The siege continues. The Cubs‘ epic fall to end the season is in full effect. The losing streak has reached nine. Just 10 days ago, the Cubs were still holding on to the final playoff spot. Sure, there had been warning signs in that regards for weeks, but just the same they were still in position. Then the losing came. Little did we know that once it came it might not stop.
So far in the month of September, we’ve been put in a position where we discussed if we should root for the Cardinals or Brewers. The Cardinals or Nationals. Now with the Cubs out of things, what do we want to see happen this weekend? The Cubs show back up and win a game or two, thereby helping the Brewers to win the Central? Or the Cubs to lay down and die, thus helping the Cardinals to win the Central? Which team would you rather see win the Central and why?
As for the game itself, the Cubs’ bats finally strung together a few runs. But Jose Quintana was just awful. In these last games, with so little interesting to talk about the game itself and so little to talk about big picture implications, we’ll continue to look at a key player from the game and look at their contributions. Today, we have two choices: Quintana and Nico Hoerner. Quintana is a depressing story. He roared back from mid-June until late August and had emerged among the top 30 pitchers in baseball by fWAR. A reminder that he could be looked at as at least a number two or three starter. But September has been a full dumpster fire and he’s going to end up with one of the worst ERAs among all qualified starters (though as I noted yesterday, the pool of qualified starters shrinks seemingly every year).
So we’ll talk about Hoerner. Hoerner was pressed into action when the Cubs managed to lose Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Triple-A shortstop Dixon Machado all within a short period of time. No one was saying that Hoerner was a finished product, but he did seem to be the best remaining option at the time. He played almost all of the playing time since coming to the big club, before being out of the starting lineup last night. The bat? It’s been about all you could ask out of a player with less than 400 regular season plate appearances in the minors. He has a line of .288/.310/.470 (wRC+ 99) in 69 PA. He has three homers and he’s driven in 15 runs. Defensively? He’s made a couple of errors and has been measured at -1 Defensive Run Saved for his short amount of time.
I always take all of the defensive metrics with a grain of salt and the ones that measure a very small sample size, I’m going to take with a whole lot of skepticism. Still, when someone asks the question “why would Nico Hoerner not make the team out of Spring Training next year?”, defense would be a fine answer. It’s hard to imagine that Nico wouldn’t benefit from a little more seasoning all around before coming to the big league team on a permanent basis.
Of course, Nico is likely to be one of the 26 best players in Cubs camp next year. Should they choose to keep him, barring an unforeseen roster transformation, they wouldn’t be looking at him to play a lot of shortstop. That would be Javier Baez’ position. In 2020, there is no chance that Hoerner is going to unseat Baez from short. Could Nico be the regular second baseman and see time at short and in center? That’s a valid question.
Right now? It’s too soon to say. Every team has change year to year and one that disappointed in 2018 and then baffled us in 2019 is definitely going to see change. We can’t know right now who will stay and who will go. In a vacuum, if the only thoughts dealt with Hoerner himself, I think I’d feel like his development was rushed if he immediately came to the major leagues. I feel like his ceiling can be higher and that there is potential still to be unlocked. Still, we are learning more and more about development and recognizing that in some cases, development can happen at the major league level. Particularly for a player that appears to be able to handle the ups and downs.
For me, then, the final call would be based on what the pieces around Nico look like. If he were with the big club and he performed about as expected, no major struggles and no major breakout, what would you project his playing time to look like? After everything is assembled, is he some kind of super sub, projected for 300ish at bats? Or would he largely be the every day second baseman and projected for 500+ at bats? In the first scenario, I’d probably send him to Iowa to get those 500+ at bats and be ready if/when there was a need. In the second scenario, then you probably want him in Chicago with a team that is most certainly still going to be in its contention window, barring major overhaul.
It’s important to say though. You can answer the question of why Nico wouldn’t make the team without it being about salary or player control. At this stage of the Cubs competitiveness, that’s the way the questions should be answered. What gives the Cubs the best chance of winning now and into the future?
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 159, September 26: Cubs 5, Pirates 9 (82-77)
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.017). Nico entered this game as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning with a runner on second and two outs. He had an RBI single to cut the deficit to 9-5.
- Hero: Ian Happ (.008). Happ had a two-run double in the sixth inning to get the Cubs on the board after falling behind 7-0. Ian has his wRC+ up to 104.
- Sidekick: Dillon Maples (.005). Dillon worked a perfect seventh, striking out the final two batters he faced.
- Billy Goat: Jose Quintana (-.302). Jose capped a horrid September with five innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, seven runs (five earned) and only four strikeouts. The only good thing was that he didn’t walk anyone.
- Goat: Albert Almora Jr. (-.044). Albert got a rare start and went hitless in four at bats. I’m sure he is one player that can’t wait for this season to end. He heads into the final weekend series with a wRC+ of 65 and a negative defensive rating.
- Kid: David Bote (-.041). Bote had one hit and struck out twice in four at bats.
WPA Play of the Game: Pablo Reyes had a two-out two run-triple in the first off of Jose Quintana. (.189)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s two-run double in the sixth inning (.034)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 35
- Kris Bryant 34.75
- Kyle Schwarber 19.25
- Jose Quintana -15.5
- Pedro Strop -19.5
- Jason Heyward -20
Injuries wrecked what could have been a wild finish at the top. Anthony Rizzo takes the top spot one more year. The bottom is very much in play. Jose Quintana is in the clubhouse at -15.5, but there are two people behind him for that bottom spot. Strop and Heyward continue to play and I could see both getting meaningful appearances this weekend against the Cardinals. Albert Almora Jr. has reached -13.5 and figures to also see a fair amount of playing time given the number of Cubs done for the season.
Up Next: The Cubs take their nine game losing streak to St. Louis for the final series of the year. What once figured to be an epic showdown with playoff implications is now just the Cubs playing out the string. Though the Cardinals have only a one game lead in the NL Central and they’ll be playing for the division title. The Cardinals have dropped their last two games after having won six in a row that included four straight against the Cubs last weekend.
Alec Mills gets the start for the Cubs. Alec is 1-0 with a 2.90 ERA in 31 innings on the year. He’ll be making his sixth career start and fourth of the season. One of those starts was against the Cardinals last weekend. In that one, he pitched very well, allowing only two hits and two walks in 4⅔ shutout innings.
Dakota Hudson starts for the Cardinals. Dakota is 16-7 with a 3.45 ERA. For old-school people who value pitcher wins, only Stephen Strasburg and Max Fried have more wins among NL pitchers. Hudson is finishing strong, going 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA over his last seven starts. One of those starts was against the Cubs. In that one, he only threw three innings, allowing three hits, four walks and three runs while striking out two. That is his only career start against the Cubs.
Who was the Cubs Goat of the Game?
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