A recap of Tuesday night’s baseball in just a few sentences? Cubs pitching “scattered” nine hits and a walk over nine innings. The result? One run. Twins pitching “clustered” seven hits and a walk over nine innings. The result? Three runs. Baseball is simple sometimes, no?
Zach Davies turned in a very Zach Davies-like start. He’s had arguably the worst year of his career. One of the problems is that last night is what the “good” starts have often looked like. He departed with one out in the fifth, not ideal for what you want out of your starter. But he allowed only one run. He allowed six of those nine scattered Cubs hits, but he didn’t walk anyone and the Twins were only able to turn the six hits into a single run.
We often talk about a pitcher giving his team a chance to win. It’s hard to say with less than five innings of work that you put your team in a position to win. But, if we paint with that very broad brush of “put your team in a position to win” then perhaps a second-tier start would be “kept your team in the game.” Obviously then there would be a third-tier start “dug a big hole” or something like that. Would we then have a fourth tier? “Basically wiped out any chance to win.” We’ve certainly seen a few of those this year.
On the other side of the ball, Ian Happ continued his torrid August. Ian finishes August with a line of .255/.314/.543 (127 wRC+) . I could have snipped the line to make it fit a better narrative, but while any grouping of dates is somewhat arbitrary, I love this sample. He got 102 plate appearances last month, just about one-sixth of the plate appearances that a regular non-superstar will get in a season. A guy who plays most days but not every day. Happ did that at the level of a star. He clearly has the potential to be a star in this league.
It can be interesting. We kind of look at players with their “buts.” Kris Bryant had superstar level talent — but only when he’s healthy and the last five years of his career have been slowed by a myriad of nagging injuries of varying severity. Javier Baez is right on that border between star and superstar. Clearly, he has the highlight reel comparable to all but the best players in the game. But in between you get some mental errors and a whole lot of strikeouts. Ian Happ on the other hand, his “but” is a bit different. He has star level talent, almost certainly a level below either Bryant or Baez. But... there isn’t a clear “but” for him. It would basically be that some months he just isn’t a star. And as we’ve seen, sometimes it goes on for quite some time.
He doesn’t get hurt. He strikes out a good bit, but not at an alarmingly high rate. Certainly, I’ve always feared he’d become a max strikeout guy with what to my (very untrained) eye is a very long swing. But he’s got a pretty good feel for the strike zone and pretty good contact skills. He adds to that pretty good power and pretty good speed. It isn’t hard to see the Cubs were intrigued enough by him to make him a high first round draft pick. The problem is, he hasn’t really ever put it all together. 2020 is the closest he’s come to sustaining it, but that wasn’t really a full season anyway. Ian Happ is one of those guys who you could let walk after your years of team control end and then see him with a 30 HR/100 RBI/100 R season for someone with a wRC+ well over 100 and you wouldn’t be shocked he did it. Sometimes a guy breaks out later and you never saw it coming. But with Ian, you know it’s there.
The other guy who homered in last night’s game is a different story. Frank Schwindel is in the group of guys on this team with the same profile. For one reason or another, they are an older player who just has never gotten a real chance to show what they can do. Prior to this season, Frank had 27 very forgettable games with the Royals in 2019. Had COVID not wiped out so much of the 2020 season, would he have gotten another shot? Who knows? As a member of the A’s this season, he homered in his first game back on June 30. After that first game, the A’s gave him 18 more plate appearances over a two week period. The results were abysmal (.111/.111/.167).
Then Schwindel came to the Cubs off the waiver wire just before the trade deadline. With the Cubs looking at clearing the deck, they didn’t per se have a first baseman just sitting around at Iowa. Insert Frank Schwindel. As a Cub, Schwindel has another one of those “nice” sample sizes. Starting with his call up on July 30, he has 105 plate appearances. Again, just about one-sixth of what you’d get as a guy who starts most days. He’s hit .340/.390/.629 (wRC+ 169). Are you kidding me? Are we looking at the Cubs Player of the Month for August? Where did that come from?
Obviously, we can’t just multiply his numbers by six. For one, injuries happen. For two, if he continued that run, there would be some serious scouting to find his weaknesses. When COVID happened, most teams shrunk their scouting staff. And even in the best of times, I’m going to guess a team like the White Sox, who the Cubs just got done playing, is sending their advanced scouting to look at potential playoff opponents a heck of a lot more than they are sending them to look at the Cubs. At some point, you just count on the talent gap to prevail. But getting back to the point. If we multiplied his numbers by six, we’d be looking at a guy just missing a 50-double season (48), hitting 36 homers, driving in 96 runs and scoring 108. At a position other than first base, that gets you an All-Star appearance and maybe even a Silver Slugger Award.
Going back to the middle part of that last paragraph, the scouting of Cubs players. We can assume that teams like the Twins are having their scouts look at players who they might want to add in the offseason. A team like the White Sox is looking ahead to playoff opponents. So we can presume no one is looking long and hard at Cubs hitters. Thus, I don’t know what this season means for those guys we’ve talked about, older players who haven’t really gotten that long opportunity before but have run with it. In Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, and Frank Schwindel, the Cubs have three intriguing players. Do I picture any of them as fixtures during the Cubs next group of playoff runs? Of course not. Can they be placeholders providing some value for a few seasons? I’m not ruling it out.
Let’s get to the numbers from last night’s game. 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 133, August 31: Cubs 3 at Twins 1 (58-75)
- Superhero: Adam Morgan (.302). ⅔ IP, 1 batter faced
- Hero: Manuel Rodriguez (.218). 2IP, 6 batters faced, two walks (W 3-2)
*Writer’s interlude: I love the Cubs using Rodriguez and Codi Heuer (who it didn’t go quite as well for) in the middle of the game. Both have been used to collect saves. But in this situation, Rodriguez was sent in to get out of a bit of a jam in the fifth inning, then provided some length. The problem with the “closer” role is that you might very well lose the game in a key situation in the middle innings of the game.
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.098). 1-4, HR (17), RBI, R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Andrew Romine (-.143). 0-4, 2K
- Goat: Alfonso Rivas (-.127). 0-4, 3K
- Kid: Codi Heuer (-.093). IP, 7 batters faced, 3H, BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: Adam Morgan was summoned to face Max Kepler with the Cubs leading by two in the eighth inning. The bases were loaded with one out. Kepler popped one into short right field that Cubs second baseman Matt Duffy tracked down. Luis Arrez tried to score from third on the play but the Cubs completed the odd double play to end the inning. (.302)
*Twins Play of the Game: Codi Heuer walked Josh Donaldson just in front of the play above, loading the bases. (.120)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Matt Duffy (the catch and throw on the key play, 1-3, BB, R)
Frank Schwindel (1-4, HR, RBI, R)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom +21
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Rafael Ortega +17
- *Nico Hoerner/Frank Schwindel +12
- *PJ Higgins/Rex Brothers -9.5
- Ian Happ -11 (+1)
- David Bote -12
- Zach Davies -14
- Jake Arrieta -19
Up Next: Justin Steele (2-2, 4.15) starts the middle game of the series in Minnesota. He’ll face Joe Ryan. Ryan was the ace this summer for the US men’s Olympic baseball team. He’ll be making his major league debut after having been traded by the Rays to the Twins for Nelson Cruz. Ryan might be the most highly rated prospect that changed hands this summer. At least one site had him as the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball.