When baseball is going bad, it can feel like a long funeral march. But boy, when it’s going good doesn’t everything just look a little better? For the first time in close to a year, I’m on a baseball high. Yeah, I know how awful it felt when the cold bucket of iced reality was poured over last season’s hot start. No, I don’t want to relive anything like that. But the difference here is expectation. 75 wins was on the very high end of my expectations and this hot stretch isn’t going to make me rethink that after this team started the season 9-18.
There’s something going on, though, with this team. That was another very strong start, this one by Wade Miley. It’s uncanny, but that is five team shutouts in the first 34 games. That’s a pace for more than 20 for the season. I don’t know that this is sustainable, but anecdotally offense appears down across baseball. We’ll see what that looks like as the really warm summer air starts showing up across baseball these next few weeks when the ball usually starts really jumping.
Let’s get to the three positives from last night’s game.
- I’m a sucker for a well-pitched game. I expected that Wade Miley, when healthy, had plenty left in the tank at his career. Last night, we got a glimpse at how effective he can be, allowing only a single hit in seven innings of work. If the Cubs can get Marcus Stroman back soon, and get him on track, the rotation is starting to look pretty good. In Hendricks/Stroman/Miley, they have a good front three. Justin Steele and Drew Smyly have both shown flashes. If one of them starts to wear down, there are some options on the horizon. Alec Mills is going to be available. I suspect he’ll head to the pen and join Keegan Thompson in the long relief role. Caleb Kilian is checking boxes and ascending quickly. It’s not hard to imagine he could arrive at some point this summer.
- Willson Contreras. I could easily put the whole Cubs offense in this spot, but Willson deserves special recognition. He started the eight run first with a double and he capped the scoring with a grand slam. The hits were off of two different Pirates pitchers who both had a rough night. A first inning grand slam in and of itself is a bit of an oddity, but a grand slam by the leadoff hitter is a special breed of baseball unicorn.
- Andrelton Simmons. You gotta give the guy credit on his ability to make an entrance. The first time he touched the ball in a Cubs game was turning a game ending double play in Sunday’s game after he was inserted as a defensive replacement. Now the next day he batted with the bases loaded and the glove-first Simmons delivered a two-run single off of Bryse Wilson who had just entered the game in relief.
With that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Monday’s win.
Game 34, May 16: Cubs 9, Pirates 0 (14-20)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective. However, there is one situation that is an exception to this rule. When two (or more) players finish with .000 because the game is a rout, I reserve the right to break ties. One such tie happened last night as both Alfonso Rivas and Ildemaro Vargas each did that. Rivas had a double in his only at-bat and Vargas made an out in his.
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.156). 2-5, HR, 2B, 4RBI, 2R, K
- Hero: Wade Miley (.080). 7IP (22 batters), H, 6K
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.073). 3-3, 2B, BB, 2R, RBI
- Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.033). 0-4
- Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.014). 1-5, K
- Kid: Ildemaro Vargas (.000). 0-1
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras batted twice in the first inning. The first at-bat resulted in a double. The second occurred with the bases loaded and two outs, the Cubs having already built a 4-0 lead. Willson put the icing on the cake and the rout was on with his grand slam. (.098)
*Pirates Play of the Game: With runners on first and second and one out in the first inning, the Cubs were leading 2-0. Patrick Wisdom faced Pirates starter Dillon Peters. He flied out to center. (.030)
#Special Note: I’ve gotten questions through the years about different permutations of outcomes. This game saw no Pirate record a positive WPA. They went 1-2-3 in the first and then allowed eight runs in the bottom of the inning. After the Cubs jumped out to an 8-0 lead, they had better than a 97 percent win expectancy. The Cubs allowed only one hit over the first seven innings, so despite lots of room to add WPA if there was any kind of comeback, Wade Miley slammed the door.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
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 +12
- Willson Contreras +11.5
- Scott Effross +9
- Yan Gomes -7
- Patrick Wisdom -10
- Jason Heyward -11.5
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set. The Cubs will look to improve on their season-high three game winning streak. Keegan Thompson looks set to make his second start of the year for the Cubs. He’s been electric out of the pen for most of this season and finds himself among the MLB bWAR leaders among pitchers. He threw a season-high 61 pitches in his last outing over four innings in a Cubs win over the Padres. I wouldn’t expect him to expand greatly over that, though I imagine the range of options for the Cubs would probably allow him to go 70-75 pitches. Of course, they could also elect to use him more in the 40-50 range if they expect Stroman back and want to slide Thompson back into his super reliever role.