That one wasn’t terribly hard to see coming. Sonny Gray has been terrific, basically, all year long. The Cubs offense had carried them through much of their snapped five game winning streak, but they were largely silenced by Gray and the Reds bullpen. It was always going to be unlikely to run the table. If they had to lose, I guess I’m at least glad that it was one of the games that looked troublesome on the schedule.
I don’t want to always be chicken little in this space. But, the reality is that the Cubs under achieved for so much of this season, that they have no margin of error. The worst case scenario looks more and more realistic by the day. The Brewers just keep winning and have now tied the Cubs for the second wild card spot. I will once again disagree with Fangraphs on their projections for final standings and playoff positioning. Obviously, you have to nod to the Cardinals for having the division lead and a two-game margin of error. If they don’t win the division, it is hard to envision the Brewers not being the one winning the division.
When comparing the remaining schedules of the Cubs and Brewers, there is a massive edge to the Brewers. Of course, if the Cubs do something like win eight or nine of the remaining games, the Cardinals will be losers in some of those games which means that the Cubs directly gain on them in those games. But the Brewers have no stiff challenges left on their schedule. I know you’ll say that they’ll go on the road to face two teams that are decent at home and that the Brewers are under .500 on the road. The Brewers are 37-38 on the road, meaning their expectation would be a 3-3 split. But I’m not sure I buy that. 4-2 is very possible for them the way they’ve been playing. At any rate, what are the expectations for the 31-44 Cubs when they hit the road? A 2-4 trip? That would necessarily mean the Cardinals swept away their hopes at the end. Don’t think the Pirates could win one? Anyone remember the 9-8 loss to the Padres recently? It is possible for the Cubs offense to put up a big number on the board and lose.
There was one bright spot last night. Kyle Schwarber continued his second half surge. You don’t have to go any further than the comments section for yesterday’s Heroes and Goats to find that there are still Schwarber skeptics out there. I get that. Kyle certainly under achieved through much of the start of his big league career. In 217 PA since the All-Star break, Kyle has a line of .259/.341/.627 (wRC+ 142). He has 19 homers and 47 driven in over that time. He’s also got a BABIP of .242 which checks in below his season number of .257 and career number of .267. I definitely see both sides of the argument. I see that Schwarber has rebuilt his trade value and that if you wanted to, this would be a great time to trade him. Or, you could enjoy the surplus value he’ll provide you next year in left field for one more season. The arbitration system limits the amount of increase he could get this year, even if he finishes out as hot as he’s been and tops 40 homers. There’s certainly a chance that Kyle is finally unlocking his potential. I’d be sick if they dealt him and he put up a whole season like this for someone else.
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 151, September 17: Cubs 2, Reds 4 (82-69)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.239). The lone bright spot, Kyle had three hits in four at bats and drove in both runs. Included were an RBI-double and an RBI-triple.
- Hero: Steve Cishek (.044). Steve inherited a runner in the eighth inning with the Cubs trying to stay within two runs. He did allow a single, but then escaped the inning unscathed to keep the Cubs faint hopes alive.
- Sidekick: Ben Zobrist (.037). Ben had a hit and was hit by a pitch in four plate appearances.
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.153). Willy was hitless in four at bats. Batting behind Schwarber means he batted with a runner on base three times, The Cubs could really use one more hot stretch from him.
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-141). Heyward was hitless in four at bats. Only one of his were with men on base, but in all, he made the first out of an inning three times. The first out of an inning will generally score the most negative WPA.
- Kid: Yu Darvish (-.132). He was masterful over the last six innings. But the first inning is a thing. Altogether, he allowed six hits and four runs over seven innings. He struck out 13 and walked only one. Over his last 17 starts, Yu has thrown 104 innings, struck out 139 hitters and walked 12. He has a 3.46 ERA (3.72 FIP) over that time. The 21 homers over that stretch is really keeping him from moving into the dominant echelon of starters.
WPA Play of the Game: The long ball was the big problem last night. With one out and a runner on second base, Aristides Aquino hit a two-run homer off of Darvish. (.142)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber tripled with two outs and a runner on first in the third inning to cut the deficit to one. (.128).
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Anthony Rizzo 33
- Kyle Hendricks 17
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -19
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: The Cubs will look to take two out of three in the series with Jon Lester on the hill. Jon is 13-10 with a 4.59 ERA in 160⅔ innings. Over his last seven outings, though, he is 4-2 with a 5.26 ERA in 37⅔ innings. Last time out, he was a winner against the Pirates despite allowing seven runs (four earned) on 11 hits in just five innings. He’s allowed 15 runs in his last 10⅓ innings pitched. Jon has faced the Reds twice this year and has allowed seven runs (six earned) in 10⅔ innings. Current Reds have 242 PA against Jon with a .738 OPS. The most PA belong to Joey Votto (48, .736). But the guy who has most consistently done damage is Eugenio Suarez (44, 1.230, five homers and three doubles).
Tyler Mahle starts for the Reds. 2019 is going to be a year that Tyler wants to forget. He lost his starting job back in July, but has been reinstated and is making his fourth start in September. On the year, he is 2-11 with a 5.11 ERA in 116⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, the damage is even worse, 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in 33⅔ innings. Last time out, the Mariners scored four runs on eight hits in just 3⅓ innings. Tyler’s last win came May 31 against the Nationals, of all teams. Even in that one, he allowed three runs in five innings. He also beat the Dodgers two starts earlier with six shutout(!) innings. He’s made one start against the Cubs, that was on May 25, between those two starts. The Cubs tagged him for six runs in five innings that day.
The 24-year-old right hander actually does pretty well against right-=handed hitters (.677), but lefties have crushed him (.901). Tyler has also been better at home (.718) than on the road (.819). Current Cubs have 103 PA against Mahle, but they’ll be without the services of Anthony Rizzo who has the most PA (12) and Javier Baez (11, 1.355), who has crushed Mahle. Kyle Schwarber has good numbers (11, 1.155).
Hopefully, some combination of Jon Lester and the Cubs bats rise to the challenge and give the Cubs their sixth win in seven games heading into a huge four-game set with the Cardinals this weekend.
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