The poor start to the Cubs season with a multitude of injuries sabotaged any chance at a remotely decent season. A schedule that has them playing a lot of their weaker opponents down the stretch didn’t do them any favors either. The Cubs are finally stacking some wins, but it all came too late. With the win Wednesday afternoon and two out of three from the Nationals, the Cubs are 10-8 since the All-Star break. They won the game before the break, so they are 11-8 over this 19-game stretch.
Some months ago, I suggested that the Cubs would probably play a sustained stretch of games at or near .500. That was the most likely reason for not losing 100 games. Well, after losing on June 16, the Cubs were 23-40 and had lost nine straight games. Since that day, the Cubs are 22-25. No one is going to throw a parade over a 47-game stretch with only 22 wins. But that’s a .462 winning percentage and a 76-win team. Is that the true talent level of this team? I don’t know.
This team has been terribly inconsistent (and at times just flat out terrible). But, clearly when their starting pitching is healthy, they can compete. It’s a fools trap to play the game of X and Y have missed most of the season. If they’d have been healthy... You can get lost in that rabbit hole. But indeed, Wade Miley made four starts covering a total of 19 innings. Kyle Hendricks did make 16 starts covering 84 plus innings. But they were largely ineffective innings out of the opening day starter.
On the other side of the ball, Seiya Suzuki got off to a hot start and then was injured. The Cubs also had an injury to Nick Madrigal. The Cubs clearly projected Nick to help balance out the lineup with a contact oriented bat and hopefully a high batting average. But injuries and ineffectiveness have limited his production.
The Cubs now head out for a seven-game road trip, including three games against the Reds, three against these same Nationals and one against the Orioles. The Reds are behind the Cubs in the NL Central and have traded away more of a diminishing base of major league talent. The Reds always seem to play the Cubs tough, but this certainly feels like a trip where the Cubs could win four games, maybe five if they catch a couple of breaks. The winning makes this all better for you, the loyal fans, and for me as a writer covering this team.
If the Cubs could get to 73 wins, that’ll be a fun line in the sand for me. That would mean that they played the final 99 games of the season one game over .500. That will take a lot of work, some luck, some health and more talent development. But that would make me much more optimistic about 2023. And, I know I’ve made this point before, but to me the best part of all of this is that the guys producing are guys who can be here next year.
There are maybe three players who are possibly exceeding expectations for the player they can be. Those would be Christopher Morel, Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele. Of those three, I’m most skeptical of Morel. He was never particularly heralded. But he does have athleticism and power that does seem to make this not a totally unexpected breakout. As for Thompson and Steele, if they’d come out of the Cardinals organization, I wonder if we’d be less skeptical. I mean, that isn’t totally unfair, the Cardinals have a long and consistent history of producing pitching prospects. But the Cubs system seems to maybe be turning a corner there. Is it crazy to think that Thompson and Steele could be the first full time graduates of a revamped system? We shall see.
Let’s turn our attention to three positives from Wednesday afternoon’s win.
- I think I have to go with Nico Hoerner in the top spot. He’s been such a consistent performer this year that I didn’t list him in that last paragraph. As a first-round pick who has always performed when healthy, I don’t even consider him much of a surprise. But we do appear to be watching him ascend to stardom. I found myself wondering today about the recent national headline that the Cubs were almost certain to sign a shortstop in the offseason. Hoerner can obviously play a strong second base, but is the Cubs’ money best spent at short? I get that there is some generational talent there and certainly, you should grab onto those players when you can. I want Nico playing 150+ games for the Cubs next year. Period, end of story.
- I’ve always said that I’m a sucker for a perfect inning out of a reliever. Michael Rucker had one, retiring all three batters he faced. Rucker is one of the guys getting an opportunity to step up with multiple trades out of the bullpen. It’s a small sample but in four outings since the trade deadline, he’s faced 19 batters and allowed one hit and three walks. My only concern is that he’s only struck out two and it’s just hard to be consistently effective without a significant strikeout weapon. He does have 26 K’s in 28⅔ innings on the year though, so certainly small sample in play there.
- Justin Steele and Nick Madrigal, I certainly see you. The Cubs don’t win this game without significant contributions for both. But I’m going to hat tip to the new guy, Franmil Reyes for two more hits Wednesday to go with an RBI single Tuesday. Let’s hope that a change of scenery does the trick for Franmil.
And now, we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Wednesday’s loss.
Game 110, August 10: Cubs 4, Nationals 2 (45-65)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nick Madrigal (.304). 2-3, 2B, RBI, R
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.158). 2-4, HR, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Rowan Wick (.110). 1⅓ IP (5 batters), H, 2K (Sv 6)
- Billy Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.070). 0-3, HBP
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-,050). 1-3, K, DP
- Kid: Rafael Ortega (-.045). 0-3, SF, RBI, K
WPA Play of the Game: With the Cubs trailing 2-1 in the seventh, Nick Madrigal faced Steve Cishek with runners on first and second and one out. Madrigal singled, driving in the tying run. Victor Robles made an error on the play and runners made it to second and third. (.290)
*Nationals Play of the Game: With two outs and a runner on first, Cesar Hernandez broke a scoreless tie with a double off of Justin Steele. (.131)
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.
- Nico Hoerner +23.5
- David Robertson +22.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Christopher Morel +16
- Patrick Wisdom +10.5
- Daniel Norris/Frank Schwindel -9.5
- Yan Gomes -13
- Rafael Ortega/Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: The Field of Dreams game features the Cubs and Reds Thursday night. On Friday, I’ll tease a very small connection I have to someone who helped make the Field of Dreams come to life. Drew Smyly (4-6, 3.97) gets the call for the Cubs. He’ll oppose Nick Lodolo (3-3, 4.40). Let’s see if the Cubs can extend their winning ways as they head to Iowa.