After what definitely felt like 11 games of wandering around in the desert, the Cubs finally found their oasis. On Wednesday night, the Cubs beat the Phillies winning by a score of 8-3. Of course there is some baseball insanity in the win. Granted, the Phillies are a fairly pedestrian team and not one that seems overly capable of a four-game road sweep, even of a team that is playing just about as badly as it can possibly play. The oddity is that Zack Wheeler has been pitching like one of the best pitchers in baseball here in 2021.
To be fair to Wheeler, an error started the Cubs’ initial rally in the first inning. If we assume that everything would have happened the same as it did (never really a safe assumption), the Cubs would have had a harmless two-out single from Anthony Rizzo in an otherwise scoreless inning. The error extended the inning and the Cubs managed three two-out RBI singles to make the score 3-0.
That really highlights the other amazing thing about this game. The Cubs scored eight runs without the benefit of a home run. Over these last few weeks where things have gotten really bad (the Cubs were 4-17 over the 21 games leading up to last night), the Cubs had been heavily dependent on the long ball to win. Not only did the Cubs not use the home run as a weapon last night, but they had just one double and one triple among their 10 hits. Both of those extra base hits that they did get figured into the scoring to be fair.
The other thing the Cubs got last night was a passable pitching performance. Alec Mills threw five pretty good innings and was shutting the Phillies out as the Cubs were building their lead to 5-0. Of course, we’ve seen the Cubs blow a bigger lead than that during this stretch, so nothing is safe. Surely, the Cubs were hoping to get a little length out of Mills after the pitching staff got trashed on Tuesday and so he started the sixth inning.
That sixth inning was Mills seeing guys for the third time. Not all together surprisingly, the wheels came off a bit in the sixth inning. He was ultimately charged with three runs and didn’t finish the inning and so he fell just shy of the minimum qualifications for a quality start.
Mills has started to feel like the second most effective starting pitcher on this staff. That’s a bit of an irony for the one who didn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Of course, I’m pretty sure given the six primary competitors they had for five spots, I think the majority of us would have done exactly the same. We certainly wanted to see Adbert Alzolay in that initial rotation, getting his feet wet at the big league level and getting used to the rigors of a long MLB season.
The problem is, of course, that Mills doesn’t really have the repertoire to consistently go three times through the order. Without the ability to see hitters the third time, a pitcher is more or less limited to five innings of work even if they are pitching very well. This then circles around to Millsy is pretty much destined to be a swing man at the major league level. A sixth or seventh starter type. That’s not particularly a bad thing given that most teams use many more than five starters during the course of a given year. And certainly, for Mills hanging around the majors for a handful of years as a swingman is more than anyone really expected out of him as he was developing as a pitcher.
It feels good for the Cubs to get the losing streak monkey off of their collective backs. It felt like maybe they finally relaxed a bit last night and stopped pressing so much. I don’t know if this team is going to bounce and get back on an 85 win trajectory that many of us thought they would be prior to the season or if this is indeed just an oasis on their way to some really scary bad results. Certainly, the impending trades of key members of the team, particularly in the back end of the bullpen, won’t help.
But the schedule does lighten up. There will be games there to be won, even if there are some key players traded. A part of me will certainly be amused if the team does go on to win something like 85 games. No doubt after the lofty expectations created in May, that will feel like a disappointment. It will fall several games short of a playoff spot in all likelihood. But I’ll always be someone who remembers where this franchise came from and how much an 85-win season itself felt like an oasis in the desert, playoffs or no.
I’m never going to just take it for granted that this team should be competitive. Sure, I understand that they play in a giant city, in a great park, with one of the best fanbases in all of sports. They certainly have the resources to field a competitive team year after year. I’m not saying we can’t be disappointed by a team that is only half-in (rather than all-in), good enough to win those 85 games, but not good enough to really compete for a post season spot, much less to actually win a championship.
To be clear, moving towards your next championship should always be the goal of an organization. I understand the frustration and how difficult it is to see how the Cubs were moving towards their next championship. I actually don’t mind them taking a year off basically. They allowed themselves to ride lightning in a bottle if they caught it. They reset their payroll a fair bit. And they appear poised to add some pieces to the farm system now that their lightning in a bottle only carried them a couple of months into the season.
I do think this team is moving closer to their next championship. I just don’t think the overwhelming majority of guys who were on the opening day roster had any chance of being there when that happens. But I at least see them trying to start really stockpiling talent again. A year where they only add to the farm system instead of continuing to eat away at their depth in trades to bolster a fading club can only help.
Here’s to the future. May it be as bright as 2016 was. Let’s go to 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 87, July 7: Cubs 8, Phillies 3 (43-44)
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.103). 2-4, RBI, R
- Hero: Jason Heyward (.099). 1-4, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Anthony Rizzo (.095). 2-4, 3B, RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Sergio Alcantara (-.034). 0-4, K
- Goat: Willson Contreas (-.010). 1-4, RBI
- Kid: Jake Marisnick (.000). 0-1
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs and runners on first and second in the first inning, the game was still scoreless. Jason Heyward delivered an RBI single off of Zack Wheeler to get the scoring started. (.108)
*Phillies Play of the Game: With a runner on second and a run already in, Andrew McCutchen stepped in against Alec Mills in the sixth inning. He remained hot, slugging a two-run homer to cut the Cubs lead to 5-3. Fortunately, that was the end of the Phillies scoring. (.096)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Alec Mills (the five scoreless innings stopped the bleeding)
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +18
- Kris Bryant +17
- Jake Marisnick +13
- Rex Brothers/Eric Sogard/PJ Higgins -9.5
- Willson Contreras -10.5
- Jake Arrieta -14
Up Next: The Cubs will go for back-to-back wins for the first time since June 22 and 24. Adbert Alzolay will start. The youngest Cubs starter is 4-8 with a 4.48 ERA. He’ll square off with Zach Eflin who is 3-6 with a 4.13 ERA.