There’s never any question that over the course of the baseball season you will get to a three-game streak. You will have them in both directions unless your team is historically bad. While I suspect that this team is bad, it’s almost certainly not historically bad. So I’ll expect it to have streaks on both sides of the ledger. Alas, a Cubs three-game losing streak has happened for the first time. It took 13 games. There hasn’t yet been a corresponding three-game winning streak. The net result of the three straight losses is the team dropping under .500.
It’s likely that this team will at least salvage a split of this four game set with a Pirates team that isn’t good at all. There is obviously a chance of winning all three games and getting back to the high water mark of the season at two games under .500.
Baseball can make you look silly when you start looking at the schedule ahead and making assumptions. Perhaps more than any of the other major professional sports played in America, bad teams can and do win series against dominating ballclubs. But, math and probability and talent all come together for an expected outcome of the better team winning at least two out of three against the worse team. Particularly if the better team is at home. All of this is a long way of saying that the schedule really toughens up over the next few weeks. It is possible that this series is the last time this team sees a record over .500.
Certainly, a loss to this Pirates opponent that was just swept and generally outclassed by a Brewers team that the Cubs did manage to take two of three from to open the season. The Cubs did jump ahead early, but they weren’t able to hold it. Of course, even in a loss there were some positives. Let’s go to my three positives of the day.
Number one for me is the bullpen work over the last 4⅓ innings. I could be nitpicky and dwell on the fact that none of the pitchers threw a clean inning or that after a starter only gave the Cubs four innings no reliever gave them more than three outs. But I’m going to take the positive that the pen blanked the Pirates over the last four plus innings. The result was, they stayed at arms reach and gave the Cubs every opportunity to steal this game back.
Through 13 games, the Cubs have been in 12 of them all the way to the last pitch. While I don’t think this team is very good, when relatively healthy, they aren’t very far away from turning the corner. I think the improvement is needed on the offensive side of the ball where the team is still trying to recover from the chasm that was created when the core of the championship team was traded away last year. It’s possible that one player, perhaps Brennan Davis when he’s had a proper time to season at Iowa, could give the Cubs a significant lift towards respectability.
The second thing I liked in Wednesday’s game were the two walks drawn by Ian Happ. That made him the only Cub to reach base twice. Ian has a .316/.409/.368 line to start the season. The power has been strangely absent, but you have to love when the on base percentage is almost 100 points higher than the batting average. That can be a significant contribution. Ian is the most established bat in the Cubs lineup these days and so there are going to be nights when the situation dictates that he doesn’t see a lot of pitches in the zone. Taking what they give you, drawing your walks, it puts men on base and it helps flip the lineup. Your teammates will generally hit more productively with men on base as it reduces some of the options for defensive shifting.
This may not be popular, but I’m going to use the third thing I liked on Daniel Vogelbach. The former Cubs draftee and one-time prospect has bounced around the majors since being traded for the man who was on the mound when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. Perhaps he’s found a home with the rebuilding Pirates. Daniel might be the biggest departure ever from the old-school model of a leadoff hitter. But, he hit a two-run homer last night to pull the Pirates within one. He later drew a walk and came around to score a second run. That directly involved him with three of the four Pirate runs.
I rarely stop rooting for a guy once he’s come through the Cubs organization and Vogelbach is no exception. I’d happily root for him to be quiet for the next three days, but I’m tickled that he has a line of .316/.395/.579. One can always wonder if he would have remained in the Cubs organization had they been able to know there would eventually be a designated hitter in the National League.
An honorable mention to make three Cubs things, I’ll say Rowan Wick. Wick’s scoreless seventh put him on a podium for the first time this year. Rowan can be a dominant pitcher when everything is right. With each passing day, it seems longer since he was that pitcher. But we can continue to hope that he can fully unlock his potential.
With that, let’s look at the numbers from last night’s game.
Game 13, April 21: Pirates 4 at Cubs 3 (6-7)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Scott Effross (.061). ⅓ IP (1 batter)
- Hero/Sidekick: Chris Martin/Rowan Wick (.052). Martin: IP (4 batters), H, WP, 3K; Wick: IP (4 batters), H, BB, K
- Billy Goat: Ethan Roberts (-.306). ⅔ IP (6 batters), 2H, 2BB, 2R, 2K (L 0-1)
- Goat: Jason Heyward (-.129). 0-4, 3K
- Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.118). 0-4, RBI, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: With the Cubs leading the Pirates 3-2 in the fifth inning, Ethan Roberts was facing Yoshi Tsutsugo with the bases loaded. Yoshi got the best of it with a two run double. That was it for Roberts’ night and that would prove to be the difference in this game. (.268)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Tsutsugo really had a mixed bag of a night. He gets the distinction of being involved with both plays. In the seventh inning, he batted with runners at the corners and only one out against Rowan Wick. This was a real opportunity for the Pirates to bust the game wide open. But Wick induced a double play ball to end the inning. Tsutugo will surely trade a game winning two-run double for what was not one but two double plays he hit into. (.126)
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.
- Ian Happ +10
- Seiya Suzuki +7.5
- Drew Smyly/Keegan Thompson +6
- Kyle Hendricks/Marcus Stroman -5
- Jason Heyward/Ethan Roberts -6
Up Next: The Cubs return to afternoon baseball at Wrigley Field for game two of this four game set. The Cubs are 4-2 in day games so far this year. Hopefully that will bode well for the remainder of this series. Drew Smyly (1-0, 0.00) will get the start for the Cubs.