Poor Nick Martini. Nick is one of an unbelievably long list of guys who haven’t really gotten significant major league playing time, now getting some time with this year’s Cubs. Nick had 71 career MLB hits in 109 games prior to this one. Then he had a four-hit game. To be sure, there have been guys who have had four-hit games earlier in their career. And to be even fairer, it isn’t nearly as out of the blue as the Rafael Ortega three-homer game earlier this year. But still, it seems a pretty unlikely occurrence. Just for fun, I did look up if Martini had even had a three-hit game in his career. And he had. A three-hit game on September 9, 2019 for the Padres. That game was against the Cubs and it was started by Kyle Hendricks. Fun times.
This Cubs team ought to get a clever nickname like the Castaway Cubs or something. But they don’t spend a lot of time naming 90 loss teams. As it turns out, regardless of how fun the Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega stories are, building a team almost entirely out of players that other teams don’t want isn’t really a good model. To be fair, this team wasn’t built to win once the core of the team was traded away en masse. Heck, my brain isn’t what it once was, but I can still remember clearly back to spring training and early in the season when the accusations flew around that even with the core of the team, that this team wasn’t built to win.
I’ve always hated the term dead cat bounce. Sports have gone on forever and baseball is over 100 years old. Couldn’t we have come up with some other description, analogy, metaphor, whatever for a team that is generally bad but has a good streak? Astonishingly, this collection of players won 11 of 15 games played between August 23 and September 8. Sure, there was a series win at home against the Rockies, and a seven game winning streak that included series sweeps over the Twins and Pirates. But there was also a series win against the Reds who were still in contention at the time.
But let’s be clear, this dead cat, it did bounce. On July 29, the majority of the trades tearing down the original 2021 Cubs were completed. On that day, they lost their third straight game to the Reds and then embarked on a trip to Washington absent most of their star power. Heading on that trip, the Cubs had a record of 50-54 (.481). Since that time, the Cubs are 17-36 (.321). But I mentioned the bounce, right? Of course, that math should be somewhat obvious. They had one stretch (against a pretty soft schedule and largely at home) where they won 11 of 15. That means that if we pull those games out of the season (which is a really mean thing to do to a team that has otherwise been astonishingly bad), they won just six other games outside of that stretch. And they lost 32 of them. Six wins in 38 games is a .158 winning percentage. I did say astonishingly bad, right?
If you want to make an argument that this Cubs team from July 30 to present is the worst group in Cubs history, I won’t fight you. .364 is the worst winning percentage over a full season in Cubs history. It was done twice: 1962 and 1966. That 1966 Cubs team featured four future Hall of Fame players and a couple of others like Ken Holtzman who are firmly in the Hall of Very Good. Small sample size can be argued, but this is about as bad as it gets. Even acknowledging that one good two week stretch against teams largely out of contention, this team is losing at one of the highest rates in Cubs history. Even now, in the last week they’ve played the Twins and Pirates and lost all three games they played. In between, they lost four games in three days to an admittedly smoking hot Cardinals team (now 17 straight wins... they could be chasing some interesting history against the Cubs this weekend).
I write about baseball for a side hustle. I’m certainly not going to complain about that. I have a little added incentive to follow my favorite sports team. It’s a good gig and I’m grateful that I ever even got this opportunity. For basically five years now, I’ve had the rough online equivalent to open microphone night. Al certainly has some suggestions from time to time, but by and large I’ve been able to write almost anything I’ve wanted to in this space for that time. I appreciate that opportunity.
Let me say it loudly and clearly. It’s therapeutic at times to be able to come into this space and rant and rave or talk about whatever is on my mind. But this space is good when I’m talking about aspects of the game the night before. The game is at its best if the games are either close or there are a lot of lead changes. Looking at who had the pivotal contributions either bad or good is fun. Pointing out that the one guy who had meaningful contributions in the game is the Superhero is less fun. I can only hope that the Cubs return to contention quickly. For the first time, this begins to feel like busy work and not like fun.
That’s enough about that. I’ve got this game and then five more to write about, then the offseason ahead. I owe those of you who are faithful readers of my Historical Heroes and Goats the back half of the 1989 Cubs season. I’ll spend some time on that this offseason. Before that, I’ll bring you a wrap on this train wreck of a season. This season doesn’t not scream out for a lot of post mortem and I certainly won’t linger there. But I’m sure there is at least a passing interest in looking at the complete Heroes and Goats standings.
In fairness, you are really getting the bulk of it. There are really about six guys who broke away from everyone else at the top of the standings. There are three guys at the bottom who broke away. You see those guys listed most days. Codi Heuer was near the top and faded. Jake Marisnick and Matt Duffy had similar experiences at other periods of time. Ian Happ spent a lot of time dragging the bottom before he escaped. There are an amazing 53 players between +6.5 and -11.5. Yes, that’s an 18 point swing, but it is amazing how clumped that group is. It’s not unusual for a guy to gain or lose a half dozen spots with a Superhero or Billy Goat placement in a given game.
Before we can get to that final recap and an offseason ahead, we have to recap these final six games. Let’s take a look at this one. 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 157, September 28: Pirates 8, Cubs 6 (67-90)
- Superhero: Nick Martini (.181). 4-4, SF, 2RBI
- Hero: Frank Schwindel (.129). 2-4, BB, RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Rafael Ortega (.123). 1-3, 2BB, 2B, 2R
- Billy Goat: David Bote (-.297). 0-4, K, 2DP
- Goat: Alec Mills (-.276). 5IP, 23 batters faced, 7H, 2BB, 6R, 4K
- Kid: Trevor Megill (-.210). 1⅓ IP, 7 batters faced, 2H, R (0ER), K
WPA Play of the Game: With the Cubs leading the Pirates 6-4 in the sixth inning with runners on first and second and two outs. Hoy Park of the Pirates batted against Adam Morgan. He tripled and two runs scored to tie the game. (.314)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With a runner on first and no outs in the fifth inning, Frank Schwindel stepped in against Mitch Keller. Schwindel came through with a single, sending the runner over to third and settling up a rally. (.119)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Someone else (leave in comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +33 (+2)
- Kris Bryant/Patrick Wisdom +26
- Craig Kimbrel +20
- Nico Hoerner +16
- Rafael Ortega +16 (+1)
- Trevor Megill -10
- Rex Brothers -11.5
- David Bote -16 (-3)
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -25
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set in Pittsburgh. Kyle Hendricks will take his final shot at 15 wins. He is 14-7 (4.81). This is the worst ERA of Kyle’s career by close to a run and a half. The Pirates will start Roansy Contreras, making his MLB debut.