The 2020 season has been like a bad roller coaster for the Cubs. There was that 13-3 start, but then it has yo-yoed up and down since. The recent stretch of seven wins in nine games feels like a distant memory these days. The pitching staff has been very good here in September, but the offense just hasn’t been good at all. The recent results have been four losses in five games, including two straight to the Pirates who appear to have a lock on the No. 1 overall pick next year unless they miraculously catch the Rangers over the waning days of the season.
Kyle Hendricks did something he’d only done once before last night. He allowed back-to-back homers to start the game. He’d face 27 other batters and none of those would score. That’s pretty odd. As of this morning, he’s thrown more innings than any pitcher in baseball. I suspect when the dust settles, he will have led the NL in innings pitched and be second or third in the MLB. Ho hum. Kyle was good again in 2020. Not in a Cy Young, dominate you every time out kind of way. Aside from that fantastic 2016 season, that’s not been his thing. He’s just quietly one of the better pitchers in baseball every single year. People like Kyle sometimes go on to be interesting Hall of Fame conversations. He might never be an All-Star and might never win a Cy Young. But we do know he’ll have at least one World Series ring. When wins are no longer a real barometer for making the Hall, the questions are going to get murkier and murkier for pitchers.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’d not want to see anything like this format ever again for MLB. But, in making the most of what this season has to offer, it sure is making one crazy finish. The wildest thing going on is probably the push the Indians are making in the AL Central. If they beat the White Sox again today, they’ll have a chance to go from third place to a division title in the week’s final season. The Reds have also made an epic push and have a 30 percent chance of finishing in second place, per Fangraphs. Four NL teams have clinched playoff spots and those four teams are a virtual lock to be the top four seeds in the playoffs. There are eight teams mathematically alive for the last four spots. One, the Rockies, figures to be eliminated today. The other seven teams for four spots race figures to go down to the last day of the season, and possibly into an extra day for the Cardinals.
A tip of my cap to the Reds. They stayed the course at the trade deadline, neither dealing away talent, nor adding any. They are attempting to win with what they have in-house. What they have in-house is a better version of what the Cubs have. A strong rotation, an occasionally explosive but otherwise unspectacular lineup, and a pretty dependable bullpen. The difference between the two clubs is that there is a pretty decent gap between Jon Lester and Sonny Gray at this point in their respective careers. This morning, despite them being much less certain to make the playoffs than the Cubs (100 percent to 86), Fangraphs has them more likely to win it all (5 percent to 4.5).
It’s going to be a wild finish. I cannot imagine what baseball would be like this weekend in Chicago if this match-up happened with fans in the park. The Cubs and the White Sox will be playing a three-game set. There is no chance either team clinches their division before the series starts. Both are very much alive to win their division, though the White Sox no longer own the distinction of controlling their own fate. The South Side of Chicago would be a cauldron just waiting to bubble over. As it is, I’m sure there will be some tension in the city in a year where the political culture and the pandemic already have the average person more tense than they ordinarily are.
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 56, September 23: Pirates 2, Cubs 1 (32-24)
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.136). I’ve seen a lot of balls die in the outfield this week in Pittsburgh. The two fly balls Kyle allowed to the first two hitters he saw did not. Kyle stayed around to throw 7⅔ innings, allowing seven hits and one walk. He struck out three.
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.033). I can’t recall ever having someone land here for a pinch running appearance. Nico advanced to second on a wild pitch.
- Sidekick: Billy Hamilton (.024). So I certainly don’t remember it happening twice. Hamilton’s first appearance in H&G is via a pinch run and stolen base.
- Billy Goat: Javier Baez (-.239). If you haven’t seen the stat yet, Javy Baez grades out statistically as the worst hitter in baseball among regulars. It’s sad and painful to watch at times. It’s hard to say what “killed” a team when they are likely to win their division. But Javy batting near the top of the order for most of the year has been a detriment. He was hitless in four at bats and struck out twice.
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.239). That was a really great at bat against Rich Rodriguez to end the game. But it ended in a strikeout just the same. Ian had one hit and five at bats. He struck out twice.
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.144). Willy was hitless in four at bats and struck out once.
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ struck out with a runner on second and Anthony Rizzo in the on deck circle to end the game. (.113)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Anthony Rizzo homered for the second consecutive game and actually second consecutive at bat. (.099)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Kyle Hendricks 18
- Yu Darvish 16
- Jason Heyward 14.5
- Ian Happ 12.5
- Jason Kipnis 11
- Victor Caratini -8
- Willson Contreras -8.5
- Anthony Rizzo -10.5
- Kris Bryant -14
- Javier Baez -20
On the upside, Kyle Hendricks is probably locked at 18. He could cameo on Sunday in theory, but he’s likely done right where he is. So, those behind him are going to have to rally to catch him. Yu will have a start and a chance to take the top spot. On the down side, Javy Baez has pulled away from the pack and is the first player to reach +/-20 for the season. I’ve no doubt he’ll have a chance to reverse course over the final four games.
Up Next: The final game of the four game set is this afternoon. Alec Mills will make the start for the Cubs. He will face Chad Kuhl. Mills has been throwing the ball well and the Cubs have hit Kuhl pretty hard in the past. The odds makers are favoring the Cubs in this one. Let’s hope they get it done and the Cubs can tick another one off the magic number before the series with the Sox begin.