Those of you who read this feature every day will know that I adapted a format over this past weekend of highlighting three things I liked about the game. Three kind of flows well with three Heroes and three Goats. I’m largely using three performances that I liked, though it isn’t necessarily three people. Today is no exception to that.
The first thing I liked about Tuesday’s game was the fight the Cubs showed. The Rays aren’t yet playing like a team that won 100 games last year, has won at least 90 games in each of the last three full seasons (and went 40-20 in the shortened 2020 season), won two division titles and played in a World Series. But, all of the smart money in the world says that when the dust settles that the Rays are going to be the better team.
So when the Cubs fell behind 4-0 in the third inning and starter Justin Steele was chased on a cold night at Wrigley Field, it wouldn’t have been a shocker if this was a game that ended up something like 8-2 or worse, one that ended with position player pitching. But that’s now how it went. Frank Schwindel doubled in a run in the fourth and then was along for the ride when Patrick Wisdom hit his second homer in as many days. That put the Cubs right back in it at 4-3.
In the seventh, the Rays plated a couple of more but still the Cubs got off the mat again. They scored two in their half of the seventh and they stayed right there, a single run back through the end of the game.
But I love the fight. That kind of hanging in there and putting runs on the board can steal some wins. Let’s hope they can keep it going.
The second thing I liked about the game was Seiya Suzuki. He’s not going to show up on the podium, but he did continue to perform offensively. Cubs fans have been clamoring for him to move up higher in the order where he can have a greater impact on the game. They got their wish as Seiya moved up to the second spot in the order. Unfortunately, he finally saw his hitting streak to start the season end. But that was largely because of his discipline at the plate where he took three walks in four plate appearances and saw the game end with him in the on deck circle.
With his power, Seiya can certainly impact some games. But so far, early in his MLB career, he’s shown an ability to impact the game with his plate discipline and getting on base. Certainly as with all rookies, there are two things you wait to see. One is how they’ll handle it as the league gets a scouting report and a consistent plan of attack. The ability to adapt is what separates the average players from the great players. The second thing is the ability to continue to be productive as the season wears on. The rigors of the 162 game schedule and the travel that goes with it can wear down both the body and the mind. The early returns are extremely promising.
Jesse Chavez. For pitchers, its a little different than hitters. Since the hitter is reacting to what the pitcher does, the pitcher more or less dictates the action. But with pitchers the thing is how do you bounce back after you’ve been knocked around. The last time Jesse threw at Wrigley Field, he was getting hammered by the Brewers. After that outing where he allowed three runs while only recording two outs, Jesse has now pitched twice. In those two outings, he’s thrown five innings, faced 19 batters and allowed five hits, a walk and a run.
In the wild card era, pitchers increasingly were used one inning at a time out of the bullpen. Or in some instances, one batter at a time. In the last few years, there has been a bit of a shift. With teams improving their ability to teach players how to unlock higher velocity and higher spin rate, the innings thrown by starters are dropping further and further. The back end of the game has become a sea of hard throwers with nasty stuff. The strategy is pretty elementary, get the game to your nasty guys at the end of the game with a lead. But many nights, the starter isn’t making it all of the way to the point where you can turn it over to those nasty guys at the end. That’s when the new breed of reliever comes in, the mid-game multi-inning reliever.
Jesse has done a lot more of the single inning thing, but he’s no fish out of water with these longer stints either. As recently as 2019, he started a handful of games for the Rangers. The Braves used him off and on last year in a multi inning role and Cubs fans will remember him as a guy who they occasionally looked to for multiple innings when he was here in 2020.
Keegan Thompson is thriving right now in this role and Michael Rucker has had some promising innings as well. If the Cubs could get Thompson, Rucker and Chavez acclimated to this type of role, they would be almost certain to have one of them ready to go multiple innings on any given day, even if one or two of them is down because they had an extended outing like Thompson did on Monday. It also allows the possibility for a bullpen game that doesn’t mean you are throwing nine or more pitchers.
Let’s get to the numbers for last night’s game.
Game 11, April 19: Rays 6 at Cubs 5 (6-5)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.148). 1-4, 3B, RBI, R, K
- Hero: Patrick Wisdom (.126). 1-3, HR, 2RBI, R, K
- Sidekick: Jesse Chavez (.085). 2⅓ IP (8 batters), H, BB, 2K
- Billy Goat: Justin Steele (-.269). 2⅔ IP (14 batters), 3H, 3BB, 4R, K, BK (L 1-1)
- Goat: Chris Martin (-.182). IP (6 batters), 3H, 2R, K, WP
- Kid: Jonathan Villar (-.164). 1-5, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: For many Cubs fans, this was their first opportunity to see the Rays newest sensation, Wander Franco. That impression now includes a long two-run homer in the third inning off of Cubs starter Justin Steele. (.192)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom remains blazing hot. His two run homer in the third inning made it a one run game. His OPS has climbed above .850 after a terrible start to the season. He also manned center field for a good portion of the game. (.182)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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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
- Ian Happ +7
- Drew Smyly +6
- Willson Contreras -4.5
- Kyle Hendricks/Chris Martin -5
Note: I forgot to update player totals before posting standings after game #10, so the standings were inaccurate.
Up Next: The third and final game of this series, the only meeting of the year between the two teams. Marcus Stroman (0-1, 6.00) is on the hill for the Cubs looking for his first win of the season.