I don’t make it a huge secret that I haven’t been watching a lot of Cubs baseball lately. During the last rebuild, I went years without really sitting down to watch them play. Some might paint me a fair-weather fan. Where do we draw those lines? Do I need to attend games to be a fan? Surely most people would say no because that’s something not available to everyone. Do I need to watch or listen to a certain amount of games to qualify? I see where someone would set the bar there. And yet, I do know more than the average fan about what is going on with the Cubs today and every day for the last 30 years.
Particularly in the age of cellphones, I’m following the Cubs every day during the game. It sure helps with writing that I have some vague idea of the ebb and flow of a game. Also, like many of you I’m soaking in the writing about the Cubs available, particularly things written by Al and Josh as they cover the on field action at the MLB level and throughout the minor league system. During the last rebuild, I spent more time following Josh and the articles Tim was writing and perusing minor league box scores than anything at the MLB level. For the last few years, I’ve read less of what Josh and Tim have to say about the system and focused on the big league product. When March rolls around, the Cubs figure to be mid-rebuild. Between the players added for Yu Darvish this past offseason and all of those being added this month, I’ll be anxious to read about them from Josh and Tim. And once more my focus will be at the minor league level.
As luck would have it, I watched the majority of last night’s ballgame. That’s gotten a little harder for me since I moved into the Eastern time zone and the games end so late. But I stayed up to the end. What a treat that was. If I had infinite time available to me in life, I would watch every game. Many of them are kind of boring. That’s the thing with baseball. It’s a lot of mundane events stacked on top of one another. Many of the games are predictable. If you watch long enough, you get pretty good at guessing who the next pitcher into the game will be, the next pinch hitter. But some games just overflow with interesting events.
Last night’s game featured the two National League pitchers with the longest active stretch of six-inning starts. For Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, that stretch reached all of the way back to the end of April. An ineffective Hendricks struggling to find the strike zone is not something we’ve seen often. In reading articles about Hendricks not being on the trade block, I was again reminded of just how underappreciated he is. There were mentions of his spectacular 2016 season, but the rest of the article I read felt like he’d had one great season and then stayed healthy and produced some average numbers since. Not a pitcher who has been a top five pitcher in the National League basically every year since.
Reds starter Wade Miley had also been similarly effective. He was a bit more effective than Hendricks, but he too was gone from this one early. Both teams had a handful of blown opportunities. Jason Heyward pinch-hit and smashed a ball with the bases loaded and only one out. Only he smashed it right at the fielder standing behind second base for an easy double play. Heyward is one of the players who we’ve watched most crushed by the defensive shifts. Basically his entire offensive game is taken away by good scouting and defensive positioning.
There was Keegan Thompson getting into a bases-loaded, no-outs jam and then gutting through it and not allowing a single run. My favorite performance of the night (sorry Javy!) was that of Nico Hoerner. Guys like Thompson and Hoerner become king as the team rebuilds. Guys who might be pieces of the next great Cubs team and how they develop. Hoerner batted in the fifth with runners on first and third, the Cubs down two. He worked a long at bat and drew a walk. In the seventh with the Cubs down one, he batted with a runner on second and two outs. He delivered an RBI single. He batted in the ninth with the game tied and runners on first and second and was hit by a pitch. Three plate appearances with runners on bases in a tight game against a division rival and he reached base all three times. You don’t ever want to thrust too much too soon on a young player, but maybe an answer at lead off? Or second in the order? He puts the ball in play, runs well and so far is hitting for a high average. More of that please.
Then there was Javier Báez. Javy, you are a bad, bad man. The problems between Javy and Amir Garrett go back at least two years. Javy was supposed to be unavailable last night. But there he was pinch hitting with the bases loaded in the ninth after Garrett had been summoned. This is seriously one of those moments that we all scream about in the baseball movie because it is just too contrived. And Javy, he read that script that Hollywood threw out as too cheesy and predictable. He’s gesturing out at Garrett before he even steps in the box. Garrett for his part appeared to try to clear his mind and focus on just making a pitch. But Javy was having none of that, crushing one deep to center that on some nights might be a long out. But with the bases loaded and one out, the Reds were of course in the five infielder formation. There was no chance they were going to run that one down and it really wouldn’t make any difference if they did. Patrick Wisdom could have crawled home from where that one was hit. Then Javy appears to make a pot-stirring gesture with his bat while just staring Garrett down as he sauntered to first base. TV didn’t show it, but I’ve seen some fan videos, Javy more or less dropped his bat near the feet of Garrett as Garrett was leaving the field. The TV did cover Garrett yelling things back out at the field. I’m going to guess this isn’t the final chapter of that one.
What a crazy and enjoyable game that was. Next stop for me? I’ll be at a Rays - Yankees game Wednesday night. I’m hoping to catch a playoff game or two down here. Fair weather fan? I don’t really think so, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Either way that doesn’t mean I’m not entirely capable of bandwagon jumping. Go Rays!
Let’s look at the numbers 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 101, July 26: Cubs 6, Reds 5 (50-51)
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.286). 2-3, BB, HBP, RBI, K, CS
- Hero: Javier Baez (.167). 1-1, RBI
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.151). 2-4, BB, HR (13), 2RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.367). 4⅓ IP (23 batters faced), 9H, 2BB, 5R, 4K
- Goat: Matt Duffy (-.220). 0-5, 2K
- Kid: Jason Heyward (-.213). 0-1, DP
WPA Play of the Game: There was so much notable action, I didn’t even point out the majestic game-tying homer by Willson Contreras with one out in the bottom of the eighth. The broadcast showed the damage Willy has been doing against left handed pitching and right on cue, he launched one. (.323)
*Reds Play of the Game: Tony Santillan came into the game with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth. The first batter he faced was Jason Heyward and he got a rocket right at the shifted defender and an easy inning-ending double play. (.213)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rex Brothers (2 IP, 6 batters faced)
Adam Morgan (⅔ IP, 2 batters faced)
Patrick Wisdom (1-2, 3BB, R)
Kris Bryant (2-4, BB, 2R)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Kris Bryant +24
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Patrick Wisdom/Nico Hoerner +9
- Rex Brothers -10.5
- Jake Arrieta -14
- Ian Happ -16
Up Next: Game two of a four-game series. The Cubs begin life without Andrew Chafin. Not only will the back of the Cubs bullpen be less imposing, they’ll have a heck of a lot less fun. We’ll miss you, Andrew. You quickly became a household favorite in my house. Everyone here enjoyed your antics. I truly hope you help carry the A’s deep into the playoffs. Adbert Alzolay will start tonight’s game. Adbert is 4-10 with a 4.58 ERA. I keep thinking that any day now he’s going to turn the corner and take the next step in his development. Maybe tonight? Tyler Mahle starts for the Reds. He’s 7-3 with a 3.92 ERA. This one doesn’t look good for the good guys, at least on paper.