We’ve talked at length in this space this year about the young Cubs. About how this is clearly a team in transition. Where this club has been successful, it hasn’t been on the backs of aging veterans hanging on and reliving the glory days. Going down the roster, Jesse Chavez broke camp with the team, he’s 38. David Robertson (37) was the team’s closer until the trade deadline. He is without question the veteran that produced the most value for this team. Chris Martin (36) was another reliever on this team, traded away in July. Wade Miley (35) was expected to provide some innings to the rotation, but only managed 18. Yan Gomes (34) has 219 plate appearances. Drew Smyly (33) will almost certainly go over 20 starts and 100 innings.
You get the picture. Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Kyle Hendricks and Mychal Givens are all in their age-32 season. Three of them have combined injured with bad performance and none will be seen again in Cubs uniforms this year. Givens, the lone productive member of the 32-year-old class, was another traded at the deadline. You have to get down to Willson Contreras and Patrick Wisdom at 30 to find positive offensive value for players 30 or over.
Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson, who have been the best starting pitchers, are 26 and 27. The offense has been lead by Ian Happ (27), Contreras, Nico Hoerner (25), Seiya Suzuki (27) and Christopher Morel (23). The core contributors on this team are young and have plenty of baseball ahead of them.
With that comes growing pains, of course. But also reason to be optimistic about the future. These games the last week plus have been an interesting gauntlet for these players. The Cubs were last off on August 12, the day after the Field of Dreams game. Before that, they were off on August 3 when they were rained out in St. Louis, not even a planned day off. For the players coming from the minor league system, the typical schedule has you off essentially every Monday. For Suzuki, he’s coming from Japan where they play a shorter schedule with more time off. Most of these guys have never been through the unrelenting schedule that is the second half in MLB.
The Cubs have played 18 games in the last 17 days. And they’ve done it with a 9-9 record. The last 13 games of that are against teams that are playoff hopefuls. They’ve played those games with a 6-7 record. They’ll play two more games in this series, then have a day off, then three more games against the division-leading Cardinals. Then a day off and then six straight games against the Giants and Mets. The Giants were a 2021 playoff team that has more or less faded out of contention this year. The Cubs will also have a series against the Phillies before the season ends. The Phillies appear headed for the playoffs.
So these younger players are getting a dose of both the relentless nature of late season baseball and playing games that matter in the playoff hunt. Make no mistake, the Cubs have damaged the Brewers’ hopes of making the playoffs based on their unlikely season series win (10-9). One would have expected the Brewers to win at least 10 and maybe as many as 12 of the games from the Cubs. At even 11 wins, the Brewers would be holding onto the last playoff spot.
The 6-7 in 13 games against playoff hopefuls isn’t bad. But exactly using the Brewers as an example, if this team progresses, the difference between 6-7 and 7-6 could ultimately leave the team a game out of the playoffs next year. Particularly of note, three of the losses were by a single run and another was by two. A game like Monday night’s was absolutely winnable. Further, Monday night’s game was one of only a very small handful of games I can point to that the Cubs have lost post trade deadline that were essentially lost because of the talent that was traded away at or near the deadline. The depleted bullpen has certainly started to cause some damage.
The point is, these guys are going to have to learn to pull out some of these tight games against good teams. Hopefully as soon as next year the Cubs will be trying to get into the postseason. Some of these tight games might swing them in or out. Certainly, that’s not going to be true if there isn’t a further influx of talent, likely some from within and some from without. But, guys like Nick Madrigal and Nico Hoerner might take meaningful at bats with games on the line. Guys like Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson might be throwing significant innings against good lineups. Brandon Hughes and Erich Uelmen might be sent into high leverage situations that could impact the team’s playoff situation.
I think more often than not, all of them have come through. Maybe they’ll be able to draw on these minor successes this year and use them to draw on in major situations next year. This is all part of the learning curve. Some of these games can be frustrating to be sure, but if they help mold the core of this team to be even better in the future, then it was invaluable.
Despite the frustrating last few innings of Monday’s loss, there were some good things. Let’s find three stars.
1) Javier Assad threw five scoreless innings to run his streak to nine to start his career. He allowed four hits and two walks.
2) Nick Madrigal, another three-hit game. This is the fourth three-hit game since he returned from injury August 4. He’s also had three two-hit games in that time. He had six two-hit games pre-injury and just one three-hit.
3) Franmil Reyes had a pair of hits and a walk and scored a run.
And now we look at the Heroes and Goats from Monday’s loss.
Game 129, August 29: Blue Jays 5, Cubs 4 (55-74)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Javier Assad (.278). 5IP (21 batters), 4H, 2BB, K
- Hero: Brandon Hughes (.180). 1⅓ IP (5 batters), H, K
- Sidekick: Mark Leiter Jr. (.111). 1⅓ IP (6 batters), H, 2BB, R (0ER) - (L 2-6)
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.394). 1-5, K, CS
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.261). 1-5, RBI
- Kid: Erich Uelmen (-.252). IP (6 batters), 2H, BB, 3R
WPA Play of the Game: Danny Jansen’s single in the 11th off of Mark Leiter Jr. was a walk-off. (.297)
*Cubs Play of the Game: After the Cubs intentionally walked the first batter in the 10th, Leiter induced a double play grounder off the bat of Bo Bichette. (.249)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments below)
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 +19.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Christopher Morel +14
- Patrick Wisdom +13.5
- Daniel Norris/Frank Schwindel/Rowan Wick -9.5
- Yan Gomes -15
- Jason Heyward -15.5
- Rafael Ortega -16.5
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set. Marcus Stroman (3-6, 4.10) will face one of his old teams. He’ll face Kevin Gausman (9-9, 3.15) for the Blue Jays.