Welcome back to Heroes and Goats. Somehow I’m now into my sixth season writing this series for Bleed Cubbie Blue. A few times along the way I always like to thank Russ LaCroix for coming up with the idea and doing an admirable job. Me? I’ve just tried not to screw up what he started.
For those of you who have been at least occasional readers of this series, welcome back. What I do wouldn’t matter one bit without people clicking in to read what I had to say. I will forever be grateful to you, one and all. Having a platform to explore my Cub fandom in this way is a special thing I don’t take for granted. So thank you again. I’ll invite you to join the comments section when you have something to say and I’ll try to find time to interact with you there.
For those of you who are new here, welcome. Heroes and Goats basically has two sections. the first part up here is free form. This is where I’m going to talk about what’s on my mind in regards to the Cubs. Al does a full recap on the main page and so I’m not going to try to duplicate his efforts. I’m not going to give you a blow by blow. I might talk about a key play or a sequence of plays, particularly if it had a significant income on the WPA (Win Probability Added) for the game.
Often, I’ll pull back and look at things from a wider perspective. When Al writes daily, he’s largely focused on telling you the story of that game. He doesn’t ignore the bigger picture, but he just doesn’t get as much opportunity to pull back and look at context. So I’ll do some of that. I’m usually going to try to get you to tap the brakes when everything is going well. Don’t get too high. But I’m also going to try to keep you out of the doldrums when things aren’t going well.
Some seasons are harder than others. Obviously, last season saw the majority of the core traded away and then there were some struggles with an inexperienced roster. Sure, there were some fun times, but it was a team that wasn’t playing for much and was simply overmatched many nights. Hopefully, this team will take a step forward this year and be more consistently competitive en route to trying to put together the next contender.
The other part of this piece is the statistical portion. I’ll give you the numbers on the game. The focus will be on WPA. The top three players are the Superhero, Hero and Sidekick. Those will be the three highest (though not necessarily positive) scores for the game by WPA. The bottom three will be Billy Goat, Goat and Kid. Again, determined by WPA. I’ll also tell you what the top play by WPA was for each team.
This will be noted and commented on many times, but I want to make clear: There is nothing subjective in the statistical portion of this piece. WPA also doesn’t properly account for defense, some baserunning situations, or any nuance regarding situational probability (like anything team, or ballpark specific, including the relative talent level of the teams.)
There is a season long race for the Rizzo Award. That award is given each season to the player who records the highest +/- score for the season. That score is based on a +3 for Superhero and on down to a -3 for the Billy Goat. The award is, of course, named for ex-Cub Anthony Rizzo who flat dominated this measure for the first half dozen years the series ran.
This was a fun start to the season. A quality win against the team that most have picked to win the division. One can never dismiss the rivalry with the Cardinals which is one that many consider transcendent in sports due in part to its longevity. But the Brewers have in many ways become the Cubs’ primary rival over the last handful of years.
The Cubs didn’t back into this win. They played good though not great baseball. Though we all love doing it, you can’t draw too many conclusions on opening day. But, Kyle Hendricks looked good. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki contributed at the plate and Nico Hoerner had a home run. That’s a whole barrel of positive things on opening day.
The pitching staff yielded 10 hits and four walks in nine innings of work. That’s not going to be a great recipe for success. But, they came up with some plays when they needed them and they closed the door when they had to. The offense had eight hits and drew four walks in a game started by the NL Cy Young winner. You aren’t going to score five runs too often with that kind of output but some timely hitting carried the day.
It was a fun win. They aren’t going to be able to ride the formula from it to 90 or 85 wins. But no one expects you to be polished from day one. Sure, the 2016 Cubs were. But, a lot of teams find their way along the way. I’m pretty certain this team isn’t starting its journey towards any kind of championship. But, particularly in a division that didn’t exactly load up for their own championship runs, this team doesn’t look completely overmatched. I’d think this team is going to be somewhere plus or minus 75-85 wins (I said 74 in our BCB staff roundtable), so we’ll see.
I do know this: Ian Happ is the most talented hitter in that dugout. Ian putting together a full season of productivity would be a very welcome sight. Dexter Fowler’s switch hitting bat, as well as that of Ben Zobrist were big parts of that championship run. Since Fowler was allowed to leave in free agency and Zobrist’s productivity tailed off, that’s been an ingredient that has largely been missing.
Also, Kyle Hendricks getting back to form is a big deal. He did allow eight baserunners in just over five innings. But he only allowed a single run and struck out seven. Kyle will want to get at least a little deeper into games, but that was an effective start by 2022 standards.
All in all, it was a good start to the season. Let’s hope there are a lot more like it.
Let’s get to the numbers.
Game 1, April 7: Cubs 5, Brewers 4 (1-0)
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.351). 3-4, 2-2B, 2RBI
- Hero: David Robertson (.167). IP (4 batters), H, K (Sv 1)
- Sidekick: Nico Hoerner (.163). 1-3, HR, 2RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Chris Martin (-.129). ⅔ IP (3 batters), H
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.123). 0-3, SF, RBI, 2K
- Kid: Frank Schwindel (-.119). 0-4, DP
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ batted with runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh against Jake Cousins. The score was tied at three at the time. Happ doubled and two runs scored, the second of which ended up being the decisive run in the game. (.290)
*Brewers Play of the Game: In the top half of that same inning, it was Willy Adames coming through with a double of his own with runners at the corner and one out. A run scored and the Brewers cut their deficit in the game to one.
Rizzo Award Standings: (Top 3/bottom 3)
- Ian Happ +3
- David Robertson +2
- Nico Hoerner +1
- Chris Martin -3
- Patrick Wisdom -2
- Frank Schwindel -1
Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will happen Friday afternoon, weather permitting. Justin Steele is scheduled for the Cubs and Brandon Woodruff for the Brewers. The Cubs will go for two straight.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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Someone else (leave in comments)