I’ll preface my thought to follow with this comment. Twentyish years ago Tom would have been really upset with the way the Cubs have done things. At least, I think so. I would not have wanted to see the Cubs blow things up when they had a decent ball club. I’m fairly certain that I’d have wanted them to just keep playing with the formula and trying to find the right mix of players to make another climb up Mt. Everest. I think, because I didn’t watch other teams basically at all and because of the way the Cubs did things, that teams could just get better with the right add or adds.
I don’t blame you if you feel that way. And certainly, I think it is hard to look at everything from 2017 to 2021 and say that it was a five-year stretch handled well. Even the harshest critic amongst us recognizes that running a sports franchise is a bit more art than science. That’s probably a particularly frustrating thought to baseball front offices. They do business every day with a mountain of data and scouting reports and other mathematical and scientific expressions to how they should go about winning both at a game to game level and on a larger scale.
But, first and foremost you can’t over reliably predict injuries. Oh, we might look at a young Kerry Wood and see that his violent delivery and the unbelievable break on some of his pitches and say that he was likely to be injured at some point. But of course, the other side of that coin looked at Mark Prior and thought he had a picture perfect delivery and could throw effortlessly forever. Beyond the injuries, while we can expect over time that the numbers will more or less regress towards the back of the baseball card numbers, over short and even medium term, those results can vary massively.
All of this is a lot of preface for me to say that, despite not agreeing with all of how it played out, I’m impressed with where the Cubs are right now. Obviously, not the part where they were doubled up in both games of a doubleheader. I had a few idle moments and turned on a game for the first time since the trades happened. I had the misfortune of seeing that awful inning in the second game that just wouldn’t end. No, I’m impressed that this team picked a lane and got into it.
So much of my history of following Chicago sports involved teams that seemed to have a childlike belief that if they tried real hard and had good intentions that everything would just work out. For the longest time, if that trying real hard and having good intentions didn’t feature Michael Jordan, then your season was going to end with heartache and frustration. But then the Blackhawks happened. A cohesive team was created. Hockey is tough, they couldn’t win every year. But they did win three Stanley Cups in quick succession. And then there was Theo and the Cubs. They built a team that reached three straight NLCS. Finally, this town had a really well-run baseball team. To be fair, over the last few years the team on the other side has gotten their act together and they too look like a team that should have a good, long window.
There’s no way to be happy about seeing guys like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Kris Bryant leaving town (not to mention a whole host of other players such as Yu Darvish, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Chafin who were here a shorter time but we grew to adore). And certainly, you’d love for the breakup with those stars to be less awkward. But, this team picked a lane and they went there. I’ve long believed that one of the most sacred things a team can do is baseball is identify itself as contender or non-contender and then participate in the trade deadline. Summer trades are a time-honored tradition and you should pick a lane and get in on it. It flavors baseball in so many ways. From building the anticipation as the lead up to the trade deadline, to adding intrigue to playoff chases to improving the quality of the teams come October, summer trades make the on field product better.
So this team chose to be a seller. They chose to infuse talent into the organization. It would have been so Cub to trade just Kris Bryant. The fans had steeled themselves for that one from day one noting that he was never likely to sign a longterm deal because he has Scott Boras as an agent, never mind that Bryant steadfastly insisted that this is where he wanted to play is baseball. Maybe they could have traded Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Joc Pederson. None of those guys were here long. No team ever actually backs up the truck. But this one did. It ran an everything must go sale and made a bunch of trades. This team has added more than 15 players in trades in the last 12 months. Many of those players are young, often several years away from even the most optimistic arrival dates.
It was cute 8-10 years ago to look at the Cubs and say that they were going to be good in 2016 and then to see them not only arrive a year early, but to win a World Series right on that schedule. I don’t think it’s crazy to see this team as back in the thick of things as soon as 2023. And I don’t disbelieve them when they say that the team can at least be competitive in 2022. Parallel tracks, anyone? They’ll have an awful lot of empty payroll heading into this offseason. They don’t have to follow the same script as last time. The one they’ve acknowledged certainly won’t work again. They can be selective and look for the types of players that will blend well with developing internal talent. Guys who can produce and be mentors (Sorry Jason, you’ve stopped doing one of those entirely.)
So yeah, I’m a bit impressed with this team. I even wrote about that I felt that this team would make some trades, still largely be the same team and muddle to somewhere between 80-85 wins. Well, well short of what it took to reach the playoffs, but also likely to draft somewhere around 15-18. To be sure, baseball isn’t as striking as some of the other sports. It takes so long for even the top talent to reach the major leagues that there is less reverence for the difference between picking 15th and picking 10th. But it does matter. As one would expect, the ninth pick tends to outperform the 10th pick. The eighth pick outperforms the ninth pick, etc. Baseball gives you the added boon of more money to spend on young talent in the offseason to go with that better draft position. That’s a win-win.
So, while it sucks to watch this team run out there and lose every day, this team is building in a positive direction. I know I’m a big time homer for the Cubs, but I really believe in what Jed Hoyer is doing. This team is really hard to watch right now. But things are going to get better quickly. I believe that for sure. We are already seeing some interesting players coming out of the Cubs farm system. Brennen Davis figures to give the Cubs their first real splash out of the system in years when he arrives in the next year or two. If the minor league training and development crew does their collective jobs well, maybe just maybe we’ll see waves and waves finally happen.
Let’s go the numbers. We’ve got two games to look at instead of the usual 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 114, August 10: Brewers 4 at Cubs 2 (52-62)
- Superhero: Rafael Ortega (.261). 3-4
- Hero: Matt Duffy (.091). 1-1
- Sidekick: Frank Schwindel (.028). 1-3, 2B, RBI, 2K
- Billy Goat: Greg Deichmann (-.306). 0-4, K
- Goat: Justin Steele (-.196). 5IP (21 batters faced), 5H, BB, 3R, K (L 2-1)
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.163). 0-3, HBP
WPA Play of the Game: With no outs in the fourth inning, Avisail Garcia batted with a runner on second in a tie game. Garcia homered. (.191)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Rafael Ortega batted with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning. The Cubs were down two. He singled giving the Cubs a chance to even up the game. (.164)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game for Game 1?
This poll is closed
Game 115, August 10: White Sox 6 at Cubs 3 (52-63)
- Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.176). 2-3, HR (17), BB, 2RBI, 2R,
- Hero: Alec Mills (.144). 2⅓ IP (8 batters faced), H, 3K
- Sidekick: Rex Brothers (.036). ⅔ IP (2 batters faced), K
- Billy Goat: Kyle Ryan (-.260). ⅓ IP (4 batters faced), H, BB, 2R, WP
- Goat: Dan Winkler (-.183). 1⅓ IP (8 batters faced), 3H, BB, 3R (L 1-3)
- Kid: Jake Jewell (-.143). ⅓ IP (4 batters faced), 3H, R
WPA Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom led off the fourth inning with a solo homer to start the scoring. (.169)
*Brewers Play of the Game: Jackie Bradley Jr. batted with a runner on third and one out, the Cubs leading by one. Bradley launched one toward the right field corner. I suspect there is at least some chance that Jason Heyward tracks that ball down, but Johneshwy Fargas did not. A run scored on a double, tying the game. (141)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game in Game 2?
This poll is closed
Johneshwy Fargas (2-3, RBI)
Manny Rodriguez/Rowan Wick (IP, 3 batters faced each)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Patrick Wisdom +17 (+3)
- Rafael Ortega +15 (+3)
- Nico Hoerner +12
- Zach Davies -9
- PJ Higgins -9.5
- Rex Brothers -12.5 (+1)
- Jake Arrieta -16
- Ian Happ -21
Up Next: Game three of the four-game set is tonight at Wrigley Field, weather permitting (again). The Cubs will send Jake Arrieta to the mound. He is 5-10 with a 6.34 ERA. I don’t have to tell you what a nightmarish season this has been for Jake. On the other side, the Brewers send Corbin Burnes to the mound. Corbin is 6-4 with a 2.39 ERA. The Cubs appear, at least on paper, to be completely overmatched in this one.