The Cubs are playing out the string. They have been for a few weeks. The nice thing about playing out the string is that there is an awful lot of going through the motions. Peppered in are some glimpses to better times. The Rafael Ortega three-homer game will have been one of those. Maybe the 20th or 25th homer for Patrick Wisdom (we’ll see how far he’s able to get). The MLB debuts of any number of players. Justin Steele and eventually Keegan Thompson getting a chance to start.
I always get a little bit of relief from this time of year, because you can kind of find artificial things to be excited about and not a lot to be mad, disappointed or sad about. It’s kind of like an emotional free ticket.
Only today isn’t that day. Today, there were two things that really frustrated me. One was following the game and watching the Brewers light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine in the first inning. I’m sure some of you will help me with my memory, but I just can’t remember too many examples of a starting pitcher who could lay a pretty striking argument to having been the best pitcher in baseball over the course of a given season plus of baseball and then going on to having a pretty striking argument to having been the worst pitcher in baseball for a whole season.
The end can come fast for some, but it is pretty striking to see Jake Arrieta struggle this badly. I hate every single start. In some ways it is like watching a relative near the end of their life. Obviously, not that traumatic. But just the way that it is hard to watch someone who you remember as being larger than life. Indestructible. For a while there in 2015 and 2016, that’s what Jake was for me. Indestructible. Now guys are running for their bats and helmets like your early little league teammates running to take their turn at batting practice. It’s really hard to see happen. If you haven’t seen the numbers, Jake had a 2.57 ERA over his first five starts this year. In 15 starts since then, he has an ERA of 8.95. Those aren’t cherry-picked endpoints. There was a glimpse of something close to vintage Jake and then there was a pale remnant of what he once was.
I said two things. The first one bothers me in a visceral way. But at the same time, I recognize that father time remains undefeated over all of time. No matter how ageless, how immortal seeming one is. Eventually, they bend to the will of the passage of time. But the second thing bothers me so much more than the first. That was when I read David Ross talking about Jake Arrieta. Maybe I didn’t get something in context or maybe I’m missing some angle. But if you haven’t seen it, Ross was asked if he “owed it” to Jake Arrieta to give him time to work through his struggles. He apparently said yes.
I can’t be more appalled by this. You can tell me that I’m too much the business side of baseball and have no reverence for the personal side of baseball. I’ll own that. I don’t want my manager feeling he owes anything to anybody. He owes it to the organization to follow the organizational philosophy. Heck, if that means the org would rather see Arrieta start than some youngster being served up to the slaughter before his time, that would be great. While this team was trying to compete, Ross and Arrieta owed it to their team and their teammates to put a team on the field that gave the best chance to win on any given night. That hasn’t been the case in quite some time when Arrieta started.
Part of being an athlete is accepting that your time is fleeting. There is some amount of passing the torch. Now to his credit, I recall many times early in the season Jake spending a lot of time with Adbert Alzolay. Arrieta and Jason Heyward by all accounts have been great teammates, trying to pass on things they’ve learned through the years. And both are certainly players who have experienced some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. For my money’s worth, Jake owes it to his teammates to step aside if the organization is ready to move on from him and give some starts to a younger player. And if Jake won’t take himself out of the line of fire, then Ross should be in position to help convince him to do so.
This is why in any walk of life they don’t want you supervising your friends, your mentors, your lovers, your relatives, whatever. You don’t have the judgment that you’d otherwise have. I hate that Jake came back and I hate that this team is going to have given him 20-plus starts to basically embarrass himself. I hate that my memories of who he was will forever be linked with memories from this awful year. I think we all thought that Ross might have a blind spot managing Jon Lester last year. But he seemed to navigate that pretty well. But then again Jon didn’t fall off nearly as dramatically as Jake has this year.
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 116, August 11: Brewers 10, Cubs 0 (52-64)
- Superhero: Rafael Ortega (.010). 1-3, 2K
- Hero: Michael Rucker (.004). 3IP (11 batters faced), 2H, 5K
- Kid: Rex Brothers (.000). IP (3 batters faced), K
*H&G discretion was utilized here. Two other players each had .000, but a scoreless inning was deemed the most positive contribution and thus gets the nod.
- Billy Goat: Jake Arrieta (-.434). 4IP (24 batters faced), 11H, 2BB, 8R, 3K (L 5-11)
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.020). 0-4, K, DP
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.016). 0-2, K
WPA Play of the Game: Omar Navarez batted with runners on second and third with one out. The Brewers were only up one at the time. Navarez singled scoring two runs. He advanced to second on an error by Cubs right fielder Greg Deichmann. (.105)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Rafael Ortega singled leading off the bottom of the first with the Cubs already down seven. (.015)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Rafael Ortega +18 (+3)
- Rex Brothers -11.5 (+1)
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Ian Happ -23
Up Next: The Cubs will try to avoid a four-game sweep and an eighth straight loss overall on Thursday afternoon. They’ll send Kyle Hendricks to the mound. Kyle is 13-4 with a 3.68 ERA on the season. He’ll be opposed by Brandon Woodruff. Brandon is 7-6 with a 2.23 ERA. This matchup will be held up by some as what is wrong with the pitcher win/loss record statistic. To be fair, Woodruff is having a terrific season and should absolutely receive Cy Young votes. But Kyle Hendricks has also been very good. I will always say that win/loss records for starters is a more useful statistic than those who disdain it give it credit for, while at the same time being less useful than at any previous time in baseball history.