After a Cubs game ends, I start mentally seeking the narrative. What are the talking points? Will I talk about the game itself? Or will I talk about the bigger picture? Al will always have the detailed blow-by-blow of the game, so I tend to either pull back the lens a bit and look at the bigger picture in more detail or get into a statistical deep dive.
After Sunday’s loss, a third consecutive loss to a team that the Cubs could have largely eliminated from competition with even a split in the series, I’ve struggled a little to find a narrative that feels right. My brain keeps settling on “the beginning of the end.” But it really isn’t. If the end is coming abruptly for the 2019 Cubs, it’s certainly disingenuous to say it’s just starting. Perhaps, it accelerated over the weekend. “The acceleration of the end” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Cliches are so ground into our consciousness that they just roll off the tongue effortlessly.
As depressed as I am this morning, I’m not ready for a post mortem piece. I guess the start of that sentence is the story really, but we’ll get back to this point in a bit. On Saturday night, I was angry. I was angry when I saw the starting lineup and Kris Bryant wasn’t healthy enough to play with Javier Baez possibly being lost for the season. I was angry when I saw Albert Almora Jr. leading off, despite his .250 OBP and .524 OPS against left-handed pitching and his .221 OBP and .504 OPS leading off. He is completely and totally the wrong person for the job. I was angry when David Phelps and Derek Holland were summoned to face hitters in a tie game with the kind of significance this game had. I understand Joe’s idea that each would retire one hitter and then Rowan Wick could try to get the final four outs. But it’s not how I’d have done things.
Al asks regularly, how is this on Joe? Here is my answer to that. On a juggernaut team, steam-rolling the competition it makes sense to consider all of the contingencies. You are really just managing risks. You don’t want a guy to have to play out of position in a key situation, you don’t want to ask a pitcher to go an extra inning, you basically don’t want to get caught unprepared. But on a team that has to fight for everything it gets, you have to take calculated risks. You have to consider all of the possibilities, recognize sometimes you are going to get pantsed and make the best call to get everything out of a situation.
I didn’t watch a lot of Joe in Tampa and I’ve not watched them the last few years. I can only assume with the group of drifters and largely anonymous guys that have gone through there while they compete with teams that have three, four and five times the payroll they do, they play that way. All too often, I feel like Joe and the whole Cubs organization is playing with one eye on the current moment and one eye on the bigger picture. Even on Sunday, the Cubs started Jon Lester with an eye on Kyle Hendricks starting a game 163 or wild card game if they should happen. But losing Sunday’s game made it more likely that those games never happen. Holding Wick back. Saving an inning on Darvish’s arm. Having Willson Contreras sit out back-to-back games. The Cubs are saving bullets for late October. I’ll be stunned if this team sees late October.
Depression. I noted that, but then got onto a tangent. Depression is what I have this morning. I’m depressed that the Cubs have breathed so much life into the Brewers’ playoff hopes. More than that, they’ve breathed hope into next year’s Brewers. They have to feel on some level that they are in the Cubs’ collective heads. They stormed back to steal the division last year and now they’ve stormed back into position to be one of three teams breathing down the Cubs’ collective neck.
I’m depressed that the division title is all but gone. If the Cardinals don’t stumble on their own, the Cubs are now basically going to be forced to win six of seven games in the head-to-head between the two teams. That will be a double edged sword, because the Cardinals will know that if they can win the majority of those games, they can knock the Cubs entirely out of the playoffs. Don’t think for a second they wouldn’t relish that opportunity after watching the Cubs knock them out of the playoffs in 2015 after they won 100 games. After they’ve watched the Cubs surpass them for control of the division the last few years.
I’m depressed, because it’s really hard to imagine the Cubs winning a huge majority of their remaining games. But you’d have to be really optimistic to think the Diamondbacks won’t. They head out to New York for four with the Mets this week. Then they come home for three with the Reds who have lost six of 10. Then they host the Marlins who are likely headed for a 100+ loss season. Then they play their final three road games at San Diego, who might lose 90. Then they host the Cardinals, who could potentially have already clinched the division for three. Then they finish with three more against the Padres. All but one of their remaining series are against fourth and fifth place teams. For a team that has been on absolute fire the last two weeks.
I’m really depressed after watching Christian Yelich and Josh Hader come through for the Brewers over and over and over again throughout the weekend. I’m jealous that the Brewers had two superstars so convincingly come through in the biggest situations. Just as they did last year. With all due respect to the consistent year-over-year performance of Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Hendricks, it just seems that the Cubs’ biggest stars just haven’t been consistently good this year. And all too often when the Cubs need some kind of hero, no one answers the bell. For a second consecutive year, there have been just too many stretches where the whole team slumps at once.
To say the least, the trends don’t look great.
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 142, September 8: Cubs 5, Brewers 8 (76-66)
- Superhero: David Bote (.110). With the odd necessity to play both third and short due to injuries, David continued to contribute offensively. He had a single and a walk in three plate appearances. He scored one run. He also struck out once.
- Hero: Addison Russell (.070). He was hit by a pitch in the head and stole a base before leaving with concussion symptoms. No matter what you think of a player, getting hit in the head is no joke.
- Sidekick: Ben Zobrist (.055). Ben had an RBI-double early on. It was his only hit in five at bats. He struck out twice.
- Billy Goat: Jon Lester (-.525). It looked a little like Jon had righted the ship the last two starts. The ship is not in any way right. Jon ended up allowing seven hits, three walks and eight runs in 5⅓ innings of work. He allowed two homers and struck out seven.
- Goat: Anthony Rizzo (-.077). Anthony was hitless in four at bats.
- Kid: Kyle Schwarber (-.070). Kyle was also hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
WPA Play of the Game: With two on and two outs, Tyler Austin stepped to the plate in the fourth inning against Jon Lester. The result? A three-run homer and that was basically all the Brewers would need. (.295)
*Cubs Play of the Game: David Bote’s single with Russell on second in the third inning ended up scoring a run after Yelich had a rare human moment against the Cubs. (.113)
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Anthony Rizzo 32
- Kris Bryant 30.75
- Kyle Hendricks 16
- !Carl Edwards Jr. -12
- Pedro Strop -20.5
- Jason Heyward -21
Up Next: The trip moves to San Diego. The Padres are 66-76 on the season, but they haven’t packed it in. They won two in a row over the weekend from the Rockies and are 5-2 when not playing the Diamondbacks over the last 10 games (5-5 overall). They have won nine of 20 and 14 of 30. So they are hanging in there down the stretch. They should not be expected to be a pushover.
Kyle Hendricks gets the opener. Kyle is 9-9 with a 3.39 ERA in 154 innings. He will try once again for his 10th win. He is 2-1 over his last seven starts with a 3.76 ERA. Last time out, he threw six innings and allowed just one run against the Mariners but ended up with a no decision. He only allowed three hits and one walk in that game. Kyle faced the Padres in July and was a tough luck loser. He threw seven innings and allowed four hits, two walks and two runs. He struck out five. He was 2-0 against them in 2018, allowing six runs in 10⅔ innings. Current Padres have just 81 PA against him with a .761. Will Myers has the most PA (17), but hasn’t done well (.588). Eric Hosmer (11, .964) and Hunter Renfroe (8, 1.518) are two Padres who have hit Hendricks well.
Cal Quantrill is the Padres starter. He is 6-6 with a 4.57 ERA in 90⅔innings in this, his first season in the majors. He is 3-4 with a 5.68 ERA over his last seven starts, covering 38 innings. He’s lost three straight and has allowed eight runs in each of his last two starts. Lefties have been the big problem for Quantrill (.837) but he’s done fairly well against right-handed hitters (.512). He’s been a bit better at home (.696) than on the road (.713). He was actually a very effective reliever (five games, .386 OPS allowed), but has been hit hard as a starter (.744). The Cubs have 17 plate appearances against Quantrill as a reliever. They amassed a .235 OPS. Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Hendricks had the only two Cubs hits in 17 PA. They drew no walks. There were six lefthanded hitters in the lineup that day.
The Cubs are going to need to figure out Quantrill and they are going to need to figure out the Padres. If they don’t do better in San Diego than they did in Milwaukee, they will not be holding onto the final playoff spot any longer.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Jon Lester, the hitter
There can be no heroes as the team goes down in flames.