Maybe all they needed was about a week off? Or a team having a worse season than they are? I’m going to bet on the second one. The Cubs opened the second half with a win. Depending on what the Brewers do and how drastic the Cubs trading of players is, that will be the maddening thing of the second half. There are a lot of winnable games. There is a very real chance of the Cubs having a decent second half. If the Brewers come back to Earth somewhat, then the Cubs will miss winning the division by that unspeakably bad two weeks.
Maddening, that is, unless you have been team rooting for the rebuild to start already. I’m old-fashioned. My brain understands what a Chicago area sports radio guy always used to say. If you aren’t making moves with an eye on your next championship, you are doing it wrong and going in the wrong direction. I’m not sure if I’ve captured the spirit exactly, but very close. Certainly, keeping things together to try to win this division to just confirm how overmatched this team would be in the post season. But as I started to say, I’m old fashioned. I root for my team to win. There is another game tonight, I’ll root for them to win that one. And tomorrow’s and then the one after that.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t embrace the change when it comes. It is long overdue that things change and move forward. As frustrating as it is, the sum of this core has always been less than the sum of the parts. We hear people talk about it in the other direction so often, but this has been a chance to see a core that looks like it should be a perennial contender, and to be fair it was for a while, but for some reason just doesn’t. I’m happy for Joc Pederson that he gets a chance to try to push the Braves over the top and back into the postseason. I hope he gets hot and gives them a boost. A power-hitting first baseman is something the Cubs haven’t had very often in the minors. Generally opting for a hodgepodge of non-prospects and guys on one year deals. When they had a guy like Daniel Vogelbach, they eventually sent him away. Justin Bour is another one they had that got away who had some success elsewhere.
Shifting gears to the one really positive thing going on with the Cubs this season. Kyle Hendricks remains one of the most under rated stars in modern baseball. If you run pitching statistics of the current era of baseball, he’s going to keep popping up on the list. The thing is, he usually shows up third or fourth or fifth. The other thing is, he’s on all of the lists. He just keeps on doing his thing. He never has that flashy season. Even when he had his flashiest season in 2016, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were also doing some pretty special things and so even on his own team he flew under the radar.
I really want to be writing about what I’m going to be most motivated by on the field following the Cubs. Can he do it? Kyle Hendricks won his 12th game last night in his 19th start of the year. With 71 games remaining, he could have as many as 14 more starts. Of course, one of those would be on the final Saturday of the regular season. That would mean he stayed completely on schedule starting every fifth game for the remainder of the season. Winning eight of them, even on a below average team, doesn’t seem crazy.
Max Scherzer in 2016 was the last National League pitcher to reach that 20-win plateau. Jon Lester just missed with 19. Did I mention that Hendricks gets over shadowed even when he does do remarkable things? Of course, we have to go all of the way back to... 2015 for a Cub winning 20 games. 22 in fact. That is Jake Arrieta.
It’s certainly too early to talk about it in earnest. It’s a long way away. There’s a reason, particularly in modern baseball, that pitchers generally don’t get there. Wins for starting pitchers are a dying breed. But Kyle Hendricks will one day close the book on his career. He is so criminally under rated that he might get completely ignored as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. An accomplishment like 20 wins, particularly on a subpar team, it would be a nice boon to that candidacy. I don’t know where he’ll fit. The way we evaluate pitchers is changing because of the change in the way starting pitchers are used. But I do know that he should at least get a discussion.
He’s in his age 31 season. So he’s got a lot of career left. If you click through his Baseball Reference stats, you’ll see a pitcher who is somewhere between a quarter and a half way to the statistics that one might need. At 31, as a pitcher who doesn’t rely on velocity, you might be inclined to say that he’s half way through his career. But, realistically, you usually have to do your damage in the front half of your career. Certainly, Randy Johnson could tell you that it isn’t always the case. And again, we are certainly changing the way we think about pitchers. Does a guy who is generally somewhere around the fourth or fifth best pitcher every year merit the Hall? My gut usually says that you have to have been THE guy once or twice at least. Win a Cy Young. But does it matter if he’s on average the fourth best pitcher every single year with the understanding that one, two and three rotate regularly?
I’ll disclaimer here. I’m talking out of context here. I didn’t comb through any stats to say that he’s there at fourth every year. It sure feels that way, but he’s been a little more pedestrian some years. But then when you start looking at three year, four year, five year stretches. He’s always there. Again without statistics, I think of guys like Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Even using Mussina is a mistake because he was THE guy at least once. But these types of pitchers have had some trouble getting traction in Hall discussions. Being the glue that keeps it together isn’t the same as being the guy who was the best for a few seasons and then just flames out.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Kyle Hendricks has been a joy to watch. I imagine he will continue to be for several more years. I hope those years are in Chicago. I was there when he shut the Cardinals out on a cold May afternoon in 2019 with fewer than 100 pitches. That wasn’t the last time I went to Wrigley Field, but having moved from the Midwest, it’s possible that it will be one of the last games I ever attend there. That will be in my best memories ever from Wrigley Field. None can match the 1-0 Javier Baez/Johnny Cueto NLDS game. There were some really great Ryne Sandberg games and more great Sammy Sosa games than I can count. But Kyle mowing down the Cardinals ruthlessly — I’ll definitely remember that one. Keep it going Kyle. It sure is fun to watch.
Let’s not waste any more time with a trip down memory lane. Let’s get to the numbers. Baseball happened. We have, including last night’s game, 72 more of these to get through before we can get back to the offseason and seeing what lays ahead. 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 91, July 16: Cubs 5, Diamondbacks 1 (45-46)
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.269). 6IP (25 batters faced), 6H, 3BB, R, 4K (W 12-4)
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.134). 1-1, HR (6), 2RBI, R
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.095). 2-3, HR(11), HBP, RBI, R, DP
- Billy Goat: Kris Bryant (-.082). 0-4, 2K
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.061). 1-4, R, K
- Kid: Jake Marisnick (-.031). 0-2, HBP, SF, RBI, K
WPA Play of the Game: When Jason Heyward was sent into the game to pinch hit in the top of the seventh inning, the Cubs were leading 3-1. There was a runner on first and two outs. He slugged a two-run homer to give the Cubs some breathing room ahead of turning the game over to the bullpen. (.134)
*Diamondbacks Play of the Game: With a runner on second and two outs in the third inning, the DBacks were trailing 1-0 when Josh Rojas stepped in against Kyle Hendricks. He doubled, producing their only run. (.122)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Javier Baez (2-4, R, SB)
Andrew Chafin/Craig Kimbrel (1 perfect inning each)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
*Special note. Joc Pederson leaves the Cubs with a +4 cumulative score.
- Craig Kimbrel +18
- Kris Bryant +17
- Patrick Wisdom +11
- Willson Contreras -10.5
- Ian Happ -11
- Jake Arrieta -14
Up Next: Game two of the weekend three game set in Arizona. In this one, the Cubs will send Adbert Alzolay to the hill. Quite a vote of confidence for the youngster to essentially send him out in the second spot. With almost a week off, the Cubs should basically have had their choice for this one. Adbert has probably looked to the eye as the second best out of the Cubs pitchers, but the results just haven’t been there yet. Adbert is 4-9 with a 4.66 ERA. The snakes counter with Zac Gallen who is 1-4 with a 4.17 ERA. Let’s see if the Cubs can make it two straight to start the second half.