aim higher than that, but that’s a pretty good season. It almost certainly won’t be enough to win the Central, but could potentially be enough to get into the postseason.
Elsewhere, the Cardinals were beating the Nationals and the Brewers were winning. With the recent results in Cardinals related games, interesting things are happening in the playoff odds. The Cubs have pulled to within two games of the Cardinals, half a game of the Nationals and hold a one game lead on the Brewers. The net result? The overall odds of the Cubs making the playoffs have dipped slightly, while their odds of winning the division have increased. This morning the Cubs sit third of the four teams. But the way things are going and with the Cardinals having to run this gauntlet over the last two and a half weeks, playing the Brewers, then the Nationals, then the Cubs and after three inconsequential games, the Cubs again, everything is in flux.
With the Brewers having a stretch of games all of the way until the end of the season against non-contending teams, every game is of paramount importance. The Brewers will have to go out and win some games on the road, but even without Christian Yelich, they are playing better and finishing strong once again.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride to the finish. Fortunately, the Cubs have been playing very well too. Hopefully, they can carry this momentum right on through the rest of the homestand, including that crucial stretch with the Cardinals.
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 150, September 16: Cubs 8, Reds 2 (82-68)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.176). His three-run homer in the first gave the Cubs a lead that they’d never relinquish. Early offense provides a boost to the whole game.
- Hero: Alec Mills (.147). Alec threw two scoreless innings while the game was still very tight. He allowed only one hit while striking out three. Mills should probably make the team next year, all else being equal, as a long reliever.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.126). Jason had a big RBI-double to help blow the game open. He also walked twice in four plate appearances. His wRC+ is back up to 106 and he’s up to 2.1 fWAR. Oddly, the only thing dragging that down is a subpar defensive rating, based largely on playing more center field than right where he was elite.
- Billy Goat/Goat: Nicholas Castellanos/Nico Hoerner (-.069). Castellanos had a two-run double in five at bats. Hoerner had a single and a run scored in four. Castellanos is up to 55. He has no real shot at the record of 67 (at least in part because he started hitting more homers when he came to the Cubs), but the Expansion Era “record” is 59 in 2000 by Todd Helton. He has a very good chance at that.
- Kid: Tony Kemp (-.040). Tony pinch hit with two on and two out in the fourth inning with the Cubs leading 3-2. He flew out to center ending a scoring chance.
WPA Play of the Game: Schwarber’s two-out, three-run first inning homer. (.217)
*Reds Play of the Game: Curt Casali walked with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning to push across a run, cutting the Cubs lead to 3-2. (.086)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Anthony Rizzo 33
- Kyle Hendricks 17
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -17
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: Game two of the three game set. The Cubs will seek a sixth straight win and they’ll have Yu Darvish on the mound. Yu is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA in 163⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he’s 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 42⅓ innings. Last time out, he was fantastic, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out 14 in six innings of shutout ball. He’s faced the Reds four times already this year, going 1-1 and allowing 12 runs in 24⅓ innings. One of those starts was an odd one in Wrigley Field where Yu was allowed to throw 108 pitches over seven innings to save an over taxed bullpen. Current Reds have 135 PA with a .752 OPS. Joey Votto has the most PA (22) and a .718. Derek Dietrich is one Red who has had great success against Darvish (13, 1.538, including two homers).
The Reds have Sonny Gray on the mount. Gray is 10-7 with a 2.80 ERA in 163⅔ innings of work. Over his last seven, he is 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 42 innings of work. Last time out, he did take his first loss in some time. He allowed three runs over 6⅓ innings, despite only allowing two hits and three walks. He struck out nine. He’s faced the Cubs four times this year, including facing Darvish twice. He is 2-1 and has allowed eight runs over 23⅓ innings. His one loss was his one Wrigley Field start (against Darvish on July 17).
The 29-year-old right-hander has been pretty equally tough on RHH (.607) as LHH (.600). He’s been a bit better on the road (.593) than at home (.614). Current Cubs have 122 PA against Gray with a .672 OPS. Kris Bryant (.647) and Jason Heyward (.385) are tied for the most PA (13) and have each homered off of him. Nicholas Castellanos has had good success against the Reds starter (11, 1.121, including a double and a triple).
This feels like a tough one with how well Gray is throwing and how many times the Reds have seen Darvish. Hopefully, the Cubs bats can keep it rolling and give Yu something to work with.
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