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2021 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 159

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Two wins in a row is a winning streak

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

I remember a game years back where the players were kind of like stocks and you tried to buy low and sell high and build a super team. It always felt a little clunky and I didn’t play it very long. I imagine there are some similar types of things since I know a lot of the daily fantasy sites use some algorithms for the prices of the players as you construct your team. Sort of similar while being completely different if you will.

I bring this up, because if I were an investor and we were investing in the “stocks” of baseball players, I wouldn’t be buying Rafael Ortega. Whatever 2021 was, his value right now is certainly through its own roof. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not at Mike Trout levels or even everyday player levels long term, I wouldn’t think. But, as I sometimes do, I’m taking a very roundabout way of saying that Rafael has squeezed just about everything out of this season that anyone could have ever dreamed on.

I can’t say it enough: Good for him! You really have to be happy for the guy. And for Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel and any of the other guys who had some career moments after years of toiling in obscurity. It’s easy to forget how many players around the world of professional baseball play in some level of anonymity. They keep at it and keep hoping that they might have the Ortega story: That the right combination of injuries and trades would happen and you would get the call. And not only that you’d get the call but you’d grab the bull by the horns, so to speak, and really run with it.

You really couldn’t hope for much more than a three-homer game. Or another game where you are credited with a homer and a steal of home. With Thursday night’s game, he’s gotten 320 plate appearances and has 11 homers and 11 steals. Basically, in half a season, he paced out to a 20/20 season. He’s got a line of .289/.358/.467 (wRC+ 121). The closest thing to a downside I could ever come up with for his story is that it could in a weird way be even more frustrating. Here he is in his age-30 season putting up borderline star numbers. Especially for a centerfielder. I don’t know how he could not wonder if he’d gotten a real look somewhere earlier if he “could have been a contender.”

There’s no way he can ever know. Whatever happens in 2022 won’t answer the question. He’ll be 31. That’s an age where even some of the stars start to fade a little. Certainly not all of them, but it is far from unusual for even the better players in the game to start fraying around the edges. If he’s not successful, does that mean he’s over exposed and that 2021 was a fluke? You just can’t know.

I am certainly a person who believes that scouting and player analytics are the best they’ve ever been. But baseball is such an enormous sport. There are so many guys in so many organizations, professional and amateur, There are so many players playing on so many fields with so many different levels of coaching and player development. There is no way that all of the talent is being discovered, that all of the players are developed properly, that all of the guys who deserve a shot get it. Is Ortega a guy that the world just missed on? Again, just no way to know.

I’d hope that he can just relax and enjoy every minute of this. As with any of our lives, you can what if yourself to death. There are so many roads and paths in life that are available to a person. Sometimes, you take the obvious road and there was a hidden path that would have led you to an amazing outcome. And sometimes you get lost in the weeds on a wild goose chase and end up wasting time and resources. We all as people make the best decisions we know how to make. We assess risk and reward and the balance of both and do the best we can. Hopefully, if we are lucky enough and pragmatic enough, we get it right more than we get it wrong.

The 2021 Cubs were the season of the underdog. There have been so many interesting stories. I know the tendency of casual fans is to be “fair-weather fans” or “bandwagon-jumpers.” Obviously, that makes so much sense. It’s almost always easier to follow a winner. I think if this season had fallen in a different place, it would be kind of a beloved season. So many Chicagoans love these kinds of stories. Certainly Frank Schwindel has been wholly embraced. I think Ortega and Patrick Wisdom have been to varying degrees at least cautiously beloved.

Of course, it’s just really hard after watching a team that seemed built to win championships (plural). That team unraveled faster than any of us were happy with. Management made its fair share of mistakes and were caught flat footed a couple of more times than was healthy. This season particularly has been one of pretty hefty frustration for Cubs fans. Those who frequent sites like Bleed Cubbie Blue and try to be insiders on all of the moves were certainly frustrated. From day one there was a definite appearance of a team that didn’t pick a lane. They didn’t add any kind of firepower to increase their chances of one more run while the core was together. But they also didn’t make any real effort to try to unload some of those expiring contracts while they had a whole year of control left.

Strangely, they made just one major preseason deal, sending Yu Darvish to the Padres and then added insult to injury by including Victor Caratini into the mix. I always love when life challenges my opinions. I always kind of looked at Caratini as a guy who never quite realized his potential. Clearly in 2020 he was overused as the DH was deployed in the NL without time for teams to find an extra bat to utilize. But, the backup catcher spot on the Cubs roster was a flat-out disaster until late in the year when Robinson Chirinos arrived.

And, of course, disaster would be a charitable description for replacing Darvish with Zach Davies in the rotation. Talk about a move that just didn’t work out. Speaking of Chicagoans and the way they can fawn over or disdain a player, I think one of the bigger mysteries of the 2021 season will be how much more ire there was about Eric Sogard than Davies. Sogard, to me, was a perfectly fine 26th man. Of course, he ended up playing way too much after Matt Duffy and then David Bote were hurt. He was certainly bad here, but so has Davies been.

Count me in among the group who thought that Davies could be a bargain-basement replacement for Darvish. He certainly wasn’t going to be a Cy Young contender like Darvish had been. But, I thought he could make 30 starts, keeping the team in 20+ of them with maybe an ERA around 4 or a bit lower. Boy, was I wrong. He was, at least this year, the worst possible 1-2 punch in production terms. First, he was largely ineffective. There were a number of flat-out terrible starts. And second, he offered very little length. Even when he was decent, they were looking to have him out of the game somewhere in the middle innings. And I’m certainly not suggesting mostly the sixth. It was six in the best starts and sometimes not even five in some of the decent ones. That move just did not work out, even in the short term.

But enough retrospection. There will be time for many a post-mortem after the season is over. For now, let’s look at one of the more impressive wins of the season. The Cubs have now beaten the Pirates 14 times. They’ve won 69 games. For ease of math, if the Cubs take exactly one game from the Cardinals over the weekend, then exactly 20 percent of the Cubs wins will have come against the Pirates. If they hadn’t played 19 games against the Pirates this year, this Cubs team might have had a shot at 100 losses.

As you’ll recall, 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. And now, let’s get to the results.

Game 159, September 30: Cubs 9 at Pirates 0 (69-90)


Source: FanGraphs

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Rafael Ortega (.181). 2-4, HR (11), BB, RBI, 2R, 2SB
  • Hero: Sergio Alcantara (.164). 3-4, HR (5), 3RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Justin Steele (.101). 7IP, 24 batters faced, 4H, BB, 7K (W 4-4)

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: David Bote (-.026). 1-3, RBI, R, K
  • Goat: Matt Duffy (-.008). 2-5, RBI
  • Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.005). 0-5, RBI, K

WPA Play of the Game: Sergio Alcantara batted with a runner on first and one out in the second inning, the Cubs already up one. He homered and the rout was on. (.162)

*Pirates Play of the Game: With the Cubs already up one, Michael Chavis led off the bottom of the first with a single off of Steele. (.038)

Poll

Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Rafael Ortega
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    Sergio Alcantara
    (6 votes)
  • 67%
    Justin Steele
    (51 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (1 vote)
76 votes total Vote Now

Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)

  • Frank Schwindel +32 (-1)
  • Kris Bryant/*Patrick Wisdom +26
  • Craig Kimbrel +20
  • Rafael Ortega +19 (+3)
  • Trevor Megill -10
  • Rex Brothers -11.5
  • David Bote -19 (-3)
  • Jake Arrieta -19
  • Zach Davies -25

Up Next: The Cubs head to St. Louis and I head to Myrtle Beach for a vacation. I fully anticipate getting all three of the final H&G pieces for the year done on normal schedule. But if life takes an odd turn, you heard it here first. Relatedly, I will not have the customary end-of-the-year look at the final H&G standings right away. It will probably come out somewhere around a week after the end of the season. It will, of course, depend on the happenings with the playoffs and my schedule. But please stay tuned for it. I’ll bring you the full list of all of the players who accumulated H&G points this year. The list is massive (and there is still an outside chance of one or two more). I’ll also list the highest and lowest WPA game scores of the year.

As for the game Friday in St. Louis, as I write, mlb.com still had TBD for the Cubs starting pitcher. CBS Sports seems inclined to believe that Adbert Alzolay will make the start. If that is the case, it’ll be interesting to see if that is Alzolay getting a “start” and being allowed to go several innings into the game if performance allows, or a relief appearance. Perhaps throwing an inning or two. He did work 3⅔ innings the last time out. So he’s still somewhat stretched out. I could make an argument for either. The still red hot Cardinals will start Dakota Hudson (1-0, 4.91). Hudson made 32 starts for the Cardinals in 2019, but is making just his second appearance of 2021 after Tommy John surgery last year.