It is so 2022 Cub that the Cubs have won seven of 10. Not actually that they hit that mark, it’s not the first time they’ve done so. The oddity is that they’ve done it by winning four straight, losing three straight and then winning three straight. This team has had a lot of streakiness in it and it’s happened in both directions. Obviously, at 65-85, the streaks have been more down than up, but when this team does play well, it does it for days at a time. I still don’t think it will happen, but with Pirates and Reds teams that have very much turned attention to 2023 already it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this team doesn’t lose 90 games.
That brings me to my topic of discussion for tonight. Silly season baseball. Your interpretation of those words may vary. I particularly think of it when two teams that are long out of contention face one another in September. But certainly, silly baseball can break out just as easily if even one of the teams is long out of it. Some of it has been mitigated by limiting September roster expansion the last couple of years. The parade of pitchers slows some and then adding the DH also limits the roster usage to some extent.
Still, September baseball can feel so different than, say, June baseball when teams are still jockeying for position and trying to stay in contention as long as possible. Because of the way the games play, it can be hard to know what to think of some of the things that happen in September. What Hayden Wesneski has done now across the first five appearances of his major league career is special. I’m unwilling to be dismissive of it. It’s impressive. I do believe he should have already earned an honest to goodness fair shot of making the roster out of Spring Training next year, even if it is like this year’s Keegan Thompson. That is, working out of the pen, often across multiple innings.
But the thing is, for a guy like Wesneski, it will be defensible if he starts the year in Iowa. Hayden will be in his age 25 season, and he’ll have a total of just 25 starts across two seasons at the Triple-A level. It’s a completely defensible decision to keep him there and starting if he is not a clear top five starter for this team at the open of the season. Strong performance over five appearances and counting against less than playoff caliber teams, we just don’t know what to make of it yet. Though with the immaculate inning in this one, his reputation is growing by leaps and bounds.
Actually though, he’s not even the pitcher who I’m most curious as to what his late season performance means. In passing I’ll say that all three pitchers who threw on Thursday will be on my “keep an eye on” list heading into 2023. Brandon Hughes is intriguing too. But again, I think Hughes is obviously a part of the 2023 Cubs. The only thing to be determined is how big of a part.
And what about Mark Leiter Jr.? It wasn’t all that long ago that I cringed every time I saw that he was coming into the game. And then a funny thing happened along the way to the finish line. Mark’s stuff plays up nicely out of the bullpen. On the one hand, we’re talking about a guy whose line reads 2-7, 3.92. Oh yeah and as of Thursday night, he posted his third save. On that same hand, we are talking about a guy in his age 31 season, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2018. Awesome pedigree aside, this guy screams journeyman.
On the other hand, this is 28 relief appearances now, covering an even 50 innings. 33 hits, 18 walks, 17 runs (15 earned). 57 strikeouts. Without digging, I do lean towards the 15 over the 17 runs. He’s pitched in extras multiple times and bonus runners just aren’t the same. A pitcher might face three batters, allow a single but pickup a double play and he allows a run? That’s not a negative inning at all.
So what do you do with Leiter? We’re certainly talking about a guy on a minimum level contract. As I dug through his numbers, I can tell you that Joe Maddon would have loved the guy. He’s got reverse splits with stronger numbers, at least in 2022, against left-handed hitters than right. Is this a silly season mirage? Maybe. But man, if the lights somehow just came on late for him and he puts up a couple of replacement level seasons at under a million per, you’d have to be sick if you just let him walk. If he replicated what he’s done this year out of the pen in larger sample sizes, you’d really be ill letting him walk.
This is one of the many reasons no one will ever hand a major league team over to me to make decisions on. I’d have a hard time letting Mark Leiter Jr. walk. Some version of me from July would double over in laughter that my opinion could move this far this fast on someone.
I’m curious enough on this one that I’m giving you a bonus poll question.
Would you make more than a cursory effort to retain Mark Leiter Jr.?
This poll is closed
Mark draws my top spot for this game. Entering the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, he protected a one run lead over the final seven outs of the game. He picks up his third save and a Superhero in the process. It took him 10 batters to get it done, having issued two walks, hitting a batter, throwing a wild pitch and having a couple of steals behind him. It wasn’t a work of art, but he held the line and preserved the win.
Christopher Morel continues to show signs of emerging from a long slump. In this one, he had the big blow of the game, a second inning, two-run double. He also drew a walk. This was enough for me to give the nod to him as the second star.
I considered, Michael Hermosillo, Hayden Wesneski and David Bote for the last spot. In the end, I went with Bote. He had a pair of hits, one a double, and he scored a run. Bote has been in the middle of things for a couple of weeks now. I could have the whole silly season debate on Bote too. I don’t know what it means. I tend to agree with the analysis of Al Yellon relative to Bote. If you designate him for assignment at the end of the season, he’d have to walk away from a lot of money If he elected free agency. Assuming all of that analysis is accurate, the decision on him gets easier. I’ll be stunned if Bote doesn’t spend a lot of time on the major league roster for some team in 2023. He’s a fine sixth infielder and not a horrible fifth infielder. You’d want more if you fancied yourself a contender. But he’s not likely to drag you down too much.
Now that we’ve seen how I see it, let’s see how WPA saw it.
Game 150, September 22: Cubs 3 at Pirates 2 (65-85)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Mark Leiter Jr. (.494). 2⅓ IP (10 batters), 2BB, 4K, HBP, WP (Sv 3)
*This is the fourth largest positive WPA game of the season by a Cub. Interestingly, he also has the second largest negative WPA game of the season by a Cub. Others appearing on both lists: Marcus Stroman and Willson Contreras.
- Hero: Christopher Morel (.189). 1-2, 2B, 2RBI, BB
- Sidekick: Hayden Wesneski (.180). 6⅓ IP (25 batters), 5H, 2BB, 2R, 6K (W 2-1)
- Billy Goat: Yan Gomes (-.137). 0-4, 2K, DP
- Goat: Brandon Hughes (-.096). ⅓ IP (4 batters), H, 2BB
- Sidekick: Nelson Velazquez (-.076). 0-3, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: The final batter of the game. Rodolfo Castro flied out to end the game with the tying run on third and the potential winning run on second. (.241)
Castro produced a -.520 WPA for the Pirates in this one with Leiter having retired him with the bases loaded and two outs to end the seventh.
*Pirates Play of the Game: Jason Delay doubled with one out and a runner on first off of Brandon Hughes. The potential tying run stopped at third and never did score. (.184)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
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
- Christopher Morel +18
- Nico Hoerner +17.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Justin Steele/Willson Contreras/Drew Smyly +10
- Rowan Wick -10.5
- Nelson Velazquez -11
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14
- Jason Heyward -15.5
*For a while there it looked like there might not be any drama to end the season with the top player, David Robertson, having been traded months ago and the bottom player, Jason Heyward, out with injuries. Christopher Morel has moved just outside of striking range for the top spot with 12 to play. On the other end, Nelson Velázquez is dropping quickly and Yan Gomes after a little bump from regular play is now right behind Heyward.
Up Next: Game two of the four-game set. This one goes to Javier Assad (1-2, 3.86) for the Cubs and Bryse Wilson (3-9, 6.07). This series looks look it has potential for another four-game winning streak. The Cubs’ longest winning streak of the season sits at six. This Pirates team is really bad. Still, getting to six would require a four-game road sweep. That’s a rare accomplishment. But before the Cubs can even think of that crazy accomplishment, they’ve got to go get a second straight against the Pirates.