Most teams experience a lot of the same things every year, particularly right up until this point in the year. Most of the teams go to training camp with hope. Sure they may be disappointed about a move the team didn’t make or a player who isn’t there. But all but the worst teams show up to camp thinking that if they can get a couple of breaks, they can stay in the race. Baseball is probably second only to football in having break through teams make the playoffs. Of course football benefits from their very short season. An upset here or there and you have a team that was expected to finish in third or fourth winning the division and a favorite missing the playoffs entirely.
Baseball gets some of that too with its very long season. If you can keep a team healthy and you can come out of the gate hot, you can sometimes wildly exceed expectations. I don’t have to look any further than this year’s NL West. We’re closing in on the 100-game mark in the season and the Giants are still leading a division where virtually no one picked them any better than third. The Dodgers and Padres were everyone’s darlings coming into the season. An aging Giants team was probably expected to be packing it in right about now and trading off some expiring contracts to make the team better.
The Cubs are one of those teams that things didn’t break right for. They are one of those teams looking for expiring contracts to trade off and largely playing out the string. Once that happens, there is one goal for the front office and one for the players. The front office wants to optimize and maximize development opportunities. You want to pick and choose the matchups for the players who will continue to be here going forward. That can me shielding them from some matchups and testing them with others. It can mean getting a guy out of the lineup if he is a little banged up. For the players, you are just trying to find a little bit of fun. For even the best of teams the season can become a slog. When you are losing more than you are winning, that is even worse.
Last night, the Cubs sure didn’t have any fun for eight innings. But there is a reason you play all nine, right? For the second time in less than seven days the Cubs have come from behind to win. This one in particular was a doozy. Overcoming a five run deficit in the ninth inning is basically a once in a half-century event as Al told you in his recap of the game this morning. I’m going to walk you through that a little bit from a WPA standpoint. If you want to read through a blow-by-blow of the ninth inning and see how the Cubs flipped the script, then read on. If not, skip down a few paragraphs to the after-the-game graph for the numbers.
Jason Heyward flied out to end the eighth inning. At that point, The Cubs win probability reached .004 (that translates to 0.4 percent) by Fangraphs metrics. Dillon Maples worked a clean eighth inning, striking out two and though he gets an .000 for the inning, with rounding, it shows that their chances improved ever so slightly by .001. Patrick Wisdom reached on a wild pitch/dropped third strike to start the inning. That moved them up to .012 percent. Nico Hoerner had an infield hit and Wisdom was able to go to third on an error by Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. That moved things all of the way up to .035. A walk to Jake Marisnick loaded the bases to move them up to .068.
Sergio Alcantara pinch hit with the bases loaded and drew a walk, forcing in a run. That one jumped it up to .143 as now a grand slam would tie the game and there were still no outs. Willson Contreras struck out and the odds dropped back down to .081. Outs are precious, but the bases were still loaded and they were still only down four. Anthony Rizzo walked forcing in a second run. They are now up to .160 as a grand slam now gives them the lead.
Javier Baez followed with a two run single with Rizzo stopping at second. The chances jumped all of the way up to .274. Still, trailing by a run with only two outs to go and on the road (meaning that even if you tie or take the lead, you can still lose in the bottom of the inning), it’s still an uphill battle. That brought Ian Happ to the plate. Ian doubled to right and you know there is no world in which Javy Baez isn’t scoring from first with the go ahead run. That flipped the script in its entirety. The Cubs now had an .861 on the Fangraphs meter. Eight batters, three hits, three walks, a dropped third strike, an error, six runs. Their odds moved almost 86 percent in that short amount of time.
You don’t see that every day or even every year or even every decade. Let’s go to the numbers (in the normal format) and see who the Heroes and Goats were from 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 95, July 20: Cubs 7 at Cardinals 6 (47-48)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.634). 1-3, BB, 2B, 2RBI
- Hero: Craig Kimbrel (.189). IP (3 batters faced), 0H, 0BB, 0R, 2K (SV 22)
- Sidekick: Javier Baez (.131). 2-5, 2RBI, R, SB, 2K
- Billy Goat: Trevor Williams (-.246). 5IP (23 batters faced), 7H, BB, 4R, 3K
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.129). 0-5, K
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.098). 1-5, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s one out, two-run double capped the comeback and put the Cubs into the lead 7-6. (.586)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Nolan Arenado led off the fourth inning with a solo homer to break a 1-1 tie. (.134)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Dillon Maples (IP, 3 batters faced, 2K, W)
Sergio Alcantara (BB, RBI)
Nico Hoerner (1-3, BB, R)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Kris Bryant +17
- Kyle Hendricks +10
- Rex Brothers -10.5
- Ian Happ -12
- Jake Arrieta -14
Up Next: Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs in game three of the series. Kyle remains tied with Julio Urias for the most wins in Major League Baseball with 12. He’s facing a Cardinals team that he is 12-3 lifetime in 23 starts against with a 2.82 ERA. But he’ll be matched up against Adam Wainwright. Adam has 17 career wins against the Cubs, more than he has against any other team. This season, Hendricks is 12-4 with a 3.65 ERA and Wainwright is 7-6 with a 3.71. As has been the case many times recently, the pitching matchup looks relatively even. The Cubs would have to win this one and tomorrow’s series finale to win their first back-to-back series since June 7-13 when they won consecutive series against the Padres and these Cardinals.