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2020 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 46

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Offense missing in action wastes well pitched game

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

That Jon Lester. Every time people write him off as finished, he bounces back. That was a very good start last night. Even Jon will tell you his stuff isn’t what it used to be. His margin of error isn’t much as a result. But, when he is able to get into a groove, he is still a pretty effective pitcher. This is why that lame but entirely true cliche that Father Time remains undefeated is true. Age and skill erosion catches up to everyone. For most athletes, that happens even younger than Jon is. Most players come and go. The best players extend that peak a bit. They were so good that even at less than they are still more than the average. But it will still get you. Jon is fighting that fight every time out.

Jon Lester remains one of the most important and best signings in Cubs history. He’s thrown some of the most significant and best games in modern Cubs history. He provided veteran experience and leadership while also being fantastic on the field. Jon worked his butt off here. Because of some of the struggles he’s gone through as a professional athlete, we were able to see a hard-working professional and what that can look like. He worked to overcome the yips with throwing to bases. It isn’t always pretty or effective, but the merry-go-round on the bases did mostly go away. Sure, Jon allows an above average number of stolen bases. Some great pitchers do. We also watched Jon struggle with hitting after he came to the NL. He had that absurdly long hitless streak to start his career at the MLB level. We watched him first become a good bunter, even winning a game once as a pinch hitter with a squeeze bunt. We also watched him become a passable hitting pitcher even slugging a few homers.

I will miss Jon when he’s gone. With any luck, the Cubs will replace him with a shiny and effective new model. They will be better on the field, and possibly financially, for making that change. It will be the right move. But none of that will remove Jon Lester’s significant place in Cubs history. The bar for retiring a number is really high. I’m not sure how to really weigh in on if a guy should or shouldn’t get that honor. What amount of longevity should go into that decision. But I know that if I was placed in charge of the Cubs Hall of Fame, Jon Lester would have to be in it. I always define presence in the Hall of Fame along the lines of “Could you tell the story without them?” I don’t believe you can do a meaningful retelling of the Cubs and their rise to being a championship level team without Jon Lester.

I also know that if someone gave me an actual MLB Hall of Fame vote that Jon Lester would get my vote. I imagine he won’t get too many of them overall. I didn’t go and look him up, but I imagine he just doesn’t have enough pretty statistics. He didn’t pile up Cy Youngs. He won games, played on winning teams and won championships. My HOF would probably be a little too big and that would probably diminish the honor of the achievement. That’s okay. No one is ever going to give me that vote and I’m not going to tell the people that do it that they by and large get it wrong.

So, that’s a lot of words without really saying much about last night’s game or this Cubs season. Those are the things I usually do here. I either look at the game itself or the bigger picture. The game was a dud aside from Jon and maybe Craig Kimbrel. The bigger picture isn’t great. For every Thursday night game where the Cubs battled and strung together good at bats, there were seemingly two games like Wednesday and Friday where the Cubs bats were just over-matched.

We’ve all seen this story before. This season will eventually end because the Cubs bats aren’t quite good enough and their pitching not dominant enough to cover for an offense that under achieves. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The irony if this era of Cubs baseball is that the largest amount of gnashing of teeth was done every year about the pitching staff. Who were the back of the rotation guys? Who was going to get anyone out from the bullpen? Why is pretty much every guy down there some other teams castoff? And every year that pitching staff is above average and the bullpen is usually even better than that.

The approach to the pitching staff has continuously put together decent pitching staffs. Not great. There isn’t enough of Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks with the ability to shut down even a good offense when things are clicking. The staff isn’t going to wipe out an opponent in a playoff series in order for the Cubs to win.

But they aren’t the problem. This front office had a clear vision. They drafted hitter after hitter after hitter in the first round. Hitters have a higher percentage of panning out. But, the elite pitchers who do develop properly and stay healthy are those pitchers that can wipe an opponent out. Of course, those are rare. There was sanity to this strategy. All of those first round bats did make the major leagues. But the front office didn’t stop with Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. They traded for other people’s hitting prospects like Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. They signed away Jason Heyward, a two-way veteran who’d been a touted prospect some years before.

This group of players was build to dominate offensively. In 2016 they did that. But by and large, they have not done so since. We don’t spend nearly as much time griping about the hitters because we look out every year and see guys at every position who have an ability to be stars. The Cubs seemingly change hitting coaches every few innings because no one can keep this group going. None of it works for any great length of time. This team is stuck in second gear because this offense disappears in stretches that sometimes span days and very occasionally even weeks. That happened again last night.

Whenever this season ends, it will probably end with the Cubs offense going down with barely a whimper. The pitchers will battle and the game might be close. But I feel confident in saying when it does go, it will go because of too many squandered offensive opportunities. Too many zeroes put up by opposing pitchers.

And 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) 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. With that, let’s get to the results.

Game 46, September 11: Brewers 1, Cubs 0 (26-20)


Source: FanGraphs

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Jon Lester (.366). Jon threw six shutout innings. He allowed three hits and two walks. He struck out eight. Not dead yet.
  • Hero: Craig Kimbrel (.091). Craig continued his stretch of relief appearances with at least two strikeouts, extending a Cubs record. He threw a perfect inning and probably needs to be in the mix for key innings down the stretch, for better or for worse.
  • Sidekick: Kris Bryant (-.014). Oh, the glory of a negative sidekick. Kris did have a hit and the Cubs only had two of those and drew no walks. He also struck out three times.

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: Rowan Wick (-.183). Rowan threw a scoreless eighth inning. Then he went back out for the ninth inning. He allowed a walk and a hit and was charged with the game’s only run.
  • Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.161). Schwarbs was hitless in four at bats and struck out once.
  • Kid: David Bote (-.137). Three strikeouts in four at bats.

WPA Play of the Game: Jedd Gyorko batted following the leadoff walk issued by Wick in the ninth inning. He singled, putting runners on first and third with no outs and the rest, they say, is history. (.221)

*Cubs Play of the Game: With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth inning, the Cubs caught Avisail Garcia stealing. (.102). *I’m relatively certain this is the first time a caught stealing has ever landed in one of these spots.

Poll

Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    Jon Lester
    (109 votes)
  • 3%
    Someone else
    (5 votes)
  • 10%
    No one
    (13 votes)
127 votes total Vote Now

Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)

  • Yu Darvish/Ian Happ 16
  • Kyle Hendricks 12
  • Kris Bryant -9
  • Javier Baez -12
  • Anthony Rizzo -13.5

Up Next: Game two of the three game set with the Brewers in Milwaukee. Kyle Hendricks takes the start for the Cubs. He’ll face Brett Anderson for the Brewers. The odds-makers favor the Cubs in this one. Of course, this is a bit of a dangerous one. Hendricks has been better at home by a good margin. On the other side, Anderson is left-handed and that has been kryptonite for the Cubs.

For scoreboard watchers, the Cardinals host the Reds this evening, looking to avoid their third straight loss. The Cardinals have an ordinary set with the Reds this weekend, but play five games in three days against the Brewers starting Monday.