So there’s an old baseball axiom: Momentum is the next night’s starting pitcher. This generally describes the carryover effect of what is going on for a team. You’ll hear it talked about most when a team is going good. But it is often used to explain when your team is hot and you are facing a team that maybe isn’t but then the tables turn. Things change because of a strong starting pitching performance.
That’s the thing about baseball. It often plays like it’s an assembly line, a season that stretches usually from the end of March into late September or early October. It can feel many days like a monotonous march towards the end, particularly on a bad team playing out the string.
So why then do so many of us love it so much and follow it even in those down seasons? For many of us, the answer is games like last night. The last homestand felt so predictable. You had a sense that they were going to lose every game. Sure, the White Sox aren’t yet in peak form and so those games were competitive and close. But then the Dodgers just blew the Cubs out of the water in three games over two days. After a winless homestand, the Cubs travelled two time zones away to play a team that is expected to seriously contend in the National League West. More losing seemed inevitable.
The inevitability was magnified by the spate of injuries among Cubs starting pitching. Wade Miley and Alec Mills have yet to make their season debuts. Drew Smyly had to abruptly leave the team to deal with personal issues recently and had a start pushed back as a result. Marcus Stroman was unable to make his start on Sunday and went on the injured list. The Cubs are waiting to see how Justin Steele’s thumb caused him to depart Sunday’s game early after he moved his start forward to fill in for Stroman. So what the Cubs really needed was a vintage Kyle Hendricks start. And they got it.
This one was a beauty. Kyle dispatched the Padres with relative ease. It helped that the offense strung together 11 hits and used that to push across six runs. Willson Contreras remained hot, but there were a wide swath of contributions with four different Cubs having multiple hits in the game. The only blemish on an otherwise picturesque game was an ankle problem for Seiya Suzuki. Seiya has tailed off a bit after his monster start to the season, but he’s one of the bats you’d hate to lose for any period of time. Even if this becomes a lost season, you want to see Seiya get as many reps as possible as he adapts to and settles in with American culture.
Baseball can surprise you. And what a pleasant surprise Monday’s game was. Let’s look at the three positives.
- Kyle Hendricks. No doubt about this one. He came within an out of completing the game. That was the kind of win that can possibly steal a second win within the series. Scott Effross was the only other Cub pitcher to get into the game. That’s a full day of rest for the bullpen ahead of an off day Thursday. That’s going to allow David Ross the ability to use the bullpen a little extra aggressively in this series.
- Willson Contreras stays hot. He reached base four more times in the game, recording three hits and getting hit by a pitch. If the Cubs do eventually decide to trade Willson, he should command an excellent return. He is having a good season behind the plate and a team that wanted to trade and sign him to a long deal could at least consider the long term possibility of moving him back away from catcher as he ages. He’s shown the ability to play other positions at various points in his career. Of course, his largest value is behind the plate, but one concern with catchers is always the rigors of the job.
- Contributions from Jason Heyward and Yan Gomes. Each had a pair of hits. Gomes would inherit the primary catcher job of Willson is traded. Heyward is forever tied to his contract and the lofty expectations that go with being one of the higher paid players, not only on the team but in the league.
With that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Monday’s game.
Game 28, May 9: Cubs 6 at Padres 0 (10-18)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.343). 8⅔ IP (29 batters), 3H, BB, 7K (W 2-3)
- Hero: Willson Contreras (.159). 3-4, HBP, R
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.120). 2-4, 2B, 2RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Frank Schwindel (-.077). 0-3, 3K
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.064). 0-4, R
- Kid: Nick Madrigal (-.057). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: With a runner on first and no outs in the first inning, Seiya Suzuki broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double. (.126)
*Padres Play of the Game: The Cubs were leading 1-0 with runners on first and second and no outs in the fourth inning. Frank Schwindel was the hitter and Padres starter MacKenzie Gore struck him out. (.051)
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 +12
- Alfonso Rivas +11
- Scott Effross +9
- Patrick Wisdom -8
- Jason Heyward/Yan Gomes -9
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set in San Diego. Wade Miley is set to make his Cubs debut Tuesday night. Mike Clevinger (0-0, 5.79) is scheduled for the Padres. Mike has only made one start so far himself, so both pitchers are trying to put early season injury issues behind them.