Well, that was certainly an unusual Superhero. May 28th was the last time Adbert Alzolay landed in the top spot. With 3⅔ scoreless innings against a blazing hot Cardinals team, Adbert landed the Superhero award in this one. This is certainly the kind of outing that leaves you torn. Does the stuff play up out of the pen? Should you be considering using him in this kind of role for the long term? Or the flip side, is the ability to shut down a hot team like that for the better part of four innings indicative of someone who should be starting? I wouldn’t have made that kind of leap 20 years ago. But increasingly, you are only looking for five and maybe six innings out of a starter.
Consider this for a minute: Prior to Sunday’s game, the Cubs had faced 5,951 batters total for the season. Just 590 of them were a pitcher facing a hitter for the third time. In 128 different games, a pitcher was allowed to face at least one batter the third time through the order. That works out pretty easily to about 10 percent of all of the plate appearances for the season. Going further, just 17 plate appearances featured a Cub pitcher facing a hitter for the fourth time. Those 17 plate appearances occurred across only nine games.
When guys who lean way in the direction of number and statistics and way away from scouting and player development, they look at these numbers and see the wisdom in the opener. In a vacuum, I get it. The idea has faded a bit across baseball. I’m not aware of anyone employing the opener widely this year. Spending about half the season here in Tampa this year, they largely went with a more standard rotation. Be it the Rays or anyone else, when the start was really short, by design or otherwise, it was a bullpen game. But one can see the wisdom of having an opener work the first inning, then bringing in a starter to work the next five or six.
Only once this year did a Cubs starter fail to face any batters the second time through the order. Going further, they pretty consistently went twice through the order. As noted, there was one less game and 86 fewer batters faced on the second time through the order. That average is a rounding error short of averaging nine batters faced the second time through. Altogether Cubs starters averaged just a shade over 21 batters per game. The fully optimal usage of an opener would actually be starting the third inning.
This is why that idea hasn’t fully caught on. You end up having to just maneuver yourself into a pretzel trying to find the right way for your starter to face 20-25 batters and maybe miss having to face the best hitters three times. Well, one of the reasons anyway.
At any rate, the good news was Alzolay looking good in this one. He certainly hasn’t won anything more than the opportunity to have a shot at the rotation next year. He’s talented enough to necessitate using him in some capacity. But it can certainly be out of the bullpen. The Cubs are going to need rotation help in any scenario. Guys like Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Adrian Sampson and Cory Abbott have all been intriguing enough that you’d have to feel compelled to try to get all of them back for next season and all of them to get a shot to have a bigger role in 2022. The team needs a substantial rebuild and any number of solutions that can be found internally is a big save for the team.
On the other side of the diamond, I spent a lot of words talking about the Cardinals streak after the Saturday game. But it feels remiss not to point out that they’ve entered that top group of winners. 16 wins in a row is pretty rare air. The Cardinals are just the 30th team in all of baseball history to do so. Five of those streaks involved at least one game that ended in a tie. If we eliminate eight other streaks that involved teams prior to 1900, we are down to just 17 teams. Two other such streaks spanned more than a single season: The Pirates in 1938-39 and the Brewers in 1986-87. So we are looking at just 15 such streaks within a single season from 1900 to present. If they can win their next game, they’ll be into the top 10 single season streaks since 1900. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.
Let’s go to the numbers from the final home game of the 2021 Cubs season. 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 156, September 26: Cardinals 4 at Cubs 2 (67-89)
- Superhero: Adbert Alzolay (.254). 3⅔ IP, 14 batters faced, 2H, BB, 3K
- Hero: Rafael Ortega (.176). 2-3, 2BB
- Sidekick: Sergio Alcantara (.086). 1-4, 2B, RBI
- Billy Goat: Codi Heuer (-.405). IP, 7 batters faced, H, 3BB, 2R, K, WP (L 7-4)
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.304). 0-5, 2K, DP
- Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.139). 1-5, K
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs in the eighth inning, the Cubs were leading by one. Harrison Bader faced Rowan Wick. Wick allowed a game-tying, solo homer. (.256)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With the game tied at one in the fourth inning, Sergio Alcantara batted with runners on first and second. He doubled, and a run scored. (.184)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +31 (-1)
- Kris Bryant/Patrick Wisdom +26
- David Bote -13
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -25
Up Next: The final off day of the season for the Cubs happens Monday, then they head out on a season-ending, two-city, six-game road trip. That trip starts Tuesday in Pittsburgh. The Cubs will start Alec Mills (6-7, 4.83). The Pirates will start Mitch Keller (5-11, 5.96). The Pirates will likely have the fourth pick in the 2022 draft, though they could conceivably catch third. The Cubs are looking more and more like the seventh pick, though purely mathematically they could finish anywhere between fifth and 10th.