Baseball is fun. At the tail end of a brutal stretch of games that saw the Cubs play a ton of teams expected to make the playoffs, the Cubs go on the road and win four of six. To be fair, the Diamondbacks are very likely the fourth-best team in their division, so they are a long shot at best. Still, even after dropping two of three, they are over .500 in what pretty clearly appears to be the best division in the National League and possibly all of baseball (depending on if you prioritize top to bottom competitiveness or top-heavy dominance as in the AL East). Winning two out of three in Arizona is nothing to shake a stick at.
You could certainly have a chicken/egg debate on improved pitching or more consistent scoring being the key to the turn around. The Cubs were stomped a week ago at home against the Dodgers, losing the three-game set by a combined score of 20-3. But in these six games, they allowed a total of only 18 runs. They scored a total of 27. Allowing three runs per game is going to work. Scoring four and a half? That’ll work too. If there was such a thing as bottling that up and taking it home with you, you’d want that for sure.
The challenges this week? Getting back on track at home is priority one. The Cubs are just 4-11 at Wrigley Field so far this year. If this team isn’t going to spend all of June on trade watch, they are going to have to turn that around. The second key is going to be health. The Cubs have been besieged by a ton of what are hopefully minor injuries. The result is a bloated injured list. This is a bad time for that. The Cubs started a stretch of 14 straight games without an off day on Friday. This week starts with three against the Pirates and then finishes with four more games against these same Diamondbacks. That’s followed by a four-game set with the Reds on the road.
In these long stretches of games, health is a little extra important. It’s hard to find an off day for a guy who is banged up and if a pitcher goes down, it can really back up on your bullpen trying to distribute the load. To that end, hopefully Marcus Stroman is able to return in this upcoming series and he is healthy and strong. We’d just seen his best start of the year and so this missed time is unfortunate on every level.
Let’s turn our attention to yesterday’s game. We start with my three positives from Sunday’s game.
- Justin Steele. After going with the three Heroes yesterday, I’m going with someone who fell short of the podiums today. Justin has been struggling and you always wonder about a guy taking every fifth game at the highest level for the first time. So this was a feel good start. Justin allowed only three hits and two walks while striking out 10 over six innings. The Diamondbacks offense isn’t world beating, but this is still an encouraging performance and hints at what Steele can maybe be capable of.
- Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel. In Saturday’s game, these two both finished on the Goat side of the ledger. Wisdom particularly had been struggling a bit lately and struck out three times in four at bats Saturday. So for each to bounce back with a pair of hits is great to see. Wisdom had a solo homer as well as a double that led to the winning run. That run was driven in by Schwindel. Would haves and could haves will kill you, but even with as lousy as the start to this season has been, if Schwindel’s long fly in San Diego had travelled another couple of feet, the Cubs could have maybe come home with five of six and Schwindel would have been a huge part of that after his own terrible start.
- Rowan Wick. It wasn’t pretty. He inherited a runner and then allowed a single of his own. With just a one-run lead, it was tense for sure. But he bounced back with a pop up and an at’em ground ball right to Jonathan Villar who worked with Andrelton Simmons for the first time, turning a smooth double play to end it. Wick hasn’t dominated, but he has been effective.
Top to bottom, the key is if some of these guys can build some confidence and sustain improved play.
Let’s get to the Heroes and Goats from Sunday’s win.
Game 33, May 15: Cubs 3 at Diamondbacks 2 (13-20)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Rowan Wick (.338). IP (3 batters), H (Save, 4)
- Hero: Patrick Wisdom (.201). 2-4, HR, 2B, RBI, 2R, 2K
- Sidekick: Frank Schwindel (.155). 2-4, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.132). 0-4, K
- Goat: Alfonso Rivas (-.096). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Willson Contreras (-.074). 0-3, HBP
WPA Play of the Game: Rowan Wick faced pinch hitter David Peralta with runners on first and second with one out, the Cubs leading by one in the ninth. Wick coaxed a tailor-made double play, second to short to first. (.338) This was one of those games with almost all of the WPA at the end, the previous batter was the third-largest WPA of the game. Hence Wick in the Superhero spot.
*Diamondbacks Play of the Game: And of course, that leads us to the batter before that. When Pavin Smith was the first batter Wick faced with a runner on first in the ninth in a one run game. Smith singled, ratcheting up the tension. (.184) The six largest WPA events of the game occurred in the ninth inning including all four D-backs hitters in the ninth,
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Justin Steele (6IP, 24 batters, 3H, 2BB, 2R, 10K)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments below)
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 +11
- Scott Effross +9
- Willson Contreras +8.5
- Patrick Wisdom/Yan Gomes -7
- Jason Heyward -11.5
Up Next: As noted in the open, the Cubs begin a three game series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field on Monday. These are games four, five and six of 14 straight games. The Pirates come in with back-to-back wins of their own to pull their record up to 15-19, just ahead of the Cubs in the Central. Wade Miley (0-0, 9.00) makes his second start as a Cub and first at home. Hopefully, the Cubs can keep the positive momentum from this just-completed road trip going.