When you write about baseball, it’s pretty hard with the relentless flow of games to not repeat yourself. Which in turn repeats what the many hundreds of people analyzing the Cubs in print and online, not to mention all of the other teams. But one of those thoughts is that no matter how much baseball changes, no matter how many new rules, new strategies, new analytics, and so on, at the end of the day the easiest path to winning is a strong starting pitching performance.
The Cubs got one of those Tuesday night out of Adrian Sampson. They also got one the night before out of Javier Assad. Two good starts against the Mets, a formidable opponent. The Cubs are certainly playing out the string and if we are being honest with ourselves, this whole season has been playing out the string. Certainly, teams can dig out of holes, but when they were 9-16 in early May with injuries mounting as an arbitrary line in the sand, they were playing out the string.
When it gets to that point, your games become less about wins and losses and more about player development and evaluation. You are trying to identify guys who can be a part of the next contender and bring their skillset along. Surely, one of the things that is being looked at is how many are mailing it in. I’ve at times been critical of David Ross as well as the front office. But I will give them credit, this team has played hard throughout. They’ve battled on and off the field. There have been a ton of injuries, but the players worked hard and came back. There haven’t been a ton of players shut down for the season as you will sometimes see on a bad team.
The two starters who have turned in good starts in this series are in very different places in their respective careers. Javier Assad is several years younger than Adrian Sampson. There is no doubt right now that Assad is carving out a role in the Cubs future. We can’t be as sure about Sampson, but we do know this is his second go-around with the Cubs. This front office has picked him up and where roster space allowed, they’ve worked to keep him. I said it yesterday in the “Up Next” blurb that Sampson has been fairly effective in his time for the Cubs. No one is mistaking him for a top rotation piece, but all else equal, I’d love to have him around next spring with a chance to be a multi-inning reliever who is capable of spot starts when the need arises. It would be a great problem to have if there are too many good options and he gets squeezed out, but the Cubs would need to add quite a number of capable arms to get to that point.
Sampson is, of course, my top star of the game. He threw six scoreless innings against a team in a division championship push on the road in September. He did walk four batters, but only allowed two hits while striking out three. Even with four walks, if you only allow two hits, if you are keeping the ball in the yard, you are probably not going to allow much, if any, scoring.
Of course, pitching alone can’t win a ballgame. Someone has to supply the offense. Ian Happ gets my second star of the night. He had a pair of hits, one a homer, he scored twice and drove in one. Ian’s previous season high for extra base hits was 46 last year. He’s sitting at 57 right now. Fangraphs has him at 3.3 WAR. This season is one odd profile for Ian. He’s got the lowest walk rate of his career, though that is offset by the lowest strikeout rate of his career. In an era when the trend is towards bigger hacks and all or nothing approaches, Ian has given away some power in favor of contact. He’s eight homers behind his career high set last year, so almost certainly won’t get close to it. But he has a new high in doubles by 18 and counting. In the championship year, the potent switch-hitting bat of Ben Zobrist was so critical. They are still very different hitters other than both being switch hitters, but Happ is showing similar offensive numbers to what Zobrist did.
For the third star, there are a bunch of guys who made moderate but not outsized impacts on the game. No other Cub reached base twice and no pitcher worked a clean appearance. So, I’m going to hat tip to a guy who hasn’t appeared in this space almost at all this season. I’m talking about David Bote. Bote had one hit and it left the yard. Though he’s under multi-year contract, David’s skillset has become redundant as the Cubs have stockpiled a ton of middle infield depth. Accordingly, David has a fair chance of not sticking with this team next year. We’ll all always have that one shining moment of his walk off grand slam in 2018. I still have a picture on my phone of the scoreboard showing that 4-3 win as I was at the park the following morning for a ballpark tour.
Let’s turn now to Heroes and Goats and see how WPA scored this one.
Game 142, September 13: Cubs 4 at Mets 1 (60-82)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Adrian Sampson (.292). 6IP (22 batters), 2H, 4BB, 3K (W 2-5)
- Hero: Ian Happ (.153). 2-4, HR, RBI, 2R, K
- Sidekick: Michael Hermosillo (.059). 0-2, Sac
- Billy Goat: Zach McKinstry (-.050). 0-5, 4K
- Goat: Alfonso Rivas (-.043). 1-4, SB, 2K
- Kid: Yan Gomes (-.025). 1-3, SF, RBI, SB (this is the third 2 SB season of Yan’s career)
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s solo homer leading off the second inning started the scoring in this game. (.116)
*Mets Play of the Game: With the Mets trailing 3-0, Francisco Lindor drew a leadoff walk in the sixth inning off Adrian Sampson. (.045)
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 +17.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Christopher Morel +14
- Patrick Wisdom +13.5
- Daniel Norris/Frank Schwindel -9.5
- Rowan Wick -10.5
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14
- Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: The third and final game of the series tonight in New York. The Cubs will win the season series against the Mets if they can take tonight’s game. Drew Smyly (6-8, 3.57) will start for the Cubs against David Peterson (7-4, 3.47) for the Mets.