I started writing Heroes and Goats in 2017. That was, therefore, the first time I got to cover silly season baseball. I’m fairly certain that I didn’t coin that term, but I’m not even sure that the reference I saw was to baseball. I really can’t remember the origin. For me, silly season baseball involves a game played between two teams that are mathematically locked into place for the final standings for that year. This game would qualify. The Cardinals have been locked into the second wild card spot for a while and obviously, the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention
sometime in June weeks ago. Of course, prior to 2019 “silly season” was even sillier than it is now, because it used to be accompanied by larger expanded rosters.
I’m reminded of a game from 2017 that was part of silly season baseball. I’m sure that because it was my first time through it, the game sticks out in my memory. But whatever the reason, the game happened September 29, 2017. That was game number 160 for the Cubs that year. In that one, the Cubs were losing 4-2 against the Reds going into the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs were well on their way to the playoffs, having won the NL Central for the second straight year. The Reds had already lost 92 games and were going nowhere.
With the Cubs trailing by two in the bottom of the eighth, Ian Happ stepped to the plate against Michael Lorenzen. Happ slugged a three-run homer and the Cubs nailed down a win. It wasn’t a game they needed to have. It didn’t really change anything. But Happ hit his 24th homer of 2017 and it won a game for the Cubs.
Back to 2021: Happ and the Cubs were on the road. So now, Happ’s homer came with two outs and a man on base in the top of the ninth inning, a home run of the clutch variety. That is, a homer with his team losing in the ninth inning that put his team ahead. This time around, it was his 25th homer. But once again, the Cubs stole a win late from the proverbial jaws of defeat. It doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things, but just the same, it was a neat moment for Ian and his teammates. All things being equal, winning is significantly more fun that losing.
We’ve been down this road before and talked about Happ, but just bringing it up to date, Happ has a season line of .227/.323/.436 (wRC+ 101). All of those numbers are below his career averages. For a guy who is only 26 years old, and is under team control, I think you have to just let it ride.
Earlier this week we discussed David Bote and his performance this year, and one of the things that I said was essentially that the Cubs have bigger fish to fry. You can’t turn the team into an expansion team. You can’t be trying to replace 20 plus spots on the 26-man roster. You have to identify some guys who are at least okay for now. I’m fine with the concept that if you said: “The Cubs will win the World Series in 2024 and neither Bote nor Happ will still be part of the team.” But, you still have to build a bridge between here and there. Happ should absolutely be part of the mix in 2022 while he’s still in his arbitration years and not crazy expensive.
Ian’s home run wasn’t the only big deal of the day for the Cubs. Trayce Thompson also hit his first career grand slam. That gave the Cubs the lead for a time tonight. Unfortunately, the generally dependable Cubs bullpen coughed up n the lead in this one. But, the Cubs didn’t get down and didn’t let it beat them. For Trayce, he now has a 1.238 OPS over 32 plate appearances. Small sample sizes can produce some fun numbers.
There’s just one game left in the 2021 season. But before we can get there, we’ve got to recap this one. 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 161, October 2: Cubs 6, Cardinals 5 (70-91)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.726). 1-3, HR (25), BB, 2RBI, R
*Happ turns in the second-biggest WPA game of the season by a Cubs player. The game I mentioned earlier from 9/29/2018, Happ also had the biggest WPA game of that season.
- Hero: Trayce Thompson (.516). 3-4, HR (4), 4RBI, R
*This now registers as the ninth-biggest WPA game of the season by a Cubs player. It’s pretty unusual to have two scores this high in a game that didn’t go into extra innings.
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.188). IP, 4 batters faced, BB, 2K (Sv 5)
- Billy Goat: Michael Rucker (-.486). 2IP, 9 batters faced, 3H, 3R (0ER)
- Goat: Johneshwy Fargas (-.197). 0-4, DP
- Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.140). 1-5, 2R
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s two-out, two-run, go ahead homer in the top of the ninth inning. (.745)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: With two outs and runners on second and third, in the seventh inning, the Cubs were leading 4-3. Dylan Carlson faced Michael Rucker and singled. Two runs scored. Carlson was out trying to advance to second on the play. That will temper the overall WPA effect just a bit. (.385)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Matt Duffy (2-4, BB, 2B, R)
Jason Adam (IP, 3 batters faced, 2K, W 1-0)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +29 (-1)
- Kris Bryant/*Patrick Wisdom +26
- David Bote -19
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -25
The bottom three are set. None of those players will play again and no one else can catch them. The top three are the three players who will be in the top three. Only Schwindel will play Sunday. He’s never had a Billy Goat in his short career. If he were to have one on the final Sunday of the year then the Rizzo Award would be a three way split between he, Kris Bryant and Patrick Wisdom. I’d be amused if the Rizzo Award were split three ways between players who all spent time at first for the Cubs in 2021.
Up Next: The weather didn’t wash away Saturday night. There is a chance that it washes Sunday’s game away. If not, there is one final game against the Cardinals. Alec Mills (6-7, 5.09) is slated against Jake Woodford (3-3, 3.88).