One of the things that keeps baseball interesting is the number of things that we as fans think we know that turn out to not be true. I’ve never wanted any back pats for saying often over the last few months of the season that this season wouldn’t end well. Primarily, that is because I do not in any way want to celebrate the failures of the Cubs. Secondarily, that is because all of the evidence was there for all to see and doesn’t represent any great accomplishment. I suspect by and large if all of us were looking at the Cubs from the outside and not as fans, we’d have all been saying all along that this team had significant problems, primarily but not only injuries, sapping the effectiveness of the team.
So what is it that I think we’d have all expected to be true that wasn’t? Last night’s game is obviously what leads me to bring that up, but it is a bigger picture than that. As the Cubs entered the final two plus weeks of the season, they had 10 games at home where they had been very good and then six games on the road to finish the season. What’s more, three of those six games were against the Pirates. So, one could look at that 10-game homestand and suspect that they might have been able to win seven or eight games. One hoped they could maybe win three or four on the road trip to end the season. The concern would be that it would be tough to win in St. Louis against a good Cardinals team that has played the Cubs extremely tough in St. Louis the last few years, even at times when their team was down a bit. So of course, the Cubs won only four of 10 on the homestand, then got swept in Pittsburgh. But now they win the first in St. Louis.
Baseball is fun.
I’ve spent the last few days looking at some guys who didn’t come to the major league team until late in the season. Ian Happ, with most of two years of major league experience, who returned to Iowa for further development and then Nico Hoerner, who was drafted last year, but rushed to the majors due to injuries. I’ve looked at their on field performance and a little bit about their future place with the team. Today, I’ll take a quick look at Alec Mills. Mills made his fourth start of the season last night and ninth appearance overall. He threw five innings and allowed just one run on a solo homer. He allowed five hits and two walks. He’s now faced the Cardinals twice in a row and allowed only a single run over 9⅔ innings of work.
Overall, Mills threw 36 innings with the Cubs this year. He finished with a 2.75 ERA, but a 4.20 FIP. The latter is obviously a suggestion that there might be some smoke and mirror to those numbers, but the former is quite good. Mills was an unheralded acquisition by the Cubs and he’s largely flown beneath the radar, but he has made a pretty strong pitch for getting a chance to make the team next year. Mills could compete for the fifth starter spot or work as a swing pitcher, working out of the pen, but being able to make spot starts when the need arises.
I’d really like to see Mills get that chance. The one fly in the ointment is likely that Mills has no remaining options. One of the things I’ve been strongly advocating and will continue to advocate is that the team needs to have a more fluid roster. One of the things that I think has hamstrung the last couple of years is the lack of roster flexibility because the team was too veteran intensive.
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 160, September 27: Cubs 8, Cardinals 2 (83-77)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.400). Happ, who we talked about in depth a couple days ago, has really made the most of extra playing time down the stretch with Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant all out of the lineup. Happ added three more hits on Friday night, including a solo homer and an RBI-double. He also scored two runs. Happ has a line of .256/.324/.526 in 148 PA (wRC+ 116). Ian dropped his K% from 36.1 to 25.0 this year (granted smallish sample) and if this holds up, will be the highest wRC+ of his career.
- Hero: Robel Garcia (.111). Robel came into the game as a pinch hitter then stayed in to get three plate appearances. He hit a three-run homer as part of the Cubs’ seven run seventh. He also walked.
- Sidekick: Alec Mills (.103). Mills notched five innings of five hit, two walk, one run ball. The one run was on a solo homer. He struck out nine.
- Billy Goat: Tony Kemp (-.102). Tony had one hit in five at bats. That was a double towards the tail end of the wild seventh inning. He scored one run.
- Goat: Victor Caratini (-.093). Vic played first and reached base only one time in five plate appearances. That was via a hit by pitch in the seventh. He scored a run.
- Kid: Albert Almora Jr. (-.055). Almora had three plate appearances in the game and reached base once, via an intentional walk.
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ has the rare distinction of not only the top play of the game, but the No. 2 play. In the seventh inning, he had an RBI double with runners on first and second with only one out. (.175) An inning earlier, he had a solo homer to tie the game at 1-1. (.172)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Matt Carpenter’s solo homer in the fourth inning. (.141)
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
Up Next: The Cardinals remain one game ahead of the Brewers for the NL Central crown, thanks to the Brewers also losing Friday night. The Cubs will continue to try to avoid watching the Cardinals clinch the division against them. They’ll send Cole Hamels to the mound for what could be his last start as a Cub. Hamels is 7-7 with a 3.92 ERA in 137⅔ innings on the season. He’s only 1-4 with a 6.90 ERA over his last seven starts. His season was completely derailed by an injury just before the All-Star break. He’s 1-1 against the Cardinals this season despite allowing no earned runs in 15 innings of work. He allowed one earned run and that was enough to lose that game. Both of those starts were pre-injury back in June.
Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals. Adam is 14-9 with a 3.98 ERA in 167⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA. He’s been hot right along with most of the rest of the Cardinals rotation. They’ve helped carry the Cardinals to this division crown (assuming they hold on to win that). Wainwright is 1-2 in four starts against the Cubs, but hasn’t started against them since the end of July. He’s worked 23 innings against the Cubs and allowed 10 runs.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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