These games in American Family Field at the end of this season feel like returning to the scene of a crime. It’s overly simplistic to say that the 2021 Cubs died in Milwaukee on June 30. For those of you who didn’t have that date seared into your brains, that was the night when the Cubs led 7-0 after the top of the first and went on to lose 15-7. To put it in medical terms, the 2021 Cubs weren’t exactly in an ICU room when they went to Milwaukee, but the patient had some serious underlying medical concerns before that game ever occurred.
Before that game occurred, though, there was hope. Your mileage might vary, but for me hope for the 2021 Cubs died on June 30. That was game number 81 of the season. 81 games is a long time for just playing out the string. Context is important though. One game does not destroy a season. Things were certainly bad on the field. That was a crushingly bad loss, punctuating a week that began with a team no-hitter and ended with five straight losses. Neither an awful loss nor a five-game skid dooms a team. To be crystal clear, even with those five straight losses, the Cubs were 42-39. If they were capable of replicating that first half, this team would be on pace for their 84th win. It looks like the Cardinals are going to win the second wild card with around 86 wins.
Yeah, the freaking Cardinals. They were 40-41 on June 30. Two games behind the Cubs. Their big deadline deal was adding Jon Lester. Jon is 3-1 with a 4.14 ERA in nine starts for the Cardinals. Possibly, the Cubs could have outrun the Cardinals for that last spot. I cannot and will not believe that with the schedule the Cubs had in the second half that they couldn’t have held off the Cardinals. It’s hard to imagine the Cubs wouldn’t have done significantly better if they kept the team together.
But there was no point in chasing that second wild card spot. Either the Dodgers or the Giants is going to be in that other spot. That means there was probably a 90-95 percent chance of a one-and-done game. And, your thrown-in set of steak knives here is that IF you somehow get past that first game, you were going to face the other one in a longer series. And Kyle Hendricks was almost certainly going to have started that wild card game. So he was likely not going to be available until near the end of the NLDS.
Count me in on team white flag trade. That didn’t happen in a vacuum either. With most of the team still together, they were 8-15 in July up until the Reds game on July 29. The huge majority of the trades happened between that game on July 29 and their game in Washington on July 30. So this team struggled even with its stars still in place. To be clear, they could have pulled out of that nosedive. They had time. They didn’t do it.
If the Brewers were the team that murdered the Cubs chances, never forget that the Reds were the accomplice. They won six of seven games against the Cubs in July. Those games went a long way towards cementing the fate of the team after the Brewers embarrassed them. The big difference when I think about the Reds, is that the Cubs had a very large hand in derailing the Reds season in return. The Cubs won four of six from the Reds in August and September with a vastly depleted roster. The Reds sit two games behind the Cardinals right now. The final indignity for the Reds? The Cardinals have seven games left against the Cubs. More than half their remaining games. The Cubs control the fate of the Cardinals. The silver lining for the Reds? The Cubs have won seven of 12 from the Cardinals so far this year.
I have buried the lede here, so here’s the story of Sunday afternoon: The Cubs had a cathartic moment. They scored five runs in the eighth inning and then held on through another shaky back of the bullpen game to win. The Brewers have made a real habit of coming from behind against the Cubs. So there is at least a little excitement with the comeback and the hold at the end of this win. It won’t matter for the Brewers. They are going to finish with the second-best record among division winners and will have home field for their NLDS against the Braves (or Phillies). For the Cubs, there is little difference. The Cubs have no chance of getting into the very top of the draft order. They sit eighth right now and seem most likely to finish eighth or ninth. I don’t think they can manage to fall all of the way to 10th, though it is, of course, possible. I also don’t think they have much chance of moving up even to seventh. There is, as many have noted, very little difference between eighth and ninth.
Let’s get to the numbers on this happy win. 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.
- Superhero: Matt Duffy (.275). 2-4, BB, 2B, RBI, R, K
- Hero: Frank Schwindel (.252). 2-5, 2B, RBI, R, SB, K
- Sidekick: Trayce Thompson (.199). 1-3, HR (1), BB, RBI, R, SB, K
- Billy Goat: Rowan Wick (-.158). ⅔ IP, 7 batters faced, 2H, 3BB, 2R, K, WP
- Goat: David Bote (-.116). 0-3, 2BB, R, K
- Kid: Adrian Sampson (-.110). 4 innings, 17 batters faced, 4H, BB, 2R, K, HBP
WPA Play of the Game: With one out and a runner on first in the eighth inning, Matt Duffy batted against Brad Boxberger. The Brewers were still up one at the time. Duffy doubled and Willson Contreras scored all the way from first to tie the score. (.290)
*Brewers Play of the Game: With the Cubs leading by one in the fifth, Kolten Wong faced Adrian Sampson with a runner on first and one out. Wong doubled and that scored the tying run. (.174)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Codi Heuer (IP, 3 batters faced)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +30 (+2)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom +20/Craig Kimbrel +20
- David Bote -15 (-2)
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -22
Up Next: The Cubs have an off day Monday, one of three they have over the final two weeks of the season. On Tuesday, they face the Twins in Wrigley Field. They’ll send Alec Mills (6-6, 4.50) to the hill. The Twins will start Griffin Jax (3-4, 6.65 ERA). The Cubs are two games behind the Twins for the seventh spot in the draft order. If that’s something you want and care about, you want the Twins to win both of these games. If you don’t care, which is a very reasonable take, the Cubs might as well go win two.