I imagine I do more fourth-wall breaking than most people whose articles you read online with any frequency. Last week I did so in telling you what a grind it can be to write about an ugly loss near the end of a long season. One of you brave readers gave me credit for trying to dig three bright spots in a dumpster fire of a loss.
This game is just the opposite. This is exactly the kind of game that is a treat to write about. I have so many directions I can go in talking about this one. I easily have four or five valid candidates for the three stars of the game. To top all of that off, I get the joy of a meaningful Cubs win. No, this isn’t the kind of September game that impacts any Cubs playoff chances, since they’re eliminated for this year. But, as I explained to my wife during the game, despite the residual possibility of helping the hated rival Brewers to make the postseason, there is a bit of honor amongst thieves. This game matters to the Phillies and the Brewers and so, without risking injuries or anything like that, you try to win.
And win they did. The recipe was much the same as it has been throughout this second half run. That is, they got a strong start and made it hold up. They didn’t hit much, but they hit enough. The bullpen didn’t have a lot of work to do, but it did it well. They got the job done. Your definition of a second half run and mine may differ. But in my book, a team that looked possibly destined for 100 plus losses playing more or less .500 ball over its final 100 games is a bit of a run. It ain’t the 2015 Cubs, but darned if this wasn’t fun.
Honestly, I’ve had enough fun with this second half that I’m starting to feel territorial. You see, when things were going bad and it looked like those 100-plus losses were possible, I did a format change here mid-season. I went to a format where I looked for three positives in each game and tried to focus on guys who would be a part of the team in 2023 and maybe beyond where possible. I tweaked that just a bit further after the trade deadline and with things going decidedly better. Now I use a format slightly similar to hockey’s three stars.
I don’t peruse the internet often these days looking for what others write about baseball. There are many fine writers out there, though I’ll still contend we have some of the best right here at Bleed Cubbie Blue. Ido catch a headline here or there and I’m seeing some about the team on the North Side of town and their futures looking up. Seriously, you are late to the party if you are just noticing it now. I’ve been saying it in this space for a while. This just isn’t the team it initially looked like.
Some part of me is still frustrated that this organization didn’t do a bit more to be competitive this season. The offseason was a mess with the lockout, but it was a mess for all 30 teams. There were a large number of injuries, but by and large injuries were up all across baseball, particularly early on. That should have been foreseeable specifically because of the lockout.
All of that is water under the bridge now. Eventually you play the hand you were dealt. This organization did and they made what they had work. I’m not ruling out five more wins and a 73-win season at this point. That’s just a mindboggling finish to me at this point. Even as someone who had been fairly upbeat about how things were going, I would have never given any chance to a sub-90 loss season. Frankly, there are probably two shots. One being five wins and the other being a late cancel/not made up game at the tail end of the season between two teams well out of it. No one likes to issue refunds, but no one wants to come back after the scheduled end of the season to make up a game either. As someone living outside of Tampa, I’m well aware there is some gnarly weather out there this month.
I’ll say again, welcome back to all ye who abandoned hope many mile markers ago and are just coming back to find a team that is playing better. Certainly no longer an embarrassment. While you familiarize yourself with some of the changes going on here, I’ll go to the three stars in a fine September win.
First, I’m biased towards starting pitching. No matter how much baseball changes, you can still fall back on a strong start to give your team a chance to win. Thank heavens Marcus Stroman, one of the few Cubs players under a guaranteed contract beyond this season, has put behind him the struggles at Wrigley Field heading into next year. On his way to his fifth win of the year, Marcus needed to face just 26 batters to record 21 outs. He almost finished three times through the order. He yielded four hits, a walk, and one run. He hit a batter and he struck out six. That kind of performance gives you a strong chance of winning a game.
After that, it gets trickier. The Cubs had two players with two hits. They had two players drive in a run. And they had two players with extra-base hits. But only one Cub accomplished all three of those things. Yan Gomes has a single, a double, and a run batted in. Yan did a respectable job this year as a second catcher and his production did not dip after picking up increased playing time in August and September after Willson Contreras was injured.
I could go with Ian Happ for the other two-hit game or Christopher Morel for the homer in this one. But I’m gonna let the three stars cover the flow of the game. That is, Stroman got them off to a great start with his strong performance, Yan Gomes had the decisive run batted in. The beginning and the middle. That just leaves us the end where Manuel Rodriguez only needed two batters to record three outs after inheriting the tying run on third with nobody out and notched his third save of the year.
Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats as we look to see who WPA felt were the three stars.
Game 154, September 27: Cubs 2, Phillies 1 (68-86)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Marcus Stroman (.278). 7IP (26 batters), 4H, BB, R, 6K, HBP (W 5-7)
- Hero: Manuel Rodriguez (.274). IP (2 batters)
- Sidekick: Yan Gomes (.205). 2-3, 2B, RBI
- Billy Goat: Willson Contreras (-.202). 1-3, DP
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.152). 0-3, DP
- Kid: Alfonso Rivas (-.070). 0-3
WPA Play of the Game: With two outs and a runner on second in a game tied 1-1 in the seventh, Yan Gomes doubled, scoring Ian Happ with the run that turned out to be the difference in the game. (.219)
*Phillies Play of the Game: In the top of the sixth, Bryce Harper batted with a runner on first and two outs, the game was 1-0 in favor of the Cubs. Harper doubled and tied the game. (.185)
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
- Christopher Morel +18
- Scott Effross +17
- Nico Hoerner/Patrick Wisdom +12.5
- Frank Schwindel/Daniel Norris/Alfonso Rivas -9.5
- Nelson Velazquez -11
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14
- Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set between these two teams. Hayden Wesneski (2-1, 2.45) continues the compelling start to his MLB career. He’ll be opposed by Aaron Nola (10-12, 3.28). This is arguably the toughest opponent to date for Wesneski.