Russ La Croix began the Heroes and Goats series back in 2014, so he had the experience of covering not-meaningful baseball. In my two plus years of carrying the torch, this is the first time I’ve had this experience. In a way, this feels to me like covering an exhibition game. Don’t get me wrong, when Kyle Hendricks hadn’t allowed a hit through five, I got a little excitement. Even when he had thrown a shutout through six on just one hit, I was really happy for him.
But gone was any sense of “this will be a big win.” Gone is any sense of “this will get us over the hump and we’re about to go on a roll.” Yes, technically the Cubs entered Tuesday night’s game with the slightest of playoff hopes. Even this morning as I write this about last night’s game, they still have one scenario where they win all of their remaining games, the Brewers lose all of their remaining games and the two teams square off in a one game playoff for the second wild card spot. That scenario is certainly not going to happen.
For a true fan, there is no joy in pointing out that you see cracks in the foundation. I started writing months ago that things weren’t right. That this wasn’t the caliber of Cubs team we’ve seen in recent years. I wrote a few weeks ago that the next Cubs skid was likely to take them out of the playoffs. Even as I wrote that, I was trying to say that a two- or a three-game losing streak would probably run them out of the playoffs because four teams were going to end up with pretty similar records while competing for only three spots. Not in the wildest scenarios in my head did I see this team reaching its high water mark at 14 games over .500 with 12 games to go in the season and then losing seven straight.
I’ve lived long enough and followed this team long enough that I can’t really say I haven’t seen anything like it. Each season has its own unique traits, but by and large we have seen the Cubs be in contention and then the bottom fall out. Still, this is pretty stunning even with the cracks that have been there all season long, and really dating back to last season, for all to see. But there is no joy in spiking the ball about forecasting doom. I know that if you are a true Cubs fan, you are experiencing or have experienced at some point over the course of this meltdown, anger, frustration, sadness, and maybe numbness. For me, right now I’m well into the numb with just a hint of sadness that I’m feeling that way.
I imagine today will finally bring the official “Wait ‘til next year day.” That is, the day in which the team is fully and completely eliminated. The tragic number sits at one. The next Brewers win or Cubs loss seals the deal. The only good news about that is that once it finally comes, a bunch of veteran Cubs who are dealing with injuries can shut it down and make way for some kids to get some playing time over the last few 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 157, September 24: Cubs 2, Pirates 9 (82-75)
- Superhero: Kyle Schwarber (.145). Kyle had two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. One of those hits was a double. Kyle is working on finishing with the best stat line of his career. He’s up to .246/.336/.527 (wRC+ 118, fWAR 2.5). He produced more fWAR in less time last year, but that difference is entirely defensive. He’s tied the highest average of his career and has the highest slugging percentage of his career by a wide margin.
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.125). Nico had two hits in four at bats and drove in both Cubs runs. One of the hits was a double. Nico has a line of .295/.328/.492 in 64 PA (wRC+ 107). Nico doesn’t have a real body of work in the minors, but for a guy with decent speed and the ability to play up the middle defensive positions, that’s not a bad line at all.
- Sidekick: Derek Holland/Tony Kemp (.000). Holland retired the only two batters he faced. Kemp walked in his only plate appearance.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.262). When we talk about vintage Kyle, sadly both parts of this game are part of the equation. Kyle was dominant for six scoreless innings. He started the seventh and was hit hard, allowing five runs on five hits. Joe Maddon used to get a lot of criticism for pulling Hendricks early from starts. But there are certainly still days where Kyle loses it really fast. His overall numbers don’t highlight any particular problem. Kyle has allowed a .577 OPS the first time through the order, .799 the second and .752 the third. Certainly, the first time through is elite. But the second and third times through are still workable numbers.
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.111). Willson reached twice with a double and a walk. He scored one run. The big moment WPA-wise for Willy was his strike out in the fifth with one out and runners on second and third (-.082).
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.093). Ian had one hit in four at bats. He followed Contreras in the order and made the third out in the fifth inning (-.060).
WPA Play of the Game: Nico Hoerner’s fourth inning double with one out and a runner on first gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead. (.150) This is the first time Nico’s been credited with the Play of the Game.
*Pirates Play of the Game: Hendricks’ demise was one steady death spiral and so there were a lot of smaller events rather than one large event. The top spot goes to Jose Osuna for his single to put runners at the corners in the seventh with no outs. (.138)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 35
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Kyle Schwarber 19.25
- Jose Quintana -12.5
- Pedro Strop -19.5
- Jason Heyward -20
With five games to go, both the top and bottom spots are still up for grabs. Anthony Rizzo has been the long time king of Heroes and Goats and he looks set to win yet another Superhero of the Year award. At the bottom, Strop and Heyward are both likely to get chances all of the way down to the end.
Up Next: The Cubs will look to snap their seven-game losing streak. The Pirates just snapped a nine game losing streak. A matchup of two of the coldest teams in baseball. Jon Lester (13-10, 4.51) makes his final start of the season for the Cubs. Jon is 3-0 and has allowed seven runs in 19⅔ innings over four starts against the Pirates this year.
The Pirates start 24-year-old rookie Dario Agrazal. Dario is 4-5 with a 5.08 ERA. The young right-handed pitcher has never faced the Cubs. He has been shuffling back and forth between the rotation and the minor leagues this season and now he’s started the last five times through the rotation.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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