A day off and a return home fail to stop the Cubs‘ skid which has now reached five games. For several weeks now, the Cubs have played consistently better baseball. The problem is, when you are a pretty bad team, 8-9 over a 17-game stretch can be the outcome of improved play. But the truth is, that is better than things were. And it’s not just wins and losses, but the games have been close even when they’ve lost. The only loss in there of more than two runs was a three-run loss on a walk-off in extra innings.
You get tired of reading about moral victories and I get tired of writing it. But certainly, the games being closer has generally meant the games are at least a little more watchable and entertaining. For roughly three weeks now, it at least doesn’t feel like the Cubs are beaten before they ever take the field.
Without basically repeating what I wrote after Sunday’s game, I remain encouraged that the contributions are coming largely from guys who will be here beyond the trade deadline and the bad results are coming from guys who aren’t in the long term plans. Is this just rationalizing? I don’t think so. I think we are seeing the initial positives flash through. But I’ll let you all be the judge of that.
Certainly, as Tuesday’s game played out, I thought about the contrast. The Orioles were in town. The Orioles last won a World Series in 1983. They have won one division title since then. Granted, the AL East is consistently one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The Yankees are good way more years than not and often great. The Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays have all had stretches of very strong baseball in there. The Rays are the only team in the division not to have won it all since then and they have at least been in the Series twice.
So granted, the Orioles are always fighting uphill. The last three full seasons they have lost an average of 111 games. They’ve not even been in the playoffs since 2016 when they lost a wildcard game and were eliminated quickly. They were last in an LCS in 2014 and before that, it was 1997. That was the year of their only other division title since 1983. This is all a lot of words about how bad a team can really have it.
The goal of a professional sports team is to win a championship. At the end of the day, everything less if failure. That said, knowing that every team but one will come up short every year, you have to have another way at looking things. Are you moving closer to or further from your next championship? Obviously, it isn’t always apparent. Certainly, the 2017 Cubs had to be allowed a chance to defend their title. And they certainly gave it a run before ultimately running into a buzzsaw and getting eliminated. In hindsight, from 2017 to 2020 the Cubs were drifting further and further from their next championship.
Could the front office have acknowledged that sooner? I think they should have. I think most of us did. They held on to the core too long without making significant upgrades. Trades made to support the 2016, 2017 and 2018 teams eroded away at the “waves and waves” of talent that would keep that championship window open. After the 2020 season, Yu Darvish was traded. That was certainly a painful trade at a time. Anytime you trade an MLB star and a serviceable MLB player at a position of scarcity, getting four very young players in return is quite a gamble. But that day was the turning point for this organization.
Since that day, the talent level in the organization has been rising after several years of declines due to talent graduation to the majors, trades and washouts. The summer of 2021 was even more painful. The Cubs made an unprecedented number of trades. They weren’t just any trades, but trades of virtually every remaining core player. That was hard as a fan. But, we do see the Cubs farm system starting to drift up the prospect ratings. Even with setbacks for some of the most talented prospects in the system, those rankings are improving.
It’s painful to sit through this. It’s fair as fans of one of the most stories teams, in a city that has ample resources, in a park that millions of fans will visit each season, to expect excellence. But, for the second year in a row, I believe the Cubs are getting closer and not further from their next championship. Titles can be elusive and there are no guarantees. But having a deep and talented system is paramount to winning and particularly to sustaining winning.
Let’s get to the positives from Tuesday’s loss.
- Ian Happ is having a terrific season, very quietly. Kudos to him on his first All-Star selection. He had a home run last night that was responsible for one of the two runs scored.
- Nico Hoerner seems to get a hit in every single game. He had the only other Cubs extra base hit, a double. He also score the only other run. It certainly has not always been the case, but the Cubs have been excellent with their first round picks, particularly when that pick has been a hitter.
- Perfect innings for relievers, one each for Scott Effross and Mychal Givens. That kept the game close so that the offense had every opportunity to come from behind.
Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats.
Game 87, July 12: Orioles 4 at Cubs 2 (34-53)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Scott Effross (.059). IP (3 batters)
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.035). 1-4, SB, K
- Sidekick: Patrick Wisdom (.031). 1-3, BB, K
- Billy Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.181). 1-4, 2B, R, SB
- Goat: Rafael Ortega (-.156). 0-3, DP
- Kid: Adrian Sampson (-.123). 5⅓ IP (25 batters), 6H, 2BB, 3R, 3K, BK (L 0-1)
WPA Play of the Game: With the Cubs leading 2-1 in the fourth inning, Ramon Urias batted against Sampson with a runner on first and one out. His homer turned out to be the game winner. (.221)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s homer with two outs and the bases empty in the first inning off of Jordan Lyles gave the Cubs the game’s first run. (.103)
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 5/Bottom 5)
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/Scott Effross +15
- David Robertson +14.5
- Nico Hoerner +13
- Keegan Thompson +10
- Kyle Hendricks/Matt Swarmer -7
- Daniel Norris/Rowan Wick -7.5
- Jason Heyward -16.5
- Yan Gomes -17
Up Next: The Cubs will get one more shot to stop the streaking Orioles. Justin Steele (3-5, 4.13) has really turned it on since the start of June. Justin will make his first start after returning from paternity leave. He’ll face Spenser Watkins (2-1, 4.15). Certainly looks like a nice matchup on paper.