One of the fun things about sports is that we never know completely how to interpret things happen. Is your team hot? Are they playing bad teams? Did you just catch a few lucky bounces in a row? I don’t know if the Cubs have played better per se over the last 10 days, or if their opponents have played badly, or if this is basically just a bit of good fortune. Certainly, catching the Indians in the middle of a horrible tailspin was good fortune. The Reds and Brewers aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire either.
Whatever the reason, the Cubs have won seven of nine games starting from Monday of last week. That was the game I felt they needed to win against the Cardinals. That’s another unknowable. Certainly, if you could guarantee that the rest of these games played out exactly the same as they did, then that win actually doesn’t mean a whole lot in the scheme of things. Of course, if having the Cardinals just a half game behind the Cubs and having lost four of five would have caused the Cubs to play differently...
You can play “what if” games forever. It’s fun to recognize them, but I stopped that thought precisely because we can’t know and it doesn’t matter. The Cubs did win that game and appear to have gotten hot at exactly the right moment. Just like that, they are back to a season high 10 games over .500. Sure, it is frustrating that they reached that point just 16 games into the season and then took 34 games to get back there.
But it doesn’t really matter. The Cubs now own the second-best record among division leaders. If the playoffs started today, they’d have the second seed. One would think that would be an advantage, but one can’t be sure. It might actually be better to get the third spot and face the second place team from the Central. Don’t look now, but with the Brewers and Cardinals beating up on each other in the first of two five game, two doubleheader sets between them, the Reds have emerged as a possibility for that second spot.
In an experiment that I absolutely do not want to test out. With last night’s win, the Cubs probably don’t have to win another game to reach the playoffs. The math doesn’t say that yet, but I’m going to confidently say that each and every one of those teams behind them is going to lose games. Probably several of them. The Cubs are playoff-bound, but there is still work to be done. There is a division to be won. It will be, but it would certainly be nice not to rely on Cardinals losses, but to keep winning and be riding high when the playoffs start.
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 50, September 16: Cubs 3, Indians 2 (30-20)
- Superhero: Javier Baez (.270). Javy had two hits and two strikeouts in five at bats. He scored a run. And oh yeah, he delivered the walk-off single in the tenth. I don’t find it even a little surprising that starting last Monday, Javy has a line of .303/.324/.485 (wRC+ 114) and the Cubs got hot. He’s capable of much more than that obviously, but it’s a giant leap in the right direction. Amazingly, this is his first Superhero of the season.
- Hero: Cameron Maybin (.239). Two hits and an RBI in three plate appearances. He’s been a really nice pickup for the Cubs.
- Sidekick: Jeremy Jeffress/Jason Adam (.142). Each threw a scoreless inning in a tied game. For WPA purposes, in a tie game, the ninth and each subsequent inning are identical from a WPA standpoint. Each of the two relievers allowed one base runner. Jeffress via a hit and Adam via a walk.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.255). Kyle did have one walk in five plate appearances and scored a run. He’s in quite a slump himself.
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.216). Willy was hitless in four at bats.
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.161). Ian has tailed off a fair bit since he was hit in the eye by a foul ball. I hope it’s coincidental and that nothing is wrong with him. His bat really helped drive this offense for a long stretch this year. He had one hit in five at bats and scored a run.
WPA Play of the Game: Javier Baez batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the 10th. It looked like the Cubs might squander yet another golden opportunity. But he came through with a single to win the game. (.339)
*Indians Play of the Game: I do not like the way WPA treats extra innings with the modified rules. The leadoff walk issued by Jason Adam in the 10th inning to Josh Naylor gets (.198) because it put runners at first and second with no outs. In an ordinary year, if Adam allowed a leadoff double, then walked Naylor, the walk would not be worth as much. The WPA would be split over two events. If WPA were a “sainted” stat, like for instance ERA, it wouldn’t have a result like this. It would have two separate entries, one for placing the runner at second and then one for the first batter of the inning. What have now is the first batter of the extra inning being credited for both the runner at second and their play result. In this instance, Naylor had what looks like a “super walk.”
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Yu Darvish 16
- Ian Happ 14.5
- Kyle Hendricks 12
- Javier Baez/Kris Bryant -10
- Willson Contreras -10.5
- Anthony Rizzo -12.5
Assuming things stay as they are, I’ll expand the top three to a top five for the last week of the season. Due to the shortened season, we have a situation where there are five players within one theoretical game of the top spot and five within one theoretical game of the bottom spot. The potential one game swing between two players is 6 points if one is the Superhero (+3) and the other the Billy Goat (-3). This could absolutely go down to the last game for both the top and bottom spots.
Up Next: The Cubs next play on Friday. They’ll host the Twins. Kyle Hendricks will start the opener for the Cubs. Old pal Rich Hill will start for the Twins. Rich didn’t magically start throwing right handed in his “old” age. So this will be another test for the Cubs against a lefty. Hopefully Hendricks will be his usually unbeatable self at home and the Cubs can keep it rolling.
Scoreboard Watching: The Cardinals move on to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates over the weekend. This is a weekend where they will need to pile up some wins. They have five games in four days there. They have to be hoping they can get at least four wins there to keep some chance at the NL Central crown alive.