If one didn’t know better, they might think this cover photo was something I pulled from Iowa’s archives. It certainly feels weird to have a mid-to-late May photo with the starting pitcher throwing in front of what is clearly a largely empty stadium. Sure, the weather played a part in that. But one does start to wonder if large crowds at Wrigley Field are a “given” anymore. To be clear, when the weather finally clears and summer arrives at the park, I expect larger crowds. But in a world in which people to varying degrees have pandemic-related concerns and where money is getting tighter for everyone, are there still going to be large swaths of people heading to a game to see losing baseball?
Too much existential for a Sunday morning. Clearly I’m as frustrated as I’m sure most of you are. The annoying part of this is that 10 days ago I was pretty resigned to a 100-loss team and more talent traded away at the deadline. But then there was that four game winning streak and I thought maybe they are turning a corner, some kids are picking up experience and the pieces are starting to pull together a little.
And in fact on Saturday, it felt a bit like that. Justin Steele was having his second straight superb start. He only lasted five innings, but is that really even a thing anymore? The vast majority of us are programmed to look for six, seven or eight strong innings out of a starter. But would we all take five very strong innings and then turn it over to the pen as a formula? Yeah, I think we would. And the offense put four runs on the board while he was in there. For six innings, the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks 4-0.
The Cubs have generally lost for one of two reasons this year. Either they got a bad start or the offense sputtered. Sometimes it is a little of both. But what they haven’t had is a bullpen that collapses and hands the game away. But on Saturday the bullpen allowed seven runs over four innings. Baseball gives you some wild things, but teams do not win many games when the bullpen allows seven runs.
The offense did score two consolation runs in their half of the 10th, but it wasn’t enough. The Cubs lost their fourth straight, completely neutralizing their four game winning streak. They are back to a season low nine games under .500, only with a slightly better winning percentage. Right now this morning the Cubs are on pace to lose 100 games. They almost certainly won’t accomplish that feat. The biggest reason for that is that of the 123 games remaining, 19 of them are against the Reds who are on pace to win 45 games as I type. That team has a chance at some rather dubious history. I suspect that there are going to be some Cubs/Reds games in September attended by literally tens of people.
We try to find three positives even on a miserable day like Saturday turned out to be. So let’s see what we’ve got.
- Justin Steele. Five innings, one hit, two walks and a wild pitch. No runs. Nine strikeouts. It’s not Fergie Jenkins who always tried to finish what he started. But the game has changed. In modern baseball this is much better than acceptable.
- Chris Martin. After Steele, you can split hairs as to who the next biggest contribution was. But I’ll take Martin and four batters faced, four batters retired. Chris had back to back rough appearances in mid April. Since then, he’s thrown 10⅓ innings, facing 38 batters, allowing eight hits, two walks and a single run. He’s struck out 12. Another nice pickup of a guy who I wasn’t previously aware of.
- Jonathan Villar. There were a lot of choices for this spot, but I’m inclined to go with the only guy who reached base multiple times. The Cubs managed 10 hits but didn’t draw any walks. Still, six runs on “only” 10 hits is pretty efficient production. For once, this loss isn’t on the offense. Villar had a pair of hits and drove in a run.
With that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Saturday’s loss.
Game 39, May 21: Diamondbacks 7 at Cubs 6 (15-24)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Justin Steele (.219). 5IP (18 batters), H, 2BB, 9K, WP
- Hero: Jonathan Villar (.116). 2-5, 2B, RBI, 2K
- Sidekick: Chris Martin (.047). 1⅓ IP (4 batters), 2K
- Billy Goat: Rowan Wick (-.398). ⅓ IP (3 batters), 2H, 3R (1ER)
- Goat: David Robertson (-.161). 1⅓ IP (8 batters), 3H, 2BB, R, K
- Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.160). 1-5, 2B, RBI, R, K
WPA Play of the Game: With the game tied in the 10th inning, Daulton Varsho faced Rowan Wick with runners on second and third with two outs. Varsho doubled, driving in two runs to give the Diamondbacks the lead, but the usually plus defender Andrelton Simmons had an error on the play that led to a third run scoring. (.344) On sequencing alone, the error cost the Cubs the game.
#Bonus Play of the Game: Varsho also had the third biggest WPA event of the game, singling in the tying run an inning earlier against David Robertson. (.180)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth inning, the game was tied at four when Yonny Hernandez faced Robertson. Robertson got the better of the battle when Hernandez’ line drive found a glove. (.181)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
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.
- Willson Contreras +12.5
- Scott Effross +10
- Ian Happ +9
- Frank Schwindel -6.5
- Jason Heyward -11.5
- Patrick Wisdom -14
Up Next: The fourth and final game of the series. The Cubs will look to avoid the dubious distinction of getting swept in a four-game series at home. Wade Miley (1-0, 2.70), who had a terrific start last time out behind fantastic early run support, gets the start. Merrill Kelly (3-2, 3.27) starts for the Diamondbacks who look to move back over .500.