Against a good team like the Rays, Monday night’s game had all of the hallmarks of a loss. It feels like that is the kind of game that has continually gotten away from the Cubs. The Rays aren’t yet playing particularly well and with their star player Wander Franco a late lineup scratch, this is certainly a game you want to grab when it was there for the taking.
Patrick Wisdom stayed red hot and hit a two-run homer in the second to give Kyle Hendricks an early lead. Kyle gave one back in the fourth, allowing an RBI-single to Ji-Man Choi who has been equally hot for the Rays. Still, the Cubs carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth inning.
Ten games is a really small sample size, even if it is already about six percent of a major league season. But in that small sample, the fifth has been an inning where Cubs pitchers have been struggling in the last few days. When you dig a little further, they’ve actually been worse in the fourth inning for the year to date. Counting tonight’s game, they’ve now allowed 11 runs in the fourth inning and seven each in the third and the sixth. The fifth has now accounted for five runs.
There’s no rocket science here. The pitchers are still not really stretched out and they are struggling the second and third times through the order. Add on top of that the usage of “second tier” relievers in the middle innings (particularly that sixth inning where no Cubs starter has reached yet.)
So it wasn’t altogether shocking when Kyle Hendricks got into trouble in the fifth. A single, a walk and another single tied the game with only one out and 2020 postseason hero Randy Arozarena stepping to the plate, David Ross went to the pen. David has had a trigger so quick that Joe Maddon has to be jealous somewhere so far in 2022. But, I think that’s been the right call.
The pen has been decent so far this year and frequently in recent years. The Brewers have been doing this for years. You still want talented starters. Starting pitching isn’t dead. You just want to get them when their effectiveness is waning and replace them with relievers. Relievers are getting more and more of two things. One is able to touch the upper ends of the radar gun. And the other is deceptive. Teams are learning how to work with both of those skills and it appears the Cubs are right in the mix of the teams that do that well.
This point allows for a transition to the three things I liked about Monday’s game:
- Keegan Thompson. Keegan was summoned in that very tough spot and he got a double play ball extinguishing the rally. But he did so much more than that. He then threw three more scoreless innings. He picked up a win for his effort and as much as the individual pitcher win has been (generally fairly) maligned, this was no cheapie. Thompson held the line until the Cubs offense squeezed out another run. Cubs writers all across the internet will be writing about the weapon that Keegan has been out of the pen so far. They’ll talk about the dilemma that Ross and the front office have. The team is in need of a fifth starter until at least one of Alec Mills, Wade Miley and Adbert Alzolay can get healthy and stretched out to start. But Ross has talked about the weapon Keegan is and I’m pretty certain they are inclined to leave him there and not deploy him as a band-aid for the rotation.
- Homers from Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel. Let’s face it, one of the questions we all had about the 2022 Cubs is what can be expected out of the three breakout stars of the latter part of the 2021 Cubs. These two and Rafael Ortega were the stars down the stretch for the team. Was that all just a flash in the pan? What would it look like when the Cubs are being looked at more stringently by advance scouts? For all three, the early season results have been a mixed bag. But Wisdom is on a major tear right now and the homer was his first. For Schwindel, the numbers have been a bit more consistent, but still well short of his stand out performance down the stretch. But this was his second homer. It’s too soon to know what we’ll get from these two, but there are definitely reasons to think that at least some of their 2021 performance is repeatable.
- Ian Happ. Ian was a fringe MVP candidate until he got hurt down the stretch in 2020. Last year, he just could not put things together for the first several months of the year. But he finished 2021 with a flourish. Reminding us of his first round talent and just how good he can be. Ian had the go ahead RBI single in the seventh (something tells me we’ll be talking about that one again in a minute) and he now has a .345/.424/.414 line to start the season. Again, it’s important to note that these are very small sample sizes. Oddly the pop hasn’t really come with the strong contact skills, But, Happ has paired with Seiya Suzuki to lead the Cubs offense in the early going.
Let’s go to the numbers.
Game 10, April 18: Cubs 4, Rays 2 (6-4)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Keegan Thompson (.436). 3⅔ IP (11 batters), H, BB, 5K (W 2-0)
- Hero: Ian Happ (.186). 1-3, RBI, K
- Kid: Patrick Wisdom (.094). 1-3, HR, 2RBI, R, 2K
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.156). 0-4, K, DP
- Goat: Kyle Hendricks (-.135). 4⅓ IP (20 batters), 5H, 2BB, 2R, 6K
- Kid: Clint Frazier (-.070). 0-1
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ faced Jeffrey Springs with runners on first and second and two outs in the seventh inning, the game tied at two. He singled, driving in Seiya Suzuki for the go ahead run. (.215)
*Rays Play of the Game: Josh Lowe batted in the fifth inning with the runners on first and second and one out against Kyle Hendricks. He singled, tying the game and chasing Hendricks. (.179)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
David Robertson (3 batters, save)
Seiya Suzuki (2H, BB, 2R)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Seiya Suzuki +8.5
- Drew Smyly +6
- Ian Happ/Justin Steele +5
- Nick Madrigal/Jason Heyward/Patrick Wisdom -4
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. The Cubs will look to win three straight games for the first time in 2022. Justin Steele (1-0, 1.93) will start for the Cubs.