I think as Cubs fans we have a pretty conversant history of the bottom falling out on a season like stepping into an elevator shaft with no elevator in it. But we don’t have a lot of experience with a team just suddenly taking off. This team looked left for dead less than two weeks ago when the Dodgers just chewed them up and spit them out in a three game set at Wrigley. The team fell to six games under .500 on the young season at Wrigley and to nine under on the season as a whole. A trip west to San Diego and Arizona didn’t exactly feel like a panacea for what ailed them.
Somehow, some way, it was a miracle cure. Of course, it remains to be seen how long this salve cures the Cubs’ wounds but right now this team is riding high and playing confident ball. Looking at the final scores, particularly the last two days, you couldn’t be sure which was the chicken and which was the egg as far as whether the offense or the pitching is propelling this team. Last night, though, and frequently on the road trip, it was pitching first.
The Cubs were in all of those games down to the wire because the pitching has been great. They did allow a couple of five-spots to the Padres, but that’s a dynamic team expected to be in the hunt for the NL title. The pitching yielded only eight runs in three games in Arizona. To be sure, that offense is no world-beater. But all you can do is beat the opponent on the schedule. The Cubs have three shutouts in their last eight games and they are 6-2 in that stretch, including their longest winning streak of the year at four. The two losses were each by a run and not to beat a dead horse, one of those two games ended with a fly ball that was just short of either a three-run double or a grand slam.
Your mileage may vary, but in a season that’s expected to be a non-competitive these are the things I’m looking for. First, don’t be embarrassing. Play sound defense. Don’t give away outs and runs on the bases. Look like you belong. Second, and probably most important, get some playing time for guys who might help in the future. It becomes about player development. Then third is the bonus one. Keep the games close and competitive. Make the season enjoyable to watch and follow. Except for the one series with the Dodgers, I’d say this team is accomplishing that. And that Dodgers team will expose your team weaknesses.
Let’s look at three positives from last night’s game.
- Keegan Thompson. The offense largely came a little later, so it was a close game while he was pitching. He faced only 17 batters to record 15 outs. That’s a dominant performance in what has been an All-Star caliber season to this point.
- Jonathan Villar. Jonathan is clearly looking at a roster crunch issue at some point in time. There are a lot of middle infield pieces that will eventually return from the injured list and when everyone is healthy, it isn’t clear there is a spot for him. But last night, he was the big contributor at the plate. His solo homer got the scoring started and then he added an infield RBI single in the Cubs’ fourth-inning rally.
- Frank Schwindel. Since his one day option to the minor leagues, Frank has now recorded four two hit games. To be sure, his numbers are still below average even during this stretch (.286/.286/.357, wRC+ 81), particularly at first base. But there are signs of life, at least. When everyone is healthy, it’s possible that Frank’s spot on this team is in jeopardy too. But he’s at least showing signs of pulling out of his early season woes.
Honorable mention: I could have easily put Christopher Morel in one of the above spots. Christopher is an intriguing prospect and now he is added to the list of Cubs who homered in their first career plate appearance. Nothing like etching yourself into the record book right away. He’s clearly only here right now while the team is really banged up, but I’m certainly interested to see what he can do.
Now let’s turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from last night’s game.
Game 35, May 17: Cubs 7, Pirates 0 (15-20)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Keegan Thompson (.231). 5IP (17 batters), 4H, 5K (W 3-0)
- Hero: Jonathan Villar (.142). 2-3, HR, BB, 2RBI, R, SB
- Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.098). 1-4, 2B, 2RBI, 3K
- Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.039). 0-3, 2K
- Goat: Rafael Ortega (-.037). 0-4, 4K
- Kid: Ildemaro Vargas (-.011). 0-3, RBI
WPA Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki batted with runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth inning, the Cubs up 1-0. Seiya doubled and two runs scored. (.124)
*Pirates Play of the Game: Ex-Cubs prospect Daniel Vogelbach batted with the bases empty and one out in the top of the fourth, the Cubs had that same 1-0 lead. Vogelbach tripled, representing the best scoring opportunity of the night for the Pirates. (.085)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (please leave your suggestion 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
- Jason Heyward -11.5
- Patrick Wisdom -13
Up Next: The third and final game of this series. Drew Smyly (1-4, 3.64) gets the call for the Cubs. Drew started the season strong but he’s tailed off a bit and was the losing pitcher in each of his last three starts. The Cubs have pummeled the Pirates in this series and have yet to allow a run. Hopefully Drew can grab onto some of that momentum as the Cubs look for a five-game winning streak and a series sweep.