I’m going to start out this edition of “Three up, three down” a bit differently.
The Cubs are 16 games under .500 at 32-48. There’s one game remaining — tonight at Milwaukee — before the team hits the halfway point of the 2022 season. If the Cubs win tonight, that’d be 33 wins in half a season, on pace for a 66-96 season.
I’m here to tell you that I don’t think the Cubs are that far from being at least the .500 club I thought they’d be at the beginning of this year.
One of the things the Cubs have not been good at is winning close games. As Josh Timmers pointed out in this comment posted to Monday’s game recap, in response to another poster who said the Cubs just aren’t very good:
The Cubs are 3-8 in extra innings and 9-15 in one run games. You think that’s because they lack quality. I think it’s bad luck. There’s probably some truth to both positions, but I definitely believe that the Cubs have been unlucky and that’s reflected in those numbers.
As a retort to your idea that good teams win close games, the Dodgers are 1-5 in extra inning games and 4-8 in one run games. Do the Dodgers lack the quality to win those close ones? Or have they just been unlucky?
Now, is this Cubs team good enough to be a World Series contender like the Dodgers are? Of course they aren’t, and I’m not claiming that.
But the note that the Dodgers haven’t been good in those close matches is cogent. Sometimes good teams do that. Sometimes bad teams do that. There is an element of luck involved. It’s entirely possible the Cubs (and Dodgers, too) will turn those numbers around in the second half. The Cubs, despite tough extra-inning losses Sunday and Monday, have played basically .500 ball for almost three weeks — 9-8. I don’t see any reason they can’t continue to do that. If they do during the second half, they’ll win around 73 games.
All bets are off on that, of course, if there’s a big selloff four weeks from now. As always, we await developments.
On to this week’s three up and three down!
Nico Hoerner continues his hot hitting
Since the last update in this series, Nico is batting .423/.483/.500 (11-for-26) with a pair of doubles. He’s already reached career highs in games played, plate appearances, triples, home runs, RBI and OPS. He’s playing a quality shortstop and at 25, appears to have established himself as a good MLB regular. His 2.5 bWAR hints he could have a 5 bWAR season, which is very, very good.
Christopher Morel broke out of his slump — big time
Morel hit .357/.438/.750 (10-for-28) last week with two doubles and three home runs. Just when it looked like MLB pitchers had adjusted to him, he adjusted right back. He still strikes out a bit too much, but has already hit more home runs with the Cubs (eight) than he hit in Double-A this year (seven). He hit 18 home runs in 2021 combined between Double-A and Triple-A, and it’s possible he could wind up with 20 in MLB this year. He’s a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.
Justin Steele, your table is ready
Steele made two starts over the last week and threw 11x innings, allowing eight hits and two runs, with 15 strikeouts. He still walks a few too many (4.2 per nine innings for the season), but it looks like the Cubs might have, at last, produced a quality lefthanded starter from the system.
What has happened to Rowan Wick?
Beyond his awful throw Sunday that cost the Cubs the game, Wick simply hasn’t pitched well for quite some time. Over his last 14 outings since May 31: 7.80 ERA, 1.933 WHIP, three home runs allowed in 15 innings.
Wick has an option remaining, and it’s entirely possible that when Marcus Stroman returns from the injured list, he could be sent to Triple-A Iowa to work things out.
Andrelton Simmons still can’t hit
Simmons went 0-for-4 over the last week, although he did draw four walks. That raised his season OPS to .420, which is still... bad.
Willson Contreras couldn’t hit in the clutch Monday (and that’s not the only time)
In case you think clutch hitting doesn’t exist or it doesn’t matter:
Willson has been dead last in the FanGraphs "clutch" metric for a long while. Just presses and tries way too hard in those moments, gets out of his game.— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) July 4, 2022
Matt Clapp is correct. This is how Fangraphs describes “clutch”:
Clutch measures how well a player performed in high leverage situations. It’s calculated as such:
In the words of David Appelman, this calculation measures, “…how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” It also compares a player against himself, so a player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch.
Contreras is batting .214/.327/.238 (9-for-42) in “late and close” situations, and .156/.309/.200 (7-for-45) in “high leverage” situations.
We’ll see if that matters going forward.
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