In all of the years I’ve been a sports watcher, nothing has ever fascinated me quite as much as the role of psychology. It was no surprise whatsoever to me when sports teams routinely began to employ someone responsible for the mental and psychological well being of their players.
There are just so many ways that psychology can be seen having an effect. I think of Mike Tyson. At the height of his reign, many boxers were all but beaten when they stepped into the ring. For all of the posturing you’d see running up to a fight, when they were face to face with Iron Mike, it was going to be lights out, it was just a matter of time.
I used to love to watch golf on the weekend when Tiger Woods was in contention. He’d make a few shots, the roars would grow and guys would start missing shots they never miss, pulling shots, shanking shots, trying shots that were outside of their comfort zone. Similarly, Dale Earnhardt used to change the complexion of a race when that No. 3 car would start closing in on the lead with a few laps to go.
In those individual sports, you can see the effect of a single dominant competitor. But in team sports what has always fascinated me is the way a team can have a little bit of success and then really transform into a better team and sustain it. In football, the season is so short, it’s not unusual to see a team go from the dregs to the playoffs on a little good health and a few good breaks.
Certainly, the reverse can be true. We have certainly seen this Cubs team go through it. They catch a couple of bad breaks and then things just keep backsliding. But right now, they are on the good kind of role. Again, it’s not just that it is six straight wins. It’s that they have allowed two runs five times and three once. That kind of pitching gives you a chance to win every single day even without a dynamic offense. The Cubs plated three runs in the first. That had to give them confidence that they could stretch this out to a sixth straight win.
This one felt really good to win. It figured to be and then turned out to be an emotional afternoon. Clearly I am not the only one with the love affair with Willson Contreras. It’s tough and very much like picking a favorite child, but I think Willson was my favorite by an eyelash. And so it was definitely hard to see the Wrigley faithful saying their goodbyes to him and thanking him for the years of hard work and productivity.
Chicago has rarely seen a guy who consistently played harder, maintained a better attitude and performed at an exceptional level. And one of those three things makes him special and having all three makes him one for the ages.
Certainly, if you follow the rumors it seems likely that Willson, Ian Happ and David Robertson are on their way out. There may be others dealt, but the rumors have those three as the most sought-after. For this one more season, the Cubs are squarely in the talent acquisition phase. Hopefully this is the last year where they are so clearly on that side. Obviously, we’d like to see them squarely in buy mode this time next year, but I’d take even on the fence.
As has been the case, there have been a lot of positive contributions, so the three stars have been easier this last week to identify. As usual, I’m going to focus on the players who I expect to be here and/or the guys who will be dealt to improve the future of this organization.
- This one has to start with Keegan Thompson. He continued his breakout season. He threw seven innings and allowed only four hits. He didn’t walk anyone while striking out seven. He was charged with two runs on one mistake. I talked about Pure Quality Start yesterday. This start hit four of five categories. It would lose only a single point, that for allowing a homer. Still that registers as another Dominant start.
- Seiya Suzuki gets the nod here. He had a pair of hits including a titanic home run. He scored twice. With today’s game, Seiya has a line of .272/.350/.466 (wRC+ 126). Those numbers are borderline star numbers. Not bad for a rookie.
- Nico Hoerner just continues to contribute. He had two more hits, one a double and drove in a run.
Those three performances made me overlook Rowan Wick and Mychal Givens throwing six up, six down baseball to close out the win.
And now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from this victory.
Game 97, July 26: Cubs 4, Pirates 2 (40-57)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Keegan Thompson (.174). 7IP (26 batters), 4H, 2R (0ER), 7K (W 8-3)
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.141). 2-4, HR, 2B, RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.122). IP (3 batters), 2K
- Billy Goat: Christopher Morel (-.059). 0-3
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.049). 1-4, K, DP
- Kid: Rafael Ortega (-.038). 1-4, SB, DP
WPA Play of the Game: Oneil Cruz slugged a two-run homer with a runner on second and two outs in the seventh off of Thompson. The cut the Cubs lead to one. (.147)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ doubled with runners on second and third with no outs in a scoreless first inning giving the Cubs an early two runs. (.114)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game
This poll is closed
Nico Hoerner (2-4, 2B, RBI)
Someone else (leave your suggestion n 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.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner +21
- Christopher Morel +20
- Scott Effross +16
- Keegan Thompson +10
- Andrelton Simmons -8
- Daniel Norris/Rafael Ortega -9.5
- Jason Heyward -15.5
- Yan Gomes -16
Up Next: The Cubs head west to play a four-game series against the Giants. While the Cubs have enjoyed their six-game winning streak, the Giants have lost six in a row to drop under .500 at 48-49 and have another game Wednesday afternoon while the Cubs enjoy a day off.
Justin Steele (4-6, 4.02) is lined up to start the series opener Thursday. Steele has really turned it on since the start of June. Over his last seven starts, he is 3-1 with a 3.12 in 40⅓ innings.