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2022 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 96

Cubs stay hot with their fifth straight win.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

This season and this winning streak would have an awfully long way to go to start talking about the phoenix rising from the ashes. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration, though, to say that this last few days has felt a bit like finding an oasis in the desert. With four straight wins coming out of the break, this team now has a season high five-game winning streak. It feels like forever since this team has done that. That’s a lot more hyperbole than true. The Cubs won seven in a row to cap August and start September last year. Have I mentioned before how much I hate the term dead cat bounce?

This has been interesting, because this team got where it was because it just couldn’t string together enough pitchers to get outs, after all but one starting pitcher who was in the Opening Day rotation missed time on the injured list at some point. Add to that injuries to Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay, who would have been at least considered as viable alternatives. That left the Cubs with essentially two men, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson, neither with much experience starting at the big league level and Thompson doing important work trying to salvage the winnable games out of the bullpen.

So the interesting part comes in that it is largely the pitching that has keyed this five game streak. Don’t let the 15-run outburst Friday or even the six runs on Saturday make you ignore the pitching. The Cubs have allowed only two runs in four of the five games (and three in the other). Strong pitching is keying this little streak. Steele has pitched in this stretch, but Thompson hasn’t yet, with the Cubs surely watching his workload a bit. Adrian Sampson has made two of the starts and has been a bit of a revelation. Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly are each back and have made productive starts. The bullpen has been all but untouchable. As is so often the case, a bullpen that is average can become good and a good one can become elite when starters are pitching into the sixth and seventh innings and the offense is scoring some runs.

It’s hard to spike the football on a win over the Pirates, but wins against the Phillies and Mets aren’t nothing. At least one and maybe both of them are going to see postseason baseball. I try not to be too broken record-like, but I’ll say again that the single most positive thing about the 2022 Cubs is that the wins aren’t random. I don’t mean the timing either. This has not been like the 2021 Cubs who were most frequently propelled by guys who basically had been outcasts and viewed as Four-A players. Instead, this team is winning on the backs of a lot of players who appear likely to be here next year. To the extent that any aren’t here next year, it seems likely that it will be because they are traded over the next week.

Long story short, I don’t think it is a fool’s errand to believe this team can take a significant step forward next year. To be clear, the team was on pace to lose 100 games only a few days ago. Even with this streak now baked into the formula, the team is on pace for 66-96. So winning 75 games might feel like a big step forward next season. Developing players at the major league level, the team’s recent track record developing and improving pitching and the growing talent pool in the minor leagues combine together to give hope.

“Wait ‘til next year” doesn’t feel like a trite euphemism for the team being awful anymore.

Staying with the theme, let’s look at three performances from guys who I believe will either be a part of the 2023 Cubs or not here because they were traded to bring in yet more talent.

First, I will stick with the theme and start with pitching. Adrian Sampson pitched seven innings, completing three full trips through the batting order. He allowed six hits but only one walk. He was charged with two runs and struck out three.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I had stumbled onto the Pure Quality Start statistic during my fantasy baseball days. That formula gives a score of 0 to 5 with 0-1 being a disaster and 4-5 being dominant. Sampson gets one point for pitching into the seventh inning. One point for less hits than innings. One point for no homers. One point for three strikeouts and only one walk. He only misses on the point for strikeouts by only recording three.

It’s only the Pirates, but that’s a real quality start. And that gives the Cubs a chance to win. Even more significant since he was also dominant against the Mets in his last start. One doesn’t want to get carried away. Sampson could certainly wear that Four-A scarlet letter. Or maybe the Cubs have unlocked a little something.

Second, we go from the beginning of the game to the end of it. I don’t usually tip the cap to a reliever unless he throws multiple innings or has a clean frame. That said, I have to nod to the first major league save for Scott Effross. Al has stumped a few times for Effross to get a shot at the job if/when David Robertson goes. He got the shot in this one and he converted.

Third but certainly not least, Nico Hoerner continued his fantastic season. He had a pair of hits, a walk and drove in two of the three runs the Cubs scored. Finally healthy, Nico Hoerner feels like a throwback to another era, contributing without the long ball being his primary contribution.

Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Monday night’s fifth straight win.

Game 96, July 25: Cubs 3, Pirates 2 (39-57)


Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.


  • Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.247). 2-3, 2B, 2RBI, BB
  • Hero: Adrian Sampson (.202). 7IP (27 batters), 6H, BB, 2R, 3K (W 1-1)
  • Sidekick: Scott Effross (.165). IP (4 batters), H, K (Sv 1)


  • Billy Goat: Alfonso Rivas (-.127). 0-3, 2K
  • Goat: Nelson Velazquez (-.096). 0-1, CS
  • Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.069). 0-4, R

WPA Play of the Game: Harry Caray used to like to tell us when 2’s were wild. It was one of those situations, a runner on second in a 2-2 game with two outs. That’s when Nico Hoerner came to the plate and that’s when he delivered an RBI double that turned out to be the game winner. (.278)

*Pirates Play of the Game: There were two outs and a runner on fifth with the Cubs leading the Pirates 2-1 when Josh VanMeter doubled in the tying run off of Sampson. (.135)


Who was the Cubs player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Nico Hoerner
    (65 votes)
  • 41%
    Adrian Sampson
    (48 votes)
  • 2%
    Scott Effross
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (0 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now

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 +23
  • David Robertson +22.5
  • Nico Hoerner +21
  • Scott Effross +16
  • Keegan Thompson +7
  • Rafael Ortega -7.5
  • Andrelton Simmons -8
  • Daniel Norris -9.5
  • Yan Gomes -14
  • Jason Heyward -15.5

Up Next: Tuesday afternoon baseball at Wrigley Field. The Cubs move into third place with a win. Keegan Thompson (7-4, 3.43) has been the most consistent Cubs pitcher. He gives them a definite shot of extending the streak to six games. He’ll face Bryse Wilson (1-5, 6.52). Bryse has pitched a little better lately, allowing five runs over 16 innings in his last three starts. Besides, there are very, very few gimmes in baseball, particularly if you are not a juggernaut team.