In a sense, I called Friday’s win in the previous edition of Heroes & Goats. No, I didn’t specifically say that they’d win Friday’s game:
Keegan Thompson (6-2, 3.67) is on the mound for the Cubs. Keegan has struggled a little bit lately and was hit very hard in New York in his last start. Braves starter Charlie Morton (4-3, 5.67) has also struggled lately. He’ll look to right that ship a bit this afternoon. This is a rare matchup that looks favorable, maybe the Cubs can snap their losing streak.
I wrote that yesterday in the “Up Next” Section. I then doubled down in the comments with Dep. He correctly pointed out that the Braves were steamrolling everyone in sight and scoring a ton of runs. Of course, we all know the Cubs have been getting demolished. Based on only that, I suggested that the Cubs would win at least one this weekend and maybe two.
Baseball is stupid that way. I don’t really even spike the ball on this as any great prediction. Baseball has more inertia than any other sport. In football, show me two streaking teams heading in opposite directions and on a strict game winner basis, I’m going to take the positive team. But in baseball, there is so much tendency for everything to drift back towards whatever the baseline on a statistic is. Obviously for winning percentage that number is .500. Barring being particularly bad or particularly good you are going to be within whatever a standard deviation is of .500.
Heroes and Goats behaves that way. We post the tops and the bottom of the standings for H&G every day. That may give the impression that the results are stratified. But they are not that way at all. Thirty-nine Cubs players have registered points in at least one game this season. 18 of them are between -3 and +3, one game’s worth of points. If I pull back to -6 to +6, that number is 28.
I don’t believe I’d ever try to win money being contrarian, but at the same time I expect it. Of course, it makes sense for the turning point to be a really great start. The Cubs pitching staff has largely been getting blown up recently. Even when Kyle Hendricks had a good start the other day, the bullpen got blown up. But with Thompson and Hendricks expected to start over this weekend, I just felt like the Cubs would get at least one well-pitched game. Justin Steele draws the other game and so these matchups are considerably better than a lot of them have been for the Cubs lately.
I have the same eyes all of you do, though. If the Cubs had gotten swept, I wouldn’t have even blinked. This team is clearly outclassed and there has to be a realistic expectation that this team is going to be fighting uphill throughout the remainder of 2022. There’s only a handful of teams on the schedule that don’t completely outmatch this Cubs team. There has to be an expectation that this team is going to be an underdog in the overwhelming majority of the remaining games and that expectation should probably be that in most series, the Cubs will win one of three. They are gonna jump up and surprise teams occasionally.
I’ll say this too. I’ve been pretty critical of this team, particularly over the last two weeks. But this team will have a streak somewhere where they look competitive again. Very possibly, that will coincide with a little bit better health. This all circles back up a couple of paragraphs. It is hard to consistently play at the outer realm of winning percentage.
A clear example of this? The Reds. In April, they looked like they might lose more than 120 games. Since then? They started 3-22, they are 20-19 since then. So they’ve been a .500 team longer than they were a historically bad team. So look for a 40- or even 50-game stretch where the Cubs play near, at or above .500 for a bit.
On that happy note, let’s go to three positives from Friday’s streak busting win.
- First has to be Keegan Thompson. Keegan threw six shutout innings striking out nine while allowing two hits and two walks. I talked earlier this year about Keegan possibly sneaking out the Cubs’ lone All-Star berth. Since then, Willson Contreras had another hot stretch and at a position that isn’t stacked with stars, Willson has to be a veritable lock at this point to make the All-Star team.
Still, Keegan is having a very solid thing. When I’m evaluating starting pitching, I’m looking for five things. Those things are around seven K/9 (check), fewer than nine H/9 (check), 2:1 K:BB (check), fewer than one HR/9 (check), and six innings per start (nope). Four out of five is very good. These are small samples, but I’m buying Keegan stock.
- Second, Jonathan Villar. He’s got to be recognized for his contribution in the eighth inning to set up the winning run. He drew a walk, moved up on a bunt, stole third and scored on a sac fly. Small ball is a relic in modern baseball, but it’s fun to see once in a while. Villar can definitely be a maddening player, but he can still contribute at times on offense. I wish this team was stacked enough that Villar could be dropped in selectively and used as a designated hitter where his glove doesn’t detract from his value.
- Third, Chris Martin threw a perfect inning in the eighth and picked up a win for it. He faced the top two hitters in the Braves order, getting Dansby Swanson who’s been pretty hot of late. That was a big spot.
With that, let’s turn our attention to Heroes and Goats as there is plenty to unpack there as well.
Game 64, June 17: Cubs 1, Braves 0 (24-40)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Keegan Thompson (.301). 6IP (22 batters), 2H, 2BB, 9K
- Hero: David Robertson (.166). IP (6 batters), 2BB, K, HBP (Sv 8)
- Sidekick: Jonathan Villar (.150). 0-0, BB, R, SB
- Billy Goat: Yan Gomes (-.144). 0-3, K, DP
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.073). 0-2, HBP, K
- Kid: PJ Higgins (-.067). 0-2
WPA Play of the Game: David Robertson coaxed a ground ball off the bat of Orlando Arcia with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning for the final out to preserve the win. (.233)
*Braves Play of the Game: With one out and a runner on first in the ninth inning, Robertson hit Travis d’Arnaud to put runners on first and second. (.110)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Chris Martin - IP (3 batters) - W (1-0)
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.
- Christopher Morel +14
- Nico Hoerner +12
- Willson Contreras/David Robertson +11.5
- Kyle Hendricks/Daniel Norris -7
- Jason Heyward/Patrick Wisdom -10.5
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set between these two teams. The Cubs send Justin Steele to the mound (1-5, 4.33) to the mound. How does Justin do on my five points? Give him pluses for K/9, HR/9 and H/9. So he’s hitting three out of five. That’s going to be a decent recipe for a back of the rotation guy. He’s going to keep you in enough games to justify the rotation spot. The Braves have Kyle Wright (7-3, 2.57) on the mound. This is the worst matchup of the three. I’m gonna expect an 11th loss in 12 games. I hope the Cubs make me look silly, though. If they do, I’ll happily post receipts for a second straight day.