The quickest way to sum up Thursday night’s game is that the Braves slugged three homers. The Cubs had three hits. I’m sure there are some one in ten million games involving a ton of errors and walks where it would be possible to win with that recipe. But this certainly wasn’t one of them. Braves starter Kyle Wright has pitched in the early going like someone who has his sights set on the All-Star game if not contention for the Cy Young Award. There is a whole lot of baseball to be played but last night was no exception to his blazing 2022 start.
Drew Smyly didn’t pitch badly for the Cubs. He had what is becoming a fairly typical start for the Cubs and is an increasing commonality across baseball. That is, he pitched into the fifth inning before departing. Even a fan of my age remembers when pitching into the seventh was about what you expected of a starter most days, then it was the sixth and now the fifth. Those older than me might add getting into the eighth regularly to their recollections. When I wrote about the 1969 Cubs, the relievers were almost entirely an afterthought on that team. That’s obviously only a little over 50 years ago.
There isn’t a development in baseball that I’m presently more torn about. Perhaps in some distant memory I was that way about the DH. But I accepted that as not only an inevitability but an improvement some time ago. But the gradually decreasing length of the pitcher start still conflicts me.
On the one hand, I am from that era where you tried to construct your team with three good starters and you wanted them to throw the vast majority of innings for your team. Starting pitchers thus received some of the largest contracts among all players and you could more or less gauge how your season would go by how many dominant starters you could get your hands on.
On the other hand, I have eyes and can see the trends in baseball. I’ve talked several times in this space about my envy for what the Brewers have done in recent years. Because they are a team that I see frequently, they are the one I see most embody what I think the current vision for an MLB team is. They do try to put together a strong rotation. Certainly in 2021 theirs was one of the best. But their real focus has been in developing a strong bullpen. Craig Counsell isn’t bashful to get into his pen. He wants to get as many strong innings out of his starter as he can but then he wants to turn it over to the bullpen and try to steal the game with dominant relief work.
In an era where teams are getting better and better at improving mechanics to increase velocity and spin rate, bullpens can increasingly dominate. Since I moved to the Tampa area, I’ve watched the Rays a little bit more frequently. They are a team that won 100 games last year with a strong offense and a plug and play pitching staff. They’ve worked to find and develop a fleet of pitchers who all throw from different angles and have different approaches. You might see a different type of pitcher every single time you bat in a game against them. It’s just very difficult to get locked in against them.
So I’m a bit old school still waiting for that Greg Maddux-like player to be found who will throw 250 innings and occasionally just completely shut down a game. But at the same time, I see the evolution of the game. If I had to pick now between finding that Maddux-type pitcher or developing 8-10 relievers who can dominate a game for 20-30 pitches at a time, I’m probably going to wince a little bit when doing it but take the relievers.
Enough about roster construction strategy though. Let’s look at three positives from last night’s game.
- Alfonso Rivas continues to shine when he gets a chance to play. The teams across baseball have to trim their roster in a couple of days. We’ve already seen Rivas get crunched back to Iowa once and I suspect he will again. But he’s doing a fantastic job of making that decision difficult. He’s played excellent defense at first and he’s gotten on base. He did both again last night, making an excellent play and also reaching base twice and scoring a run on a night when the Cubs only mustered eight baserunners.
- Scott Effross retired the first six batters he faced last night. The first of those came with runners on second and third with two outs as he relieved starter Drew Smyly. It took a long time, but the Cubs organization has finally delivered some intriguing arms and Effross is one of them. A 15th round pick, Scott is defying the odds.
- Things have gotten increasingly rough over the course of his contract for Jason Heyward. But Jason continues to be a professional, working and trying to find ways to contribute to the team. Last night he had a hit and a walk in the loss. Unfortunately, even on a night where he did get on a couple of times, he did hit into a key double play.
With that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from last night’s game.
Game 19, April 28: Braves 5, Cubs 1 (8-11)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Alfonso Rivas (.155). 0-1, 2BB, R, K
- Hero: Scott Effross (.099). 2IP (8 batters), 2H, 2K
- Sidekick: Chris Martin (.042). ⅓ IP (2 batters), BB
- Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.128). 0-3, 2K
- Goat/Kid: Ethan Roberts/Rafael Ortega (-.115). Roberts: IP (7 batters), 4H, 3R, 2K; Ortega: 1-3
WPA Play of the Game: Rivas led off the seventh inning with a walk against Braves starter Kyle Wright. That brought Jason Heyward to the plate with the tying run on first as it was only 2-1 at the time. Jason grounded into a double play. (.145)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With runners at second and third and one out in the fifth inning, the Braves were leading 2-1. Drew Smyly coaxed a ground ball to short off the bat of Matt Olson and the runners were unable to advance. (.073)
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 +13
- Seiya Suzuki +8.5
- Keegan Thompson +8
- Nick Madrigal/Marcus Stroman -7
- Jason Heyward -9
Up Next: The Cubs road trip moves on to Milwaukee where they will take on the first-place Brewers. The Brewers have won eight of their last 10 and are playing much better than they were when the two teams met to open the season. You may recall that the Cubs took two out of three in a rain-shortened series at Wrigley Field. You may also recall that Milwaukee was a house of horrors for the Cubs in 2021 and the site of their demise after a hot start to the season.
Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 3.98) starts the opener of a three game set. Adrian Houser (1-2, 3.52) is the Brewers starter. Kyle was fantastic last time out. He will hope to continue that momentum.