Oh boy, did I want to be writing the story about the Cubs‘ epic comeback. The Cubs were stifled by young Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty for eight innings. Meanwhile, the Cardinals just kept chipping away at Kyle Hendricks, ultimately plating four runs against him. I told you in yesterday’s preview that Flaherty had a 1.07 ERA over his last 13 starts. He’ll have done little to damage that with one run over those eight innings. It’s an Arrieta-like run and I’ll say again that some sportswriters, absent a runaway favorite, will likely use their Cy Young vote like a pitcher MVP vote and give Flaherty some votes. He was already 11th in the NL in fWAR heading into the start and this will only boost that.
The Cubs did manage an excellent comeback in the ninth inning, plating three runs off of old pal Carlos Martinez to tie the game. But Andrew Miller slammed the door before the Cubs could walk it off. Craig Kimbrel returned from the injured list to allow a homer in the 10th that ended up being the difference in the game. Some pitchers have been particularly harmed by this year’s power surge in baseball. Kimbrel has certainly been one of those, allowing seven homers in just 19⅔ innings on the back of a 30.4% HR/FB rate. Even with this year’s numbers mixed into his career totals, he was at 10.2% for his career (prior to this game). He has managed 13 saves (and counting) this year, but this move just didn’t work out. I have little doubt it will pay future dividends, but it is just one more disappointment as part of the 2019 season.
Baseball rarely makes one game be too amplified. So, this game, this three game losing streak, they don’t end anything. Not officially anyway. With the loss to the Cardinals, Fangraphs now estimates the Cubs’ playoff changes at 41%. That’s a stunning change from 76.7% after the win on Monday night. Two weeks earlier than that, on September 2, they were at 79.3%. But the Brewers have once again been able to pull basically every single possible rabbit out of their hat in September. They’ve gained five games in the standings since August 31 and are now ahead of the Cubs for the final playoff spot.
The scenarios have been laid out over and over again. The Cubs almost certainly need to take five of the remaining six games against the Cardinals. Four will give them a chance and they’ll need some outside help. Today is another day. Hopefully, it is the one where things turn back positive for the Cubs.
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 153, September 19: Cubs 4, Cardinals 5 (82-71)
- Superhero: Ben Zobrist (.115). Despite missing quite a bit of time this year, Ben Zobrist remains one of the Cubs you most want to see up in a key situation. He batted with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth inning. He doubled, driving in one and setting up the game tying runs.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.081). The ghost of Anthony Rizzo returned to the field and gave the Cubs a boost with a third inning solo homer, tying the game at 1-1. The homer was his 28th and kept alive the slim chance to reach 30 homers for the fifth time in his career and the RBI was his 94th, keeping alive the chances of him reaching 100 RBI for the fifth straight season. Of course, Anthony is more interested in wins than personal accomplishments.
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.061). Willson didn’t hit it far, but it drove in a run. His infield single cut the deficit to 4-3.
- Billy Goat: Craig Kimbrel (-.315). Feast or famine. He faced three batters, struck out two and allowed the decisive homer in between.
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.182). The kid was hitless in four at bats. He’s been thrown into an impossible situation and performed more than adequately. Even with the hitless night, he is at a .289/.333/.467 with a 101 wRC+. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t seen a single Triple-A pitch.
- Kid: Kyle Hendricks (-.156). He’d won his last five starts against the Cardinals. They are too good a team for that to continue forever. He allowed eight hits, a walk and four runs in 5⅓. He struck out six.
WPA Play of the Game: With one out in the 10th inning, Matt Carpenter took Craig Kimbrel deep for the winning run. (.384)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ben Zobrist’s one-out double in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and second cut the deficit to 4-2.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 35
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -20.5
- Jason Heyward -21
Up Next: The teams are back at it for the second of four games Friday afternoon. Alec Mills will make the start for the Cubs. Alec has made two starts this year and has allowed five runs over 10⅓ innings. He’s thrown 26⅓ innings in total with a 3.42 ERA at the MLB level. This will be just his fifth major league start and the first against the Cardinals. Current Cardinals have just 11 PA against Mills with a .167 OPS, for what little that’s worth. The team has drawn two walks and had no hits. They’ve struck out four times.
Michael Wacha starts for the Cardinals. Wacha is 6-7 with a 4.76 ERA over 121 innings on the year. Over his last seven starts, he is 0-2 despite a 2.56 ERA in 31⅔ innings. Last time out, he threw five scoreless innings against the Brewers. He allowed five hits, no walks and struck out one. He hasn’t pitched past five innings in the month of September as teams embrace getting into the bullpen early with the expanded rosters. He’s only pitched once against the Cubs this year and got hit hard. Back on May 4, he allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings of work. He allowed six hits and four walks. He struck out four.
The 27-year-old right-hander has reverse splits this year, allowing a .904 OPS to RHH and only a .789 to LHH. He’s been a bit better at home (.819) than on the road (.893). Current Cubs have 274 PA against Wacha with a 1.003 (!) OPS. Both Anthony Rizzo (52, 1.121, two doubles, three homers) and Kris Bryant (42, 1.221, two doubles, two triples, four homers) have hit Wacha hard. Those two lead seven current Cubs with more than 10 PA and an OPS over 1.000.
The Cubs need to continue to hit Wacha and get the offense back in gear as the weekend series continues.
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