Just a few days ago I talked about how silly baseball can make you look if you just sit down with a schedule and try to guess how a team will do. I was talking about the next couple weeks while the Cubs’ schedule gets a lot tougher on paper than it has been so far in the early going. Certainly the Brewers and Rays are expected to be competitive, but the Cubs have already played six games with the (expected to be) woeful Pirates and the (likely to be) overmatched in their division Rockies.
Even within those descriptions, we’ve seen the peril of going too far down the rabbit hole of assuming how a series will go based on talent level. If you ranked those teams on expected value best to worst, the Pirates would be at the bottom of just about everyone else’s list. Yet the Cubs played the basket of games against the rest of those teams to an even .500, even splitting the six games between the Brewers and Rays who are both playoff contenders. But the Cubs have lost four of six to the Pirates. Go figure.
So you can look at the next few weeks and say there is going to be a lot of losing. But the truth is, you don’t know. For sure, the competition will get tougher. But there are no guarantees. The reality is, right now this team isn’t making enough plays. Is that etched in stone to continue? No, it isn’t. Some of the guys who have started slow are going to pick it up. Some of the guys who started fast are going to slow down. That’s how averages become averages. We can suspect that the Cubs are going to lose a lot of games over the next few weeks. But we just don’t know.
One of the things I’ve long believed is that the differences between teams at the start of the season are much less. There are a variety of factors that generally balance teams at the start of the year. First and foremost, the biggest difference between the best teams and the worst teams (biggest, not only) is the depth of the roster. Those better teams are generally better at the top end of the roster for sure. They’ll often have superstar players. But the real difference is having quality down to the fourth or fifth starter. Having quality down to the seventh or eighth reliever. Having quality down to the 10th or 11th bat. Those advantages play out over the long run much more so than the short run.
Tying onto that point is the ability to deal with injuries as they happen. The lesser teams will slowly fade into oblivion, because injuries happen to every team. But on that lesser team, it is all the more likely when that injury happens that an above replacement level player gets replaced with a below replacement level player.
The other factor that comes into play is that the average player doesn’t come into the season thinking they are definitely going to be on a fifth-place team. If they’ve never been on a team that wildly exceeded expectations, they are all keenly aware that sometimes a team does so. Not all of them, but the majority think: “Why not us?” If only a few players can overachieve and if people stay healthy maybe they can stay in it long enough that management trades to add players. The losing will wear on your psyche, but that’s only once the losing starts.
These differences amplify at the end of the season. The bad teams shut down injured players and trade away players for prospects. The talent difference widens. Sure, sometimes you can get a mirror effect. Sometimes you get guys who haven’t gotten their shot really giving 120 percent trying to boost their future chances. But by and large the better teams beat the brains in on lesser teams down the stretch. That effect has been growing in recent years and there has been some increased frequency of really strong records.
This is a lot of words to say that the results aren’t baked in over the next few weeks. I’m going to try to keep an open mind and not book the losses ahead of time.
This was also a lot of words to not talk at length about another frustrating loss on Sunday, one in which the Cubs had a ton of late opportunities and just couldn’t cash in. I don’t want to blame this loss on one player because there was plenty of missed opportunity to go around. That said, I did think it summed up the early 2022 season when Nick Madrigal batted with runners on first and third with no outs in the seventh. The Cubs were down two. Nick was traded for because of his elite contact skill. Even a double play grounder would have cut the deficit to one. But he struck out. A foul out followed and a situation where the expectation is not only that you score, but that the expected value is more than one run, Instead, the Cubs got nothing.
It was that kind of day. Accordingly, I’m going to just do a quick hit on my three positives of the game.
- Five Cubs relievers combined to throw six innings with just a single unearned run. Tops among them was Mychal Givens who faced five batters and retired all of them. The bullpen gave the Cubs every opportunity to come back and win this game. Of course, it was “that” kind of day and the one unearned run ended up being the difference in the game.
- Ian Happ finally hit his first homer of 2022. He’s been off to a very strong start to the season, hitting for a high average and getting on a lot. It’s good for him to notch a long one. Ian was drafted for his elite offensive skills. He has flashed them off and on. He can certainly be a very potent offensive player when he’s grooved in.
- Alfonso Rivas stayed hot. The weirdness that can come out of WPA and Heroes and Goats is such that Rivas had only two plate appearances, but because he got a double and a walk in them, he’s the Superhero in a close game. In a blowout the day before, three hits, including a homer and five RBI he didn’t make it to the hero podium. I was disappointed that Rivas wasn’t in Sunday’s lineup. He made the most of the opportunity late in the game.
Let’s turn our attention to the numbers from Sunday’s game.
Game 16, April 24: Pirates 4 at Cubs 3 (7-9)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Alfonso Rivas (.121). 1-1, 2B, BB
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.105). 1-5, 2B, K
- Sidekick: Rafael Ortega (.074). 2-5, 2-2B, R
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.226). 1-5, R, 2K
- Goat: Frank Schwndel (-.218). 2-5, RBI, K
- Kid: Nick Madrigal (-.207). 0-3, BB, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: With runners on second and third and only one out, the Cubs were trailing by one when Willson Contreras stepped in to face David Bednar in the ninth. Bednar looked really good at the end of this one. In a situation where Willson just needed to get the ball into play and get that run home, Bednar struck him out. (.298)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki batted with a runner on second and one out in the ninth, the Cubs trailing by one. Seiya has one of the oddest looking box score events ever. He doubled with a runner on second but didn’t drive in a run. (.261)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mychal Givens (1 2⁄3 IP, 5 batters)
Someone else (leave in comments)
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 +11.5
- Ian Happ +10
- Keegan Thompson +8
- Ethan Roberts -6
- Nick Madrigal -7
- Jason Heyward -9
Up Next: An off day on Monday. Then the Cubs start a six-game road trip Tuesday with three games in Atlanta. The Braves check in with a record just a tick worse than the Cubs, a 7-10 mark. Marcus Stroman will make his fourth start of the season, still looking for his first win (0-2, 8.78). The Cubs have lost all three of his starts and in the last two, he’s allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in just 8⅓ innings. For what it’s worth, this will be his first start on five days’ rest rather than four.