During the course of a season there are times you’ll catch a team at the wrong time. The Cubs played a lot of games against the Pirates early in the season while the Pirates were still fighting the good fight. Fortunately, by the fourth time the Cubs ran into the Pirates, they were already headed south, the Cubs swept three games and now their 8-4 record doesn’t look nearly as bad as the 5-4 mark they had earlier.
You also sometimes catch a team at the right time. Enter the St. Louis Cardinals. They were my prediction for the NL Central champions in 2021. That wasn’t particularly the result of a lot of research or analysis. I just knew that none of the teams in the Central had done much to improve themselves. Actually, it was argued in most places that all five of the teams in the Central had actually regressed. But the Cardinals added one of the NL’s bigger stars in Nolan Arenado. On top of that, let’s be frank: There aren’t a lot of teams in baseball that more consistently churn out minor league talent better than the Cardinals. So if the talent base of the NL Central was eroding, I anticipated that the Cardinals would be best equipped to handle it.
To be fair, it does appear that some new bodies have emerged from the Cardinals system to bolster their roster. Unfortunately for them, they have suffered a number of key injuries to pivotal members of their pitching staff. The Cardinals responded the way that teams do in 2021. They leaned on their bullpen to cover a lot of innings and then played roster shuffle to keep healthy bodies and arms available. But unfortunately for the Cardinals, they are running out of healthy bodies and they are starting to have a lot of worn-out arms. On Saturday night, in a game that by the middle innings looked like it could be a game with position players pitching, the Cardinals used long time star reliever Andrew Miller in the fifth and sixth innings. Then they used their closer in the seventh inning.
Certainly, if this had been an elimination game, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt would look a bit like a mad genius. He used those leverage relievers when they game was getting out of hand and stopped the Cubs onslaught. Then, the Cardinals eventually loaded the bases in the ninth inning in a five-run game. That got Craig Kimbrel into the game for the Cubs. So there was at least some moral victory for the Cardinals and that moral victory could matter come Sunday night.
Nobody around these parts is losing sleep feeling sorry about the Cardinals going through a particularly rough patch. Over the last few decades, their struggles have been few and far between. Certainly, for a franchise that is one of the most successful in MLB history, it’s been a while since they won it all. But, year in and year out they have been good. Also, I don’t buy for a second that they are done for in 2021. But right now, they are struggling to find their footing. As Cubs fans, we certainly know the bitter taste that is being one of the best teams in the league through a point in May and then having the bottom just completely fall out. It isn’t a lot of fun.
The flip side of the coin is that it is a ton of fun to be a Cubs fan right now. The second straight win against the Cardinals last night ran the Cubs current winning streak to four games. It ran the team’s record to their high water mark at 10 games over the .500 mark. The team is 26-12 since the start of May. The Cubs have won games at the pace of a 111-win team since May 1. While that surely isn’t sustainable, it has been a lot of fun to follow.
I’m hoping that those two trends continue at least one more day. The Cardinals can keep back sliding and the Cubs can keep steam rolling. On that happy thought, we’ll jump into the numbers. 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 64, June 11: Cubs 7, Cardinals 2 (37-27)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.187). 1-3, HR (8), BB, 2RBI, R, 2K
- Hero: Sergio Alcantara (.087). 1-3, HR (2), BB, RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Kris Bryant (.075). 0-2, BB, RBI, DP
- Billy Goat: Joc Pederson (-.056). 1-4, HR (9), RBI, R, K
- Goat: Trevor Megill (-.007). ⅔ IP (5 batters faced), H, 2BB, 0R, 0K
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.003). 0-3, BB, R, K
WPA Play of the Game: The Cardinals were leading 1-0 in the second inning when Ian Happ stepped to the plate with a runner on first and one out. Ian slugged a two-run homer to give the Cubs the lead. (.199)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Nolan Arenado led off the second inning with a solo homer off of Kyle Hendricks (.107)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Kyle Hendricks (6IP, 22 batters faced, 3H, BB, 2R, 2K, W 8-4)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +17
- Kris Bryant +16
- Patrick Wisdom +12
- Jason Heyward/Eric Sogard/PJ Higgins -9.5
- Javier Baez -10
Up Next: The third and final game of the series is Sunday night. The Cubs will send Zach Davies to the mound. Zach has a 2.16 ERA over his last eight starts, including five shutout innings against the Cardinals on May 23. The Cardinals send Carlos Martinez to the hill. Martinez is going through a terrible stretch, allowing 18 earned runs over his last six innings, across three starts. I never trust what things look like on paper, but this one really looks good. Let’s go get a sweep.