I have two overriding thoughts about Saturday’s game. The first one is that I feel pathetic in that I’m now accepting moral victories as a thing. The other is that baseball has a long term problem. We’ve got a quick turn around to Sunday afternoon baseball, so let’s see if we can make both points relatively quickly.
First, moral victories. The game was 3-1 through six innings. The Cubs have always struggled with Miles Mikolas. Saturday was no exception. His opposition was pitcher that many would consider a Quadruple-A pitcher, one of those guys who has been good enough in the minors but not really good enough in the majors. Adrian Sampson falls into that spot. With a ton of injuries on the staff, that more than qualifies Sampson to be on the team and he’s pitched well enough to hang around.
The Cardinals are a good team. The Cubs have held their own on the season against them. The two teams had played their first six games of the season evenly. That’s an accomplishment for this team. So keeping it close was already a moral victory in my book. Then Rafael Ortega delivered a key two-run homer to tie the game late. Alas, even a day after the Cubs bullpen only had to record five outs, the Cubs had to try to get through the eighth inning with another Quadruple-A type in Mark Leiter Jr. The second time was not the charm. But moral victory achieved, I think, with close game and late comeback to tie.
The other thing I’ll say might be quite a bit more controversial. Very much like the long drawn out conversation on adding the designated hitter, pace of play is one of those issues that really riles people up. There are long entrenched opinions on either side and its one of those debates that no one really concedes very many points to the other side. Look at the picture at the top of this page. Rafael Ortega hits a home run in the eighth inning of a 3-1 game and it looks like maybe 10-20 percent of the crowd at most is still there.
The Cardinals aren’t an also-ran. I don’t follow them in any meaningful way, but I have to imagine at least among the team, they have to think they are at least a fringe contender to play deep into the postseason. This year’s Dodgers team doesn’t feel completely insurmountable and the Cardinals have hung in well at the top of the NL Central with the Brewers.
The game wasn’t lopsided. If the Cardinals were nailing down the kind of 8-0 or 6-1 game the Cubs have been on the wrong side of so many times, I get it. It was a hot day and the result very much a foregone conclusion. Certainly, if the Cubs were nailing down that same win, I can understand why that would be frustrating to Cardinals fans. But a 3-1 game late, those are the best kind of games for a fan unless you are a huge fan of high scoring. And then the Cubs did rally and the Cardinals did what a very good team does. They didn’t get flustered, they executed and took care of business. They did not play down to the competition.
This is a weird day and time for me to get into this debate and this game wasn’t particularly a long one. So it is not in any way exhibit A for this argument. You wouldn’t even put this one in the appendix really. Even after that late comeback, this game played in 3:22. But how does it really take that long? There weren’t a flood of pitching changes or replay challenges. One team is largely going through the motions and the other wants to just take care of business and get off the field on a hot day. Sure, as a counter point, when it’s hot a pitcher is going to take an extra amount of time and make sure not to overheat.
I’m probably not exhibit A either on a fan for this debate. Though, I do think I am representative of baseball’s problem. I don’t know if I still qualify as a die hard fan. I think like one. One of the things I think about every day is the Cubs and how they are doing. That’s certainly not a casual fan. But here’s the thing, I haven’t turned a Cubs game on TV or the radio since April. The game is too slow and the games drag on. I have enough interesting things in my life that I’m not looking for a three-plus hour diversion. Certainly not on an every day basis. When I was watching football? Sure. That was a once a week occurrence.
To be an all-in everyday fan asks you to devote upwards of three hours, and drifting towards four, to baseball. The problem for baseball, is that if you aren’t that person, it’s far too easy to just turn it off when the team isn’t good. I didn’t watch any of the team last year after the sell off either. It’s a gamble for the team when you rebuild that people will come back. If they are bad next year and I go through another year of being away, do I come back at all? I did after the last rebuild for sure. I spent several years not watching the product but came back.
Maybe I will again. But maybe not. I wrote a couple of times about going to see the Normal CornBelters play. That’s a prospect league for college kids to play summer ball. The games were snappy. It rarely felt monotonous. But at no point did I find myself watching a pitcher walk in circles around the mound, throwing over to first 15 times or a batter adjusting his crotch, his batting gloves and his bat between every pitch.
I’m fine with the chess match of baseball. I love that modern baseball has shifted to analytics and use them defensively. If I know that Jason Heyward is going to hit the ball on the ground right over second base or in the gap between second and first the majority of the time, why wouldn’t I put my defense there. Against an old-school standard defensive grid, I think Jason Heyward is still a consistent contributor in this league. I also understand that there is a duel between the pitcher and the hitter. Pitches outside of the zone have purpose. I’m trying to either strike you out or get you to hit the ball where I want you to hit it and not where you want to. That’s all stuff that makes baseball good.
But there is too much dead time in baseball. And with a multitude of entertainment options in this day and age, with more content then ever to take in, I’m happy to select one of those other entertainment options and just let my smart phone keep me up to date on the score and pitching changes. I can then go look at highlights and recaps and know everything I need to know about the game. But none of that is me engaging in the game of baseball in a way that generates any revenue for the Cubs or Major League Baseball.
Off the soap box. Let’s run through three positives from Saturday’s loss.
- Rafael Ortega has to get the nod here. His two-run homer late made this one interesting. Arbitrary endpoints are fun, I picked May 10, a two-hit day for Ortega, and ran his numbers from then to now. .304/.389/.446 in 131 plate appearances (wRC+ 136). Ortega has been quite productive for some time now.
- Scott Effross faced two batters and struck them both out to get out of a jam in the sixth inning created by Rowan Wick. That kept the Cubs in this game to set up Ortega’s heroics.
- Willson Contreras, Nico Hoerner, Patrick Wisdom and Nelson Velazquez were each on base twice as the Cubs generated some traffic.
And with that, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Saturday’s loss.
Game 72, June 25: Cardinals 5, Cubs 3 (27-45)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Rafael Ortega (.228). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R, K
- Hero: Scott Effross (.073). ⅔ IP (2 batters), 2K
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.071). 1-3, 2B, BB, K
- Billy Goat: Mark Leiter, Jr. (-.309). 2IP (11 batters), 4H, 2R, 2K, WP, HBP (L 1-2)
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.199). 0-4, DP
- Kid: Rowan Wick (-.154). ⅓ IP (4 batters), 2H, BB, R
WPA Play of the Game: Rafael Ortega’s one-out homer with a man on second in the eighth inning to tie the game at 3-3. (.305)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Brendan Donovan came through with a two-run, two-out single in the first inning to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead. (.169)
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.
- Nico Hoerner +18
- Christopher Morel +13
- David Robertson/Willson Contreras +11.5
- Daniel Norris -7.5
- Yan Gomes -8
- Jason Heyward -16.5
Up Next: The third and final game of the series. Al’s game preview, coming up at 11 a.m. CT will cover all of the information on this afternoon’s game, as the Cubs look to finish this road trip on a high note. Alec Mills is the Cubs scheduled starter and Jack Flaherty will go for St. Louis.