The “all good things must come to an end” feels like it describes not only yesterday’s game, but the entire last calendar year. It’s amazing to think that just 14 months ago, the Cubs were flying high, they appeared to have turned back the clock and were riding high atop the NL Central. Then June happened, one of the cruelest swoons even for an organization that has faded so often around that time in the past. That, of course, brought on the pain that was this time last year. Virtually the entire core traded all in one fell swoop.
We’re only a few days now from one of the last two pieces of the core being traded. Willson Contreras is almost certainly gone and one can rightly wonder if Kyle Hendricks might have been dealt if he were healthy. With all due respect to Jason Heyward who had an irreplaceable role in winning the championship, he just wasn’t part of the core that propelled the team to the successes it had over the extended period of time. Maybe I’m a tough judge, but I wouldn’t include guys like John Lackey, Jason Hammel or Hector Rondon here. All of those guys had indispensable roles in 2016, but not necessarily over the longer period of time.
“June swoon” is hardly just a Cub term, though if you’ve followed the Cubs for years, you’ve seen enough of them. One wonders beyond the pneumonic of the words, why it is that June seems to be a month where the wheat separates from the chaff, so to speak. I’m gonna give the majority of the credit to the rhyme here. But, intuitively, there is also the unending march that is the summer of baseball. Teams start with hope. There are surely crusty veterans in every clubhouse who have been through things too many times and are jaded. But I’m betting that by and large across the 30 MLB clubhouses, the overwhelming majority of players start the year with hope that this will be a good season for them and their team and that if a few things break right, they can have a star season and/or their team can be contenders. Like a James Earl Jones speech, there is a belief that this year can be different and special.
But by June, you’ve got some factors starting to really weigh on a team. Regardless of what city you play in, the temperatures are trending upwards. Even for the dome teams or the teams like the San Diego Padres who play in areas where the weather is relatively homogenous play half the time on the road. Beyond the heat and humidity, there is the barrage of games. April tends to be the softest scheduled month with the most off days built in to it. It also often has a larger number of postponements by and large. The weather is cold and rainy in a lot of cities and if the weather is bad, ownership is always going to prefer to move that game into the summer months where attendance is usually higher.
But baseball teams really start to feel the pressure of day in, day out baseball by June. Your depth is challenged by the ebb and flow of injured players. That brings me around to this year’s Cubs team. This was a team built with very little margin for error. The core of this year’s team is above average. It could win some games and maybe if you ran enough simulations, you’d see them getting into the playoffs with some low amount of frequency. That’s in a world where the opening day rotation appears in a high percentage of games rather than this reality where outside of Justin Steele it’s been a struggle to stay on the field.
And this team is also a fun example of “outside the narrative.” Depth was a problem with the construction of this team. So you’d expect this team to be one of those that fell off as the season wore on. The Cubs at the end of May? 20-29. The Cubs after last night’s game? 40-57. Just so none of you have to do any math, that’s 20-28 in June and July. The injuries were early on this team. The rotation was hardest hit early but then Keegan Thompson emerged. Christopher Morel came up from the minors and added a boost to the offense.
Streaks come and streaks go, but this team when you pull back to 30,000 feet has been relatively consistent. Oh, there have been losing skids and this recent winning streak. But the ebbs and flows are a team that loses a little less than 60 percent of its games. Again so you don’t have to do the math, a team that loses 60 percent of its games is right around 96 or 97 losses. You might throw the dart at 94 based on everything we’ve seen to date. The only question is what trading away even more players will do to that number. I’m not positive this team will crater.
Of course, the “all good things” comment was in regards to the streaks of the Cubs and Giants heading into last night’s game. The Cubs had the longest active winning streak in baseball and the Giants the longest active losing streak. Just as the Cubs and Braves met earlier this season as two teams heading in opposite directions, it wasn’t hard to guess that the streaks would end. This one was perhaps twice as easy as the last one. As in the last scenario, the Braves were hot and the Cubs cold. On any given day, one would expect the Braves to beat the Cubs this season, so one could see why you might have thought momentum would have carried on right through that series. But it didn’t.
In this one, the streaks ending were even more likely. The Cubs had the winning streak and the Giants the losing streak. But the Giants were expected to be a playoff contender and were hanging around the picture until this streak. Even now, they are certainly not out of it if they can start stacking some wins. On any given day one would expect the Giants to beat the Cubs anyway. So this was an easy one to go against the streak. For these Giants, they have to be thinking that they have an opportunity to get at least three wins in this series, move back over .500 and make sure that management doesn’t get any ideas of selling here at the deadline. Maybe their management could make a shrewd acquisition or two. The kind that doesn’t really raid the farm too much but adds a little depth to the lineup and/or bullpen.
So this is likely to be a rough weekend, on and off the field. The Giants just have to be licking their chops, hoping that they can keep their hopes of a playoff push alive. Meanwhile, more Cubs that you cherish are likely to be traded. The selloff will make the team a little less lovable and continue to fuel the growing angst of a fanbase wondering when this team will flip the switch to competitive mode rather than rebuilding. This franchise has spent all too many years waiting for next year.
Let’s get to the positives. This one was largely all Giants, but there were a few bright spots. As always, I’m going to give the nod to the guys I expect to be around when its close in my mind.
- Ian Happ is one of those guys with a high probability of being traded this weekend. He should net a decent haul as a guy with another year of control and having an All-Star season. The Cubs had three hits and Ian had two of them.
- Erich Uelmen is someone who has never really been heralded as he progressed through the system. He did make steady progression, but he wasn’t a guy who spent much time on prospect lists. But he’s here and this season is giving him an opportunity. Last night, he faced seven batters and he notched seven outs. That’s making the most of an opportunity.
- I’m not sure where Patrick Wisdom fits in. That’s not unusual for a guy who’s had a bit of a vagabond career. He was a heralded player at one point and just slowly drifted off as he never got much of an opportunity. Then he busted out last year as injuries and then trades made room for him. Now, he could be traded or he could hang on for few more years here while this team builds. Patrick is a guy who I think is probably best if he’s the ninth or 10th guy on your team. He has prodigious power and he can be lethal in his hot stretches. But there just aren’t enough of them. Last night he slugged a home run with Happ aboard, accounting for all of the runs.
Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from last night’s loss.
Game 98, July 29: Giants 4, Cubs 2 (40-57)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.051). 1-3, HR, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Erich Uelmen (.029). 2⅓ IP (7 batters), 2K, WP
- Sidekick: Chris Martin (.023). 1⅓ IP (6 batters), 2H, 3K, BK
- Billy Goat: Justin Steele (-.225). 3⅔ IP (19 batters), 5H, BB, 4R (0ER), 6K, HBP, WP (L 4-7)
- Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.104). 0-4, K
- Kid: Nico Hoerner (-.091). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning, Justin Steele faced Yermin Mercedes. The game was scoreless until Mercedes singled, plating two runs. (.196)
*Cubs Play of the Game: The Cubs actually had two plays with the same recorded WPA. Patrick Wisdom’s two-run homer in the seventh pulled the team within striking distance. But also Justin Steele coaxed a double-play ball with a runner on first and no outs in the second. That one came off the bat of Thairo Estrada. (.077)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Ian Happ (2-4, R, K)
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.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner/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: Game two of the four-game set between these two teams. Marcus Stroman (2-5, 4.38) will look to build off of his excellent start last time out. He’ll oppose Alex Cobb (3-4, 4.26). Hugwatch weekend is officially in effect.