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2021 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 121

An eight-run Reds seventh seals the Cubs’ 12th straight loss

Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Would you label the sub-headline for this post as misleading or just optimistic? It’s lazy sportswriting to assume that if you took out event X that the rest of the game Y would have happened exactly or even remotely the way it went. In this instance, the Reds blew a 4-0 game wide open with eight runs in the bottom of the seventh. The Cubs then scored five runs in the top of the eighth inning. Lazy sportswriting says that the five runs would have given the Cubs the lead but for that seventh inning.

Sometimes this is tricky. Sometimes we take out a single that was a close play and then erased by a double play. If that game goes on to be a one-hit shutout, then the sequencing is tricky. Maybe the outfielder who didn’t layout to try to catch the ball could have made more effort. Maybe the infielder that played a grounder or played it too casually cost a no-hitter. In those instances, the X event that we are taking out of the game are a single play. And the sequencing after X in a sense get cleaned up by the double play, pickoff or caught stealing like a time-travel episode of Star Trek. The timeline got “cleaned up” and more or less continued like nothing happened.

Of course, one or two of you out there know me. You know that I can make what if arguments and play devil’s advocate until the end of time. What if the pitcher, the whole team really, played more loosely because history no longer hung in the balance? In most instances the pitcher and all or most of his teammates are aware that they have a chance to be part of history. You can’t know that absent that one event that everything would have happened the same anyway. But, I can at least accept in this line of thinking that it is at least plausible because at least the game strategy played out the way it would have. It is at least apples to apples.

For those of you who do know me, you may have heard me use a wholly different phrase, one that I think I coined. I use the phrase apples to Volkswagens. People use apples and oranges, but the problem is apples and oranges are at least a little similar. For instance, a blind person might not instantly identify both of them. Yes, tactilely and certainly taste wise they are going to be able to tell the difference. But, at the same time, apples and oranges, while different are similar. So I needed a word that was very different. And it applies here. You can’t take an eight-run inning out of a game and say everything would have or even could have been the same.

We do this all of the time in sports. Usually we are looking at statistics. If you take out the one start where a given pitcher allowed nine runs over three innings, he has an ERA under 3.00. You can’t do that with sports. Statistics are inherently averages or other measures of performance over time. They are meant to take into account the very best game or inning you had and the very worst. That isn’t to say there isn’t value to looking at performance over time periods, particularly for prospects and developing players. It can possibly show that progress is being made. But, those numbers are part of the story. We can’t just discard them.

In this instance, let’s look at this game, because this is a fantastic example of an absurd example of why things are different after event X happens. If the Reds are leading 4-0 heading to the eighth inning, they are probably going to use one of their leverage relievers. They might look over and see a Cubs team that had already lost 11 straight. They could go one or two relievers further down the pen then they might have otherwise. Play a hunch or a matchup.

I don’t know a lot about Heath Hembree. I’ve never heard of him before, looking him up for this anecdote. I see a guy with some intriguing numbers. He’s striking out 14.46 batters per nine innings. That was not harmed by what was an otherwise disastrous performance tonight. He recorded two outs and both were by strikeout. He came into this game with a 5.40 ERA. I’m guessing the Reds don’t look at him if this game is 4-0. Wade Miley had thrown 97 pitches. The pinch-hitter for him in the seventh was the eighth batter of the inning. So in our hypothetical game, the pinch-hitter doesn’t get Miley out of the game, but I’m guessing 97 pitches probably does.

Let’s dig further. Imagine the Reds didn’t score eight runs, Miley left, Hembree does come in. He was then allowed to face seven batters and that ultimately led to five runs. In a bizarre world where they thought that they absolutely could sneak out a few batters from Hembree to keep the leverage guys rested, there’s no way they let him face seven batters.

So it’s a fun story. Not in a million years does the game play out the way the last two innings of it did if this had been a 4-0 game. This isn’t one that got away that they otherwise might have won. It is the 12th straight defeat, another in blowout fashion. I’ve certainly seen it said that this group of players might represent the single worst group of Cubs players in franchise history, particularly with Willson Contreras on the injured list. A few of these guys might develop into stars or at least longterm steady players. At least one of them (Robinson Chirinos) has a past that is nothing to sneeze at. Certainly Kyle Hendricks appears to be right in the middle of a “Hall of Very Good” career. He’ll hopefully one day take his place in the Cubs Hall of Fame that is finally being created.

But right now, taking a picture of where all of these guys are in this exact moment in their career... this might be the worst Cubs team ever. If this were any sport other than baseball, I’d be suggesting that famous Mike Ditka sound bite, the one where he suggests that he’s not sure at this point that the team will win another game. Of course this team will win more games. But how many more? They’re up to 12 in a row and most of the games haven’t been particularly close.

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 121, August 16: Reds 14, Cubs 5 (52-69)

Source: FanGraphs


  • Superhero: Sergio Alcantara (.028). 1-3, BB
  • Hero: Robinson Chirinos (.012). 1-3, HBP, 2RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Ian Happ (.001). 1-1, 2B, 2RBI


  • Billy Goat: Michael Rucker (-.119). 2IP (12 batters faced), 4H, 2BB, 6R, 4K
  • Goat: Jason Heyward (-.093). 1-4, 2B, RBI, R, K
  • Kid: Patrick Wisdom (-.070). 0-4. 3K

WPA Play of the Game: With a runner on first and two outs in the fourth inning, Reds rookie sensation Jonathan India hit a two-run homer off of Justin Steele to break a scoreless tie. (.226)

Cubs Play of the Game: In the bottom of the second inning, with runners on second and third with one out, Justin Steele faced Reds starter Wade Miley. Miley grounded back to Steele, who threw home for the second out of the inning and protected the shutout. (.088)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Sergio Alcantara
    (5 votes)
  • 33%
    Robinson Chirinos
    (22 votes)
  • 9%
    Ian Happ
    (6 votes)
  • 49%
    (32 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now

Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)

  • Kris Bryant +26
  • Craig Kimbrel +20
  • Rafael Ortega +19
  • Patrick Wisdom +14 (-1)
  • *Nico Hoerner +12
  • *PJ Higgins -.9.5
  • Zach Davies -11
  • Rex Brothers -11.5
  • Jake Arrieta -19
  • Ian Happ -22 (+1)

Up Next: Game two of the three game set Tuesday night in Cincinnati. The Cubs are scheduled to send Kyle Hendricks (13-5, 4.15 ERA) to the mound. Kyle is coming off of one of his worst career starts. He’ll face Vladamir Gutierrez (8-3, 3.95). If the Cubs are going to win a game in this series, Kyle Hendricks seems like the most likely to do it. However, the Reds have done bad things to Kyle in his career. Hold on tight.