Friday night’s game was as much of a two-man show as a baseball game can be. Yu Darvish dazzled for seven more innings, allowing a single hit (a solo homer). Willson Contreras drove in all four runs — on three separate plays, no less. Most wins come from a balanced team contribution. This one largely came on the back of two guys. And WPA isn’t going to argue with that. The two finished about as close as you’ll see the top two be in a win.
Darvish continued his 2020 dominance and as anyone who has been paying much attention knows, he has been terrific for over a year now. If you want to dream about winning a Cy Young award, there are generally two components. The first is dominant numbers. Check. Yu is at or near the top of the NL, and indeed most of baseball, in just about every category. Second, you need a signature win or two. Obviously, 2020 is an oddball year. With the modified schedule and playing only the NL and AL Central, there aren’t games against all the best teams in baseball. But, on Friday night, there was a game against the second-place team, against that team’s acknowledged ace. And Yu went out and allowed one baserunner out of 22 batters faced. He struck out half of the batters he faced along the way to picking up his seventh win. I can certainly argue that the Cubs don’t win the game without that dominant pitching performance.
Willson Contreras batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning against Jack Flaherty. Much has been written about the Cubs being just about the worst team in baseball when the bases are loaded, and we could say that even just a few games after a grand slam. Willson worked a full count and then some, and he eventually delivered a two-run single. The Cubs eventually saw 40 pitches in the first inning and chased Flaherty early. Willson also delivered an RBI single in his second at bat. The cherry on top was a solo homer. Without a doubt, the Cubs couldn’t have won the game without those four runs. And had Willson not come through in that first at bat, who can know how this game might have changed?
Two super performances. One win. Four games remaining against the Cardinals. Now, the Cardinals can now at best only crawl within a half game of the Cubs. And they’d have to win four games in three days to do that. This will still be a tough series, but it sure started out on the right foot. Thanks Willy and Yu.
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 38, September 4: Cubs 4, Cardinals 1 (23-15)
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.300). Willson gets the nod with three hits in four at bats and four RBI. He’s had bigger offensive games in his career and some impactful moments. But this had to be one of the best combo games of his career. Three hits and four RBI and they were all key in a close, important game.
- Hero: Yu Darvish (.280). At some point, I’m going to run out of adjectives for Yu. Tonight I’m going to call him the whirling Darvish. He didn’t need a lot of help from his defenders. He struck out 11 of 22 batters and one of those he didn’t strike out hit a home run. So only 10 balls in play. Of course, that’s a perfect .000 BABIP.
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.045). Wick threw a scoreless eighth with a three run lead. He faced four batters and struck out two. The Cubs faced a total of 29 batters and struck out 14.
- Billy Goat: Kyle Schwarber (-.067). Schwarbs has had a big impact on this year’s Cubs team. But Friday night was a tough one. He was hitless in five at bats.
- Goat: Javier Baez (-.064). Javy had one hit in four at bats and scored a run.
- Sidekick: Victor Caratini (-.060). Vic drew one walk in four plate appearances.
WPA Play of the Game: Willson batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, the game was scoreless. He singled to center, driving in two. (.161)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Matt Carpenter homered leading off the sixth inning to cut the score to 3-1. (.084) He probably did David Ross a favor as that broke up the perfect game in a game where Darvish was decently running up a pitch count and would have probably needed 130 plus pitches to go the distance.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top/Bottom 3)
- Yu Darvish 17
- Ian Happ 15
- Kyle Hendricks 9
- Willson Contreras -7.5
- Kris Bryant -10
- Javier Baez -10.5
A pretty impactful game on this list. Darvish moved back into the season lead. Kyle Schwarber fell out of the top three. Contreras and Baez flip flopped in the standings.
Up Next: Saturday is doubleheader day at Wrigley Field. Under the best of circumstances, I usually look at a doubleheader and expect a split and just hope that the Cubs don’t drop two. That’s going to be the case here. The opener is going to feature Adbert Alzolay for the Cubs. He’ll be making his first start of the season. He’ll face crafty veteran Adam Wainwright. In the nightcap, there’s no listed starter at this time and Ross says it’s going to be a bullpen game. It’s likely Colin Rea will start for the Cubs. He’ll face Dakota Hudson. These matchups don’t look terrific on paper. But hey, the Cubs are 2-0 in road games at Wrigley Field. So there’s that. Let’s hope the Cubs can grab at least one and continue to keep good distance between them and the Cardinals.