In my day job, I do a fair amount of negotiating. Every now and then, in the middle of the negotiations, the other party breaks off the discussion and then the negotiation basically just ends. It’s frustrating because, historically at least, one side or the other would eventually say I’m willing to agree to X and if I don’t get it, I’ll walk away. It’s not a particularly friendly way to negotiate and doesn’t build rapport, but at least then I know the stakes and can decide if I want to meet their demands.
This Cubs season feels more and more like that. We all circled the final seven games against the Cardinals and thought that they would be the pivotal games of the year. That seemed obvious. Two good teams, two long-time rivals. And then add on top the obvious, those final three in St. Louis are literally the final three games on the schedule. So if either team went down to the wire, the other team would have a chance to foil those efforts.
That’s where the analogy comes in. It seemed obvious that the seven games with the Cardinals were the most important ones of the season. (If you want to suggest that baseball is 162 games and none of them are that much more important than any of the others, I totally buy that argument, and in fact often try to sell it. But bear with me here). The most important seven games were the earlier ones against the Brewers. On the morning of August 30, before the Cubs and Brewers would meet for a similar seven games in 10 days, the Cubs were in second place, 1½ games out of first. The Brewers were a distant 5½ games back.
Those first three games were in Chicago. The Brewers had just lost two out of three to the Cardinals in Milwaukee and were in trouble. The Cubs won the opener 7-1 and moved within a game of first while the Brewers moved to six back. Perhaps with another win or two, the Cubs could have pushed the Brewers to the point of no return. Alas, the Cubs didn’t score another run for the entire weekend and the Brewers won the final two games and moved within three games of the Cubs, despite remaining six back of the red hot Cardinals.
The following weekend, the Cubs again took the first game of the series in Milwaukee with a 10 run outburst in the first game. The Cub lead over the Brewers was back to five games. The Cubs did manage eight more runs over the final three games, better than the first weekend. But the results were three more losses. They were still 6½ games behind the Cardinals at the end of that series, but they’d moved to within two games of the Cubs.
Those seven games were where the Cubs playoff hopes derailed. Had they won five of seven like the Brewers had, they would have added three games onto the Brewer deficit, rather than losing three games. Instead of two games back of the Brewers, the Cubs would be four games ahead of them. With so little time, the Brewers season would be on life support.
Could the Cubs have done some things differently and flipped the results in those games? Maybe. Maybe not. But I sure bet they’d like to have realized then the massive importance of those games.
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 154, September 20: Cubs 1, Cardinals 2 (82-72)
- Superhero: Alec Mills (.250). Perhaps Mills would get exposed if he got a lot more time at the MLB level. But I, for one, am intrigued to see more of him. Mills threw 4⅔ innings and allowed two hits, two walks and no runs. On the season, he’s now thrown 31 MLB innings and has a 2.90 ERA (4.31 FIP). Clearly, that FIP says regression is imminent. He has an 87.9% strand rate that is totally not sustainable. But I’m intrigued to say the least.
- Hero: Brad Wieck (.087). Wieck was summoned with two on and two outs in the sixth. The Cardinals were already ahead 2-1 but were still threatening. He got that out to escape that inning and then two more to follow it. He retired all three batters he faced.
- Sidekick: Jason Heyward (.061). Jason had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances.
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.267). Willson was hitless in four at bats. His double play for the first two outs of the eighth inning after Kyle Schwarber had bunted his way on base was devastating. (-.205)
- Goat: Ben Zobrist (-.189). Ben pinch hit with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh and flew out. He stayed in the game and ended up making the last out of the game as well.
- Kid: Steve Cishek (-.176). After David Phelps walked the first two hitters he faced, Cishek was summoned. He walked his first batter faced, then allowed a two-run single. He bounced back and got the next two outs, but it was too late.
WPA Play of the Game: Yadier Molina’s two-run single against Cishek gave the Cards a 2-1 lead. (.156)
*Cubs Play of the Game: After Jason Heyward started the bottom of the seventh with a single, Nico Hoerner followed with one of his own. (.113)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 35
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Jason Heyward -20
- Pedro Strop -20.5
Up Next: Jose Quintana attempts to reverse this skid. Jose is 13-8 with a 4.37 ERA in 162⅔ innings. He is 3-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 33 innings over his last seven starts. Last time out, he got a no-decision against the Pirates after allowing eight hits, one walk and five runs in 2⅓ innings. Current Cardinals have 182 PA against Jose with a .910 OPS. Dexter Fowler has the most PA (29) and very good results (1.171). But it is Paul Goldschmidt who has crushed Q. He has 14 PA and a 2.027 OPS that includes three homers. Jose has pitched twice against the Cardinals and thrown a total of 10 innings while allowing four runs. He’s 1-0 this year againt the Cardinals.
The Cardinals counter with 24-year-old righthander Dakota Hudson. Dakota is 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 166⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 45⅓ innings. He and Jack Flaherty have given the Cardinals quite a 1-2 punch. Last time out, Hudson beat the Nationals with seven innings of five hit, two walk two run ball.
Hudson has been very tough on RHH (.682), but has struggled a bit against lefties (.804). The Cardinals starter has also been better at home (.686) than on the road (.806). Current Cubs have only 10 PA against him and a relatively meaningless .733.
The Cubs need a win desperately in this one to have any chance at the postseason.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Other (please leave your suggestion in the comments).