In a story that has become too familiar over the last two seasons, the Cubs offense was missing in action in a really important game. Of course, many of those games have had a playoff-like feel and a couple were a game 163 and a wild card game. Many of those games featured elite level pitching. But occasionally, those games feature a guy who came into the game 2-11 with a 5.11 ERA. He’d also been 0-3 with an ERA approaching seven over his last seven starts. Inexplicable and generally inexcusable to muster no offense in that situation.
Depending on your website of preference, the Cubs’ playoff chances either took a small hit or a very large hit last night. Sportsline now has the Cubs at less than a 40 percent chance to make the playoffs. It sure feels like those who still have them at closer to 60 percent are putting a lot of stock in the 6-0 record the Cubs have at home this year against the Cardinals. Certainly, if the Cubs could sweep the Cardinals and run that to 10-0, that would go a very, very long way towards the Cubs not only making the playoffs, but winning the division. These Cardinals are playing better than at least they were at the time of the second series (they’d come into that first series red-hot, if you don’t recall). These Cubs are without two of their best players.
It would take the Cubs eight wins in their final ten games to reach 90 wins. Even if both of those two losses were against the Cardinals, that would mean the best the Cardinals could do is tie them. It’s realistic to think the Brewers will lose at least three more games without their own top star. I feel like at 90 wins, the Cubs would be a near lock for the playoffs and would almost certainly be at least a one game playoff for the division title. That’s the good news. At seven wins, I believe they’d be looking at a one-game playoff with the Brewers with the loser going home. At six, I believe they will be on the outside looking in. Certainly, your mileage may vary.
The Nationals schedule is interesting. They have three games against the Marlins, who they are 13-3 against to date, this weekend. They then play the Phillies, against whom they are 9-5, and who have a slim mathematical chance at the playoffs and at minimum would surely love to play spoiler. After five games in four days against the Phillies, they play the Indians. The Indians are very much alive and running neck and neck with the Rays for the last playoff spot in the AL and have a very slim chance at a division title. However, here is the thing there. The Nationals are sitting with two fewer losses than the Cubs. In the seven-win scenario above, that would allow the Nationals to be able to lose as many as four of the final 11 games on their schedule and still make the playoffs. Certainly, the Nationals could lose more than four. That might be one of the largest points for optimism.
As I’ve been saying for weeks, all of the margin of error is pretty much gone. The Cubs are going to have to really take care of business over these last 10 games while playing short handed.
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 152, September 18: Cubs 2, Reds 3 (82-70)
- Superhero: David Phelps (.205). David inherited runners at first and second with no outs in the sixth inning. It took him just two batters to record three outs and earn his first ever Superhero award. In fact, the only other positive placement David had was in his first game as a Cub when he was the Sidekick.
- Hero: Willson Contreras (.134). Willson has been scuffling a little bit at the plate, but he came through in a big way with a game-tying homer with two outs in the seventh inning.
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.133). What should have been an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning was extended by a David Bote error. A stolen base and walk followed. Might Wick have otherwise been allowed to throw the 10th?
- Billy Goat: James Norwood (-.412). I’m certainly intrigued by Norwood. I wish we’d seen more of him this year. If we had, perhaps he’d have done better here in a really tough spot. After retiring the first batter he faced, for the second out, he allowed a single, a wild pitch, a walk and a double. He walked one more before being pulled. James had thrown as many innings in the major leagues prior to September as Victor Caratini. That was while the Cubs worked through retread reliever after retread reliever while dealing with an endless amount of bullpen injuries. One of the reasons the Cubs have gotten so little contribution from pitchers they’ve developed is because they’ve given them so little opportunity
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.225). Jason was hitless in four at bats. The big culprit was the strike out for the second out in the 10th inning with a runner on second (-.135).
- Kid: Nico Hoerner (-.213). Nico was hitless in four at bats. The big culprit for him was the fly out to end the game (-.139).
WPA Play of the Game: Jose Iglesias batted with runners on first and second and two outs in the 10th inning. He doubled in what would be the winning run. (.369)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Willson Contreras’ two-run homer in the seventh with two outs. (.250)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Anthony Rizzo 33
- Kyle Hendricks 17
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -20.5
- Jason Heyward -21
Up Next: The Cubs and Cardinals meet for the first of seven games over the next 10 days, the first of four this weekend to close out the home portion of the schedule. Both teams have undoubtedly had these games circled on the calendar since the schedule was released. Both teams were expected to be good and so there is no real surprise that these games are meaningful. So it comes as no great surprise that both teams have their top pitcher lined up for the opener. The Cardinals come in having won two of three against the Nationals most recently and splitting six games on a homestand against the Nationals and Brewers. They are only 5-5 in their last 10, but have won 12 of 20 and 20 of 30.
Kyle Hendricks is 11-9 with a 3.26 ERA in 165⅔ innings of work on the season. He’s 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in 39 innings over his last seven starts, including winning his last two starts. In fact, in his last three starts he’s allowed only four runs (three earned) over 17⅔ innings. The biggest number though and a big reason why Kyle was lined up for this start, he is 5-0 with a 1.18 ERA in 38 innings over his last five starts against the Cardinals (dates back to 7/29/18). Looking solely at this year, he’s allowed one run in 23 innings. Current Cardinals have 304 PA with a .684 OPS. Matt Carpenter leads the way with 53 PA (.706, three homers). Marcell Ozuna has been the most productive Cardinal against Kyle (32, 1.124, including two homers).
I like to admit when I’m wrong. I had seen when the Cubs flipped Hendricks and Jon Lester, and it pointed out that it would line Hendricks up for a game 163 or wildcard game. If that is true, it would flip Kyle out of game 162 which has some potential of being a win or go home. But it wasn’t pointed out that this lined up Kyle for this game. You absolutely had to take the chance to line Kyle up for this game to set the tone for the seven remaining games between the two teams. As was discussed earlier this week, the Cubs could actually reverse the flip with the upcoming off day and get Kyle that start in game 162.
Jack Flaherty’s record doesn’t look all that impressive at just 10-8. But he has a 3.05 ERA in 174⅓ innings. Jack comes into this game 21st in baseball in fWAR at 3.9 (Kyle is 24th with 3.6). As a side note, having the Marlins in your division is obviously a big boost as six of the top 10 and eight of the top 14 pitchers in NL fWAR reside in the NL East.
Flaherty is finishing very strong, going 6-3 with a 1.07 ERA over his last 13 starts. He’s struck out 105 batters in 84⅓ innings and held opponents to a .456 OPS. He should receive some down ballot Cy Young votes in a year where there isn’t a runaway favorite. He did lose his last start, throwing six innings against the Brewers and allowing three runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out 10. He’s not had great success against the Cubs, going 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA in his last five starts against them (dating to 9/30/18). This year alone, he is 1-1 and has allowed nine runs in 21⅓innings. His last start against the Cubs was magnificent though. He threw seven innings of one hit, two walk, shutout ball. He struck out nine.
The 23-year-old right-hander has allowed a .597 OPS to RHH and a .659 to LHH. He’s much better at home (.543) than the road (.712). Current Cubs have 148 PA with a .633 OPS against him. Kris Bryant has the most PA (19) but poor success (.516). The one Cub who has really done well against Flaherty will miss the game (Anthony Rizzo with a 1.632 OPS and two homers). Jason Heyward has just one hit in 13 PA, but it was a homer and he also has three walks (.558). Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras each have a homer as well. Flaherty has 45 K in those 148 Cubs PA.
This one has the markings of a very quick, low-scoring game. Hopefully, the Cubs can find a way to get a much needed win.
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