The Cubs‘ starting rotation has been a slowly-developing train wreck for several weeks. Jake Arrieta’s performance fell off of a cliff in late April and has never stabilized. Then there was Trevor Williams’ appendix and then Adbert Alzolay’s blister. Alzolay at least is on his way back and he’s expected to return tonight. The Cubs have tried a few different options to try to stabilize their rotation, largely from the direction of the minor leagues. Alec Mills raised his hand on Sunday and offered himself up as part of the solution to the Cubs problems.
To be fair to the Cubs, Mills was also one of the walking wounded during the time period when the pitching injuries started to pile up, affecting the starting rotation. But he’s healthy now and he looked good on Sunday. Mills certainly isn’t a guy with overpowering stuff. He’s not necessarily a guy you feel comfortable seeing a lineup a third time through the order. But, as we saw on Sunday he’s a guy who can give you five innings of pretty good baseball more times than not. David Ross has not been a greedy guy when it comes to starting pitching. He’s more apt than not to get five innings, maybe let the starter begin the sixth, but then he’s turning it over to his pen anyway.
Who can blame him, really? On Sunday, the Cubs bullpen faced 12 batters and retired all of them. They struck out five and otherwise just shut down the end of the game. We’ve all sat on the other side of looking at a pen like the one the Cubs have. No decent team or its fanbase is obviously going to just concede a game because they are looking out at those guys. But it does creep into your psyche. At some point in the season, you’ll see an opposing team pulling their infield in during an unusual point in the game. Or going to a pinch hitter earlier than you’d expect. While you don’t just give up, you do start to think that if you are trailing after five, maybe six you are staring at some really long odds.
With 90 games to go in the season, you pause before making sweeping proclamations or trying to put players or teams into historical perspective. So much can change with that much time remaining. But I’m having trouble remembering the Cubs with a trio as collectively effective as Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel have been to this point. This isn’t to besmirch a half dozen or so other guys who have given the Cubs some really quality work out of the pen to add to the overall dominance of the pen. But those three men are the prized trio. They are the ones expected to throw the seventh, eighth and ninth inning when it matters most. On Sunday, Tepera gave them two innings to put the cherry on top, adding the sixth inning to their workload.
One has to feel that if the Cubs can get Matt Duffy, Nico Hoerner and David Bote back healthy and at least two of the three of them performing well (as Duffy and Hoerner were pre-injury) that the Cubs have enough options in house to try to squeeze out just enough offense to have a chance to win the division and perhaps win some games in the postseason. Certainly, the team essentially hasn’t had a backup catcher all year. You’d certainly love to grab a healthy body just to take some strain off of Willson Contreras who simultaneously looks to me like a guy trying to do too much and a guy who is worn out. But the real need for this Cubs team is starting pitching help. They need another arm or two. But maybe, just maybe in the interim Alec Mills can provide them with some stabilization there.
It’s always more fun when we can discuss a win rather than a loss. For the second Sunday in a row, we have a 2-0 win that was aided by some defensive woes by the other team. We’ll take it for sure. Let’s take a look at 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 72, June 20: Cubs 2, Marlins 0 (40-32)
- Superhero: Alec Mills (.282). 5IP (21 batters faced), 6H, 0BB, 0R, 3K (W 3-1)
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.138). 0-0, BB, R
- Sidekick: Ryan Tepera (.132). 2IP (6 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Kris Bryant (-.129). 0-4, K, DP
- Goat: Sergio Alcantara (-.075). 0-3, K
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.067). 0-3, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: With runners on first and second and one out in the fifth inning, the Cubs were winning 1-0. Joc Pederson was at the plate and facing Ross Detwiler. He singled to right, scoring an insurance run to make things just a little more comfortable for the Cubs pen. (.115)
*Marlins Play of the Game: With runners at first and third and one out in that same fifth inning, Kris Bryant grounded into an inning-ending double play against Anthony Bender. (.074)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Joc Pederson (1-4, RBI)
Craig Kimbrel (IP, 3 batters faced, SV 20)
Andrew Chafin (IP, 3 batters faced)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +18
- Patrick Wisdom +13
- Ryan Tepera +12.5
- Jake Arrieta -9
- PJ Higgins -9.5
- Ian Happ -10
Up Next: No rest for the weary. The Cubs are right back in action, facing a Cleveland team that swept them in two games last month when the teams met in Cleveland. Adbert Alzolay is set to come off of the injured list and make the start. Alzolay had been on a nice run prior to the game he pitched with the blister. He had accumulated a 2.95 ERA in 39⅔ innings of work in his seven previous starts. Over that time, he had 41 strikeouts and just six walks. He was bordering on some pretty elite performance. Aaron Civale will start for Cleveland. He is 10-2 with a 3.48 ERA.