Life finally slowed down for me just a little bit last night for the first time in a while. Let’s be clear, I watched TV and it still wasn’t baseball. I am not getting sucked back into that this year. But, I did follow along more than I had in some time. The photo at the top today simultaneously represents the moment I thought would have been good to land Ian Happ in the Superhero spot for the game, possibly also the play of the game (although that Rafael Ortega homer...) and where the game was when I went to bed here on the East Coast how I thought the game was sure to end. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and saw that they played 11 last night.
Here's snother peek behind the curtains to show you how I do what I do. I will follow a game, so I’m aware of the flow of it. I know Ortega brought them off of the mat with his three-run blast. So I mentally log that’s a key play from the game. Then Happ hits his homer. That’s pretty late in the game, so that’s going to be a big key. But 95 percent of the time even if I’m watching the game, I’m not looking at Fangraphs for their (nearly) live updating WPA graph. I “discover” the results each day while I’m writing. I write top down, so I know Happ took the top spot, because the photo goes in right after the headline. Then, I give you my stream of consciousness writing and then I give you the numbers. Ergo, I generally don’t have much idea of who is where when I’m writing.
So the stream of consciousness about last night’s game is pretty much a carryover from my writing about the game before. When Ortega homered to tie and Happ homered to put them in the lead after they looked dead to the world for the first part of the game I chuckled. I made the analogy to the original Major League movie. Certainly Jed Hoyer isn’t maliciously trying to make the team terrible so he can move the team. But, in trading all of the players, he surely had at least a passing thought that gutting the team might get them way up into the top five picks in the draft where intuitively the best talent usually goes.
If your goal was reaching the highest possible draft spot rather than talent development for the current group of players, last night was as disastrous as a game could go. They were down 3-0 semi-late in the game to another team that will be drafting (very) high and came off the mat to win. Of the 12 worst records in baseball, 10 of them are on at least a one-game losing “streak.” The Cubs have won three in a row and the Diamondbacks won their last game. That’s it. The three-game skid has moved the Cubs down into the ninth pick slot. They are only 1½ games ahead of the Rockies who have the tenth. They are three clear of the Tigers who sit in the dreaded 12th spot because the Mets failed to sign their first round pick. You don’t want to drop to that spot, because dropping two spots is just unduly rough.
I can’t say enough that I’m a bit old school. I’m fine with playing youngsters for development. Very much like a minor league game, I feel like your primary goal as a non-competitive team is to maximize player development. At 1A, you maximize player health. Maybe you even flip those two. You aren’t going to play guys with minor ailments, particularly if it is something that can grow into a bigger injury. Keep guys healthy and put them into positions to grow and learn. Once you’ve accomplished those two, you try to win with the group you have on the field. If you were running an organization and you were trying to tank, you wouldn’t hire me. I play to win. Period. I don’t have to put my best nine out, but I do believe I have to manage to win with those that played. Integrity of the game and what not.
That said, this one is easy to see through different eyes. If I were David Ross, I’d be pretty pleased with the effort of the guys over the last three games. But, I’ll note that player development for much of this roster isn’t an overwhelming concern. Don’t get me wrong, even elder statesmen who have had success like Kyle Hendricks and Jason Heyward should always be working on developing their craft and learning to adapt to the approach opponents have to them. But all of the development in the world isn’t going to turn Patrick Wisdom into a perennial All-star. He is what he is at this point in life. Maybe in some alternate universe he got a shot earlier and went on to be a mid-level star. But Wisdom is 30 years old. Everything we know about baseball, health, aging and peak performance says that Father Time is going to be a significant opponent for him going forward.
And Wisdom isn’t alone. Ortega and Matt Duffy too are in that same boat. So is Frank Schwindel. If I counted right, 12 of the 28 players on the active roster are at least 30 years old. I’ve seen a few different takes on the age curve in baseball through the years. I know that historically the “fall off” in skills was somewhere around age 32 or 33. But I’ve seen people suggest for ordinary players that number is in the late 20s. The stats for players over 30 are heavily impacted by way of players who are still playing in their 30s disproportionately being stars. Basically, all of the guys who never make it beyond a cup of coffee or never make it out of their initial team control period are guys in their 20s. Of course, the Romine brothers from this year’s team would like a word. There are always exceptions.
That’s the biggest problem with being happy for this team when things go good. This isn’t a young team. So the team on the field isn’t going to grow up into a good team organically. Whenever the Cubs are good again, the huge majority of these guys are going to be gone. So this winning, while fun, is particularly counterproductive for business purposes. That’s just a harsh reality. If you want a sobering comparison, look at the ages of this team side by side with the team that won the World Series for the Cubs in 2016. Particularly in key positions, it just isn’t close.
Yeah, I’m not always the guy you want to invite the party. Now that I’m done spoiling any fun that comes out of this three-game winning streak, let’s go to the numbers. 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 135, September 2: Cubs 6, Pirates 5 (60-75)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.446). 2-6, HR (18), 2RBI, R, 2K
- Hero: Rafael Ortega (.329). 2-5, HR (9), 3RBI, R, S, K
- Sidekick: Codi Heuer/Manuel Rodriguez (.310). Heuer IP, 3 batters, K, (W 6-2); Rodriguez IP, 4 batters, BB
- Billy Goat: Rowan Wick (-.291). IP, 6 batters faced, 3H, 2R (1ER), K
- Goat: Keegan Thompson (-.239). 1⅔ IP, 12 batters faced, 4H, 2BB, 3R, 3K
- Kid: Robinson Chirinos (-.209). 1-5, R, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: Yeah, so Rowan Wick totally stole both ends of the top WPA plays. In the ninth inning, with the Cubs leading by two, Wick faced Michael Perez with one out and allowed a two-run, game-tying single. (.408)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Then he got the next batter, Cole Tucker, to ground into an inning-ending double play. If Wick is going to try to grow into a closer, you want to make sure he understands the gravity of this moment. Keeping his composure and not melting down helped the team win a game. (.322)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Sergio Alcantara (3-5, 2B, BB, 2R)
Adrian Sampson (3 1⁄3 IP, 10 batters faced, 4K)
Scott Effross (2IP, 6 batters faced, 4K)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Kris Bryant +26
- Patrick Wisdom/Craig Kimbrel +20
- Rafael Ortega +16 (+2)
- Frank Schwindel +14
- *PJ Higgins/Rex Brothers -9.5
- *David Bote -12
- Zach Davies -14
- Jake Arrieta -19
Rowan Wick made a podium yesterday, becoming the 60th different Cub to appear in H&G. This has shattered the previous high. Scott Effross, who pitched well enough in this one but didn't make it to a podium spot is one of the three Cubs to appear in a game but not in H&G.
Up Next: The Cubs continue their series with the Pirates. Alec Mills (6-6, 4.32) is set to start for the Cubs. He’s coming off of one of the better starts of his career. Steven Brault (0-3, 4.57) is scheduled for the Pirates. Could be four in a row?