As the 2021 season winds down, for those of us here in the world of Heroes and Goats, there is but one piece of drama left. Who will win this year’s Rizzo Award? For a very long time, it appeared that the long-departed Kris Bryant would win on the virtue of his strong start to the season. If we did a little more number crunching and looked at this metric on a per-game standard, Craig Kimbrel had the better first half. But, the long stretches of uncompetitive baseball led to long stretches of Craig rotting on the end of the bullpen bench looking for opportunities to contribute that were few and far between.
After the trade deadline the “spare” Cubs sprung up. That’s what this team reminds me of: The replacement teams that were fielded in the NFL during a work stoppage. That led to a team that included a lot of past their prime players and a lot of never-weres. No offense meant to any of these guys, but I’d imagine many of these players and their families had long assumed that their career was going to peak at the Triple-A level.
This is a bit of a different approach than we see with a lot of teams after they make deadline trades. That usually leads to a lot of younger players being called up to get their feet wet. In that instance, I might have called this the “baby” Cubs. To be fair, there have been a handful of guys who got called up for the first time. But again, in many instances even those players were older. With the pandemic happening and the whole 2020 minor-league season having been wiped out from a development perspective, this is going to be an interesting period in baseball history. There are going to be a lot of older rookies. Even a guy like Ed Howard who the Cubs drafted right out of high school in 2020, if he makes the majors it will be at least one year later than he would ordinarily make it. That’s because he lost the 2020 season to the pandemic.
None of this is totally unprecedented for an individual player. We might see a player lose a whole season to injury. Or for whatever reason a guy might just have a terrible season and have to repeat a level only to get back on track and make it to the big leagues. But on a widespread level, this is certainly unprecedented. There are going to be a lot of older than usual rookies.
Anyway, with the rise of the spare Cubs, first we saw Rafael Ortega make a run at the top of the leaderboard. Rafael has tailed off a bit after the league has seen him a bit. But he’s still sporting some really interesting offensive numbers (wRC+ 113) and he’s running in fifth in the Rizzo standings. But he would have to get blisteringly hot over the last 11 games to catch back up to the top. After Ortega’s run, Frank Schwindel burst onto the season. Schwindel has some of the best numbers on the Cubs this season (wRC+ 167). He’s also burst out to the top of the Rizzo standings. The key for him? He just contributes every night. He’s appeared on a podium 20 times in his time with the Cubs. 16 of those have been positive. He’s had four negative games. He also had four straight Superhero games. That’s something I’m pretty certain has never happened before.
When I talked about the season standings at length a few weeks ago, I pointed out that I thought that there were three contenders for the top spot. Kris Bryant has a slight leg up just because he already has +26 locked in. Frank Schwindel has moved past Bryant and now sits at +30. But there is always the chance that a couple of rough games wipes him out. Recall that because of the way WPA works, if Schwindel grounded into an early double play and then the game got out of hand one way or the other, even a game where you have a homer and drive in a few runs can be a goat side outcome.
But there is one other guy. He is the third member of the “spare” Cubs biggest contributors. In this story, he is playing the role of the little engine that could. Or the tortoise. Pick your kid tale. Patrick Wisdom was the first one here. He got extensive time on the roster before all of the trades. Some of his best production came while covering third while Kris Bryant was morphing into a latter-day Ben Zobrist, playing at a different position seemingly every day. Patrick added another Superhero last night and now he sits at +23. Seven points back can feel like a lot. But in a world where one could be the Super Hero and the other a Billy Goat, six points could theoretically be wiped out in a single game.
Over the last seven games, Wisdom is +9 and Schwindel +2. If we pull back to 10 games, Wisdom drops down to +7 and Schwindel still at +2. But either way, Wisdom is moving into striking range. This very well could go down to the last game of the season. And again, unlike, say, a home run race, there is the chance of backsliding. So it is possible for Wisdom to catch Schwindel by way of Schwindel coming down. Of course, he hasn’t overtaken Bryant for the year yet. So he has that hurdle that he absolutely has to clear if he’s going to win. But he already took Bryant’s rookie homer record. Can he also steal any chance at a parting Rizzo Award from him too? I’m not counting him out.
Let’s go to the numbers and look at last night’s loss. 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 151, September 21: Twins 9 at Cubs 5 (67-84)
- Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.151). 1-3, 2RBI, 2HBP
- Hero: Rafael Ortega (.097). 2-3, BB, HBP, 2R
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.090). 2-3, HR (21), SF, BB, 2RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Alec Mills (-.426). 4IP, 20 batters faced, 6H, 7R (6ER), 2BB, WP, 4K (L 6-7)
- Goat: Matt Duffy (-.164). 1-5, 2K
- Kid: Trevor Megill (-.113). IP, 7 batters faced, 4H, 2R, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: In the fourth inning, with the game tied at three, Nick Gordon faced Alec Mills with a runner on first and two outs. Gordon homered and the Twins never looked back. (.231)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With the game tied at two in the third inning, Willson Contreras led off with a solo homer. (.114)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Frank Schwindel +30
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom +23 (+3)
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Rafael Ortega +15 (+2)
- *PJ Higgins -9.5
- Rex Brothers -11.5
- David Bote -15
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -22
Up Next: The Cubs and Twins are now separated by just a single game for the season. The Twins have six games left against teams out of the hunt and four against a Blue Jays team that needs to win every single game they can. The Cubs have three games against the non-competitive Pirates and a whopping seven against the Cardinals. Of course, the Cardinals have knocked the door down and have pretty much locked up a wild card spot. But home field advantage in that wild card game was locked up long, long ago. So strangely, the Cardinals have had such a reversal in fortune that they have reached “just stay healthy” range. The Cubs have the much tougher schedule, but it isn’t super obvious if it will play out that way.
In the game against the Twins tonight, the Cubs will start Kyle Hendricks (14-6, 4.81). Kyle has been stuck on 14 wins for quite some time now. He is also going to record the highest ERA of his career in what has become a lost year. The Twins counter with Joe Ryan (1-1, 2.15). The Cubs beat him a few weeks ago in his major league debut. But Ryan has been impressive, even including that game. He’s allowed a total of seven hits and two walks in 17 innings of work. That’s going to play. The non-competitive status of the teams aside, this is a pretty interesting pitching matchup.