I started writing daily about baseball in 2017. As someone writing about the Cubs, that meant that, though frustrating at times, I got to write about a lot of pretty good baseball, a lot of wins and a team that was at least in the periphery of the championship picture. That actually continued to be a little true through June of last year. Though there was a lot of frustration and disappointment among the fanbase heading into the season, that team got itself into contention for a while with a good start. At least for a division title and playoff baseball. But then an extra swoony June 2021 cut the legs out from under the team and then the front office cut out the rest by trading away almost every meaningful player on the roster.
The trades added a lot of very young talent to the organization. There is no question that there is talent there. Of course, as is always the case in baseball, it takes more than talent to make it. The overall talent level top to bottom of the Cubs organization is improving. But very little of that talent is major league ready. There also isn’t a ton of absolutely destined to be every day player and certainly not a lot of future star. At least not “guaranteed” guys. But there are a growing number of probably going to at least make it and some emerging probably going to make an impact there assuming trajectory continues.
But all of that is largely the domain of Josh Timmers and his fantastic coverage of the minors. Here in Heroes and Goats, we look at performance at the major league level. Since the trades have happened losses have been the more probable outcome. We don’t know for sure what 2022 has in store for the Cubs. It looks like they have taken a few steps forward. It also looks like there are going to continue to be some days when they are flat overmatched.
My narratives in this section can be tricky in that environment. Al writes the recap daily. I’ve tended to look at the view from 10,000 feet. What does the overall trend look like? Keep things in context. Keep things level. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.
That, though, can be hard during a string of losses. I’m a Cubs fan first and writer second, so just like you I’m frustrated, sad, mad or when it gets really bad or indifferent. Indifferent is bad. “Oh, another loss, whatever.” That’s the one that teams have to worry most about. When I’m indifferent, I’m probably not turning on the TV. I’m certainly not headed to the park or buying merchandise.
I don’t want to be there, so I’ve made a decision. Years ago, I did some radio work covering sports at the University of Illinois. At the time, the Illini football team was bad. Like winless season bad. That was my first formal setting for talking about a team I followed. How do I fill a segment talking about team getting its brains beat in every week? So I learned to try to find a couple of things that were good. Some of those standout performances and guys making some plays would go on to lead the team to a Sugar Bowl a few years later.
So with that, I’m going to set out in this space to try to identify three things about the game from the night before that I found to be stand out or encouraging.
The inspiration for the above was the Cubs being down 8-1 after six innings. I’ve been afraid that despite the early season on-base success for this team that they don’t have enough slugging to put enough runs on the board. But, the Cubs bounced back and did put a four run inning together, pulling to within three runs twice (8-5, 9-6). It wasn’t enough, but I do tip my cap to getting off the mat and getting back into the game. It can be real easy to mail in the last three innings of a game like that and want to get out of the park ahead of an earlier start the next day (on a holiday for many of the players).
The second positive I take out of last night’s game is an individual who has come off the mat a bit. Patrick Wisdom started the year 1-for-21, had just one walk and was striking out almost half the time. Then, Friday night he came in late off the bench and delivered a pair of doubles. He carried that through to Saturday and had three more hits including two more doubles. All together, that was hits in five straight plate appearances and four of them were doubles. In a game plus a couple of late at bats, he moved from a -65 wRC+ to a +64. I know RBI are a largely flawed stat, but just like that he’s got six RBI in only 29 plate appearances. At this point, we are still talking below replacement level, but this is quite a step forward.
The third positive I noted out of last night’s game is Jonathan Villar. Jonathan had a huge night at the plate, registering a four hit game and driving in three of the Cubs six runs. Jonathan is enjoying a fine early season, tiny sample size: 1.079 OPS. At age 30 last year, he recorded 18 homers and a 2.1 fWAR season. For a contract that I’ve seen reported at a value of about $6 million with some incentives that could nudge it higher, it is possible that this was a great signing. One value you get with a guy like Jonathan is potential trade value. He’s on a very reasonable contract with a mutual option for 2023. With some pop and decent positional versatility, Villar is the kind of player that many playoff hopefuls would target to supplement their core or replace an injured player. Of particular value, he’s already moved around a bit. The Cubs are his seventh team in a 10-year career. He’s unlikely to have difficulty transitioning to another team in another city.
Even on a night when the Cubs lost their second straight game and dropped to 2-3 on their current road trip, not all is bad. There are still some things looking up. I’ll even give an honorable mention to Jesse Chavez for facing 11 batters over 2⅔ innings. In recent years, relievers have gotten more and more specialized. Seeing hitters twice in the same game isn’t a skill that’s been prioritized for relievers. The pendulum is swinging back as the average length of start has drifted to historic lows. I don’t think Jesse is going to be a guy who is asked to go that long very often. But with back-to-back abbreviated starts, it was a big lift to the pen.
Let’s get to the numbers.
Game 8, April 16: Rockies 9, Cubs 6 (4-4)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Jonthan Villar (.121). 4-5, 3RBI
- Hero: Patrick Wisdom (.064). 3-4, 2-2B, 2RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Nico Hoerner (.043). 1-4, R, K
- Billy Goat: Mark Leiter, Jr. (-.332). 3⅓ IP (19 batters), 5H, 4BB, 7R, 4K (L, 0-1)
- Goat: Willson Contreras (-.221). 0-5, K, 2DP
- Kid: Rafael Ortega (-.073). 0-4, S
WPA Play of the Game: In the bottom of the third, with two outs and Kris Bryant on first base, CJ Cron launched the first of two homers on the night. That increased the Rockies lead to 4-1. (.165)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With one out in the top of the third inning, Jonathan Villar batted with runners on second and third in a scoreless game. He singled and gave the Cubs an early run. (.072)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Seiya Suzuki +8.5
- Justin Steele +5
- Ian Happ +5
- Jason Heyward -4
- Nick Madrigal -4
- Patrick Wisdom -5
Up Next: The Cubs one and only trip to Colorado this year ends with an afternoon game. They will look to salvage a series split and send Drew Smyly to the mound to do it. Drew threw five scoreless innings on his way to his first win in his Cubs debut last week.