Not too many people in or around the Cubs organization will dispute that Craig Kimbrel’s seasons with the Cubs in 2019 and 2020 were disappointing. Both years were out of the ordinary for him. In 2019, Kimbrel was still a free agent all of the way through the All-Star break when the Cubs signed him. He had to get ramped up in a very different way than he had in the past. 2020 had a more or less normal start to spring training but, of course, COVID-19 happened.
In both of those seasons Kimbrel was somewhere between below average and bad, certainly well below his potential Hall of Fame resume. I never watch a lot of baseball that doesn’t involve the Cubs being one of the teams on the field and so I hadn’t seen a ton of Kimbrel. But I had read the stats, all of the seasons where he had more saves than hits allowed, the career of more strikeouts than baserunners allowed. Even now, he’s recorded close to 1,000 strikeouts in his career and a little over 500 hits and walks. His numbers have bordered on video game numbers.
Until he got to the Cubs. Prior to 2021, the numbers had been beyond substandard for him. But so far, so good in 2021. But so far here in 2021, he is absolutely back. Small sample size warnings of course apply, but he has 9 strikeouts in 4⅔ innings and has yet to allow a hit or walk. Without doing any internet searches, this had to be Kimbrel’s best game as a Cub to date. He inherited the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning and recorded the final five outs, including two strikeouts to strand the bases loaded in the eighth.
Legends are made out of performances like that. A lights-out closer can steal a game or two along the way. The Cubs have watched the Brewers and to a lesser extent the Cardinals steal games out of their bullpens for the last few years. The Cubs have had a decent statistical pen, but have lacked that “guy” who just nailed down even the tough ones. In the Central, that’s been tough, because even the Reds have had Raisel Iglesias who had that kind of talent.
Maybe. Just maybe, Kimbrel can be that guy for the Cubs. We can only hope.
With that, we’ll turn our attention to Heroes and Goats. 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. With that, let’s get to the results.
Game 7, April 8: Cubs 4 at Pirates 2 (4-3)
- Superhero: Craig Kimbrel (.383). 1⅔IP (5 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, 3K (Save, 2)
- Hero: Javier Baez (.301). 2-3, HR (2), BB, 2RBI, R, SB, K
- Sidekick: Rex Brothers (.149). 1⅓IP (4 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, 3K
- Billy Goat: Dan Winkler (-.252). 0IP (3 batters faced), 0H, 3BB, 0R, 0K
- Goat: David Bote (-.155). 0-4, DP
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.070). 1-4, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: With the Cubs trailing 2-1, Javier Baez batted with a runner on first and one out in the sixth inning. He hit a two-run homer to give the Cubs the lead. (.301)
*Pirates Play of the Game: With a runner on second and two outs in the fourth inning, Adam Frazier batted with the score tied at one. He singled, driving in the go ahead run. (.124)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Up Next: Game two of a three-game set on Saturday. Zach Davies will make the start for the Cubs.