You all certainly know the story. The last time Willson Contreras played at Wrigley Field, there was a definite feel of dread in the air. Whatever you think of Contreras as a player, you’ve undoubtedly had some fun times watching him play. The fans felt it, they gave him ovations every time he batted in that game. The players knew it. There was a solemn moment for Willy and Ian Happ, two of the longer tenured Cubs, as it appeared they were playing together for the last time at Wrigley.
Only that’s not how the story played out. Willson is still here. And he’s on a bit of a heater now that he’s got that off of his mind. It’s been a rough week for the team, but Contreras has been one of the few producing and it is showing up in this space. Willson has been on the podium a few times since the break and he was closing back in on contention for the Rizzo Award.
And then Friday happened. The offense was even more stagnant than it has been. The team had only one hit and a small handful of walks through seven innings. The pitching was good, they were only down 1-0. Coming out of the break, when the Cubs strung together some wins, that had been the formula. A strong start and some good bullpen work. But the Cubs had timely hitting in those games and that was enough to be winning. But the offense was nowhere to be found on Friday.
I talked a bit around the trade deadline about how the bullpen really hadn’t blown very many games for this team. I don’t have any hard data, but it seemed like this team was a bit of an oddity. A team near the bottom of the standings is usually going to show ineffectiveness in most areas. But the Cubs weren’t really a team that gave away games late.
But, this team also wasn’t coming from behind either. From a WPA standpoint, this has been a fairly boring team to follow. Most days, they are setting out on a course and finishing what they started. When they started well, they were winning more than not. When they started poorly, they generally went on to lose. Certainly, that’s a generalization. They scored first in plenty of their losses, but usually they wouldn’t hold those leads long.
Anyway, you get the picture. Not a lot of late significant swings in games. But on Friday, Contreras came through in the bottom of the eighth with a two-run homer and it propelled the Cubs to victory. There’s going to be quite a bit of mention of Contreras in this one as he’s got all of the significant WPA events.
The only question that left was who would throw the ninth if they got the lead, with all of the former back end of the bullpen guys traded away. The answer was unsurprisingly Rowan Wick. The once apparent closer in training got the first crack at the ninth. He didn’t earn a save because he’d come in to preserve the one run deficit in the eighth. But he threw a clean ninth to close it out.
For the first time in a few days, there are a bevy of options for three good things. Let’s get into them.
- I’m really, really torn on this today. Justin Steele gets the nod from me. He faced 20 batters before departing this one. He struck out 10 of them and recorded 14 outs in total. Relievers get some gaudy strikeout percentages, but it isn’t every day a starter strikes out half of the batters he faces.
- I haven’t gotten much opportunity to mention Nick Madrigal in this space. Injuries and offensive struggles have rendered him a non-factor in this season. But on this day, the Cubs mustered four hits and Nick had two of them. He had their only hit until the decisive eighth inning. Then he singled in the eighth and was along for the ride on Contreras’ homer.
- Willson gets all of the love at the top and in the remainder of this piece, so I’ll slide Rowan Wick into this space instead. Wick entered the game with two outs in the eighth, the bases empty and the Cubs down one. He allowed a walk and a single. You could feel the Cubs hopes drifting away. Then he got the out he needed to escape the eighth and then he had a perfect ninth. I think he’s going to get most of the save opportunities, so let’s hope he can build off of this performance.
Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from Friday’s win.
Game 105, August 5: Cubs 2, Marlins 1 (42-63)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.363). 1-4, HR, 2RBI, R, K
- Hero: Justin Steele (.237). 4⅔ IP (20 batters), 4H, BB, 10K
- Sidekick: Nick Madrigal (.201). 2-3, R
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.142). 1-3, 2B, BB, K
- Goat: Nelson Velazquez (-.124). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Christopher Morel (-.115). 0-3, K
WPA Play of the Game: Willson Contreras batted with a runner on second in the eighth inning with one out and the Cubs down one. With one swing of the bat, Willson flipped the script and ultimately sent the Wrigley faithful home happily. (.491)
*Marlins Play of the Game: This game was scoreless into the seventh inning. That’s when Joey Wendle faced Brandon Hughes with runners on first and second and one out. Wendle singled and the Marlins had a run. (.207)
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.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner +19.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Christopher Morel +14
- Willson Contreras +11
- Frank Schwindel -8.5
- Daniel Norris -9.5
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14
- Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set between these two clubs. Drew Smyly (3-6, 4.42) is another Cub who perhaps could have been traded away last week. But he’s still here and is another pitcher on this team looking to make his case for 2023, whether that’s here in Chicago for him or auditioning for somewhere else. He’ll face Pablo Lopez (7-6, 3.41).